The Woodlands Mall, Market Street, convention center look to 2021 recovery prospects amid 2020 losses

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
(Community Impact Newspaper staff)

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Although July's hotel tax revenue report shows a 74% decrease compared to the same month last year, Visit The Woodlands, The Woodlands Township’s convention and visitors bureau, is moving forward with a study to look at the feasibility of expanding its convention center, and board members expressed optimism about recovery prospects.

Despite lower hotel tax revenue flowing into the township coffers, Monique Sharp, the township’s assistant general manager for finance and administration, said it is positioned to absorb these losses.

Sharp said the bureau has not yet had to tap its fund balance of $1.5 million this year as a result, in part because expenditures were reduced alongside revenue losses.

The year-to-date overall reduction in hotel tax deposits is 52% below the previous year to date as of the July report, she said.

“In our planning for 2020, we could actually get to about a 70% year-to-date reduction and still be able to cover the debt service requirements of The Woodlands Township and the reduced level of expenditures for Visit the Woodlands without having to utilize any type of fund balance,” she said in an Aug. 19 videoconference meeting.

Fred Domenick, a VTW director and the general manager for The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, said some signs of recovery are starting to take shape even as the pandemic continues.

“We are seeing some green shoots,” he said. “Since we reopened July 1, every week has grown in occupancy since then.”

Domenick said much of the business consists of one-time stays for now, and he does not expect to see a major increase after Labor Day. However, he said the big question is when larger gatherings and conventions may be able to resume.

“Our best case before we have any substantial groups on the books is December,” Domenick said. “We’re optimistic in Q2 [of 2021] things should start to begin to rebuild and continue throughout the year getting better.”

The board also approved a $38,000 study to examine the feasibility of expanding the convention center capabilities at the Marriott.

“This is the time when you should be doing planning,” VTW board Chair Bruce Rieser said. He said the study will consider whether it makes sense to consider expansion to remain competitive.

In the meantime, the Marriott has held several meetings safely in recent weeks despite not holding major conferences, Domenick said.

“Meetings are small and light compared to what we’re typically used to handling, but we have done a number of meetings safely,” Domenick said. “Our biggest challenge is getting attendees to keep their masks on.”

The Woodlands Mall, Market Street

The Woodlands Mall and Market Street representatives also said they are looking to 2021 for further recovery but have seen consistent shopping activity in the summer.

Ted Harris, a director for Visit the Woodlands and the general manager of The Woodlands Mall, said the mall has seen a consistent flow of weekend shopping.

The mall has several new openings planned this year. It has completed 95% of its renovated courtyard area, and it expects a Shake Shack and an Amazon 4-Star store to open later this year, Harris said.

It also recently opened a new JD Sports store.

Jenny Taylor, the general manager of Market Street at 9595 Six Pines Drive, said the shopping district opened the VTW concierge center the previous week, and its stores have seen similar trends to those at the mall.

“It’s slow and steady,” Taylor said. "Despite some of these large national bankruptcies and closures ... I think it’s a good opportunity to make way for ... new folks to come aboard.”
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.