This year, more visitors are expected to come to the The Woodlands community to take advantage of two new hotels and the completion of Restaurant Row at Hughes Landing. The net effect, however, may result in a rise of population and possible mobility challenges.
“The Woodlands is a niche market for headquarters of corporations,” said Laura Lee Palmer, vice president of business retention and expansion for The Woodlands Economic Development Partnership. “We’re a workforce destination, and all employees are going to continue going to all of these new dining establishments and hotels.”
Between 2010-14, Woodlands-area restaurants contributed $1.8 billion in sales taxes to the state and the township, according to the Texas comptroller of public accounts.
Along with the restaurant industry’s contribution to The Woodlands’ economy, Howard Hughes Corporation officials said hotel occupancy tax in The Woodlands, which is at 15 percent, is also positively affecting the community and will do so even more with two new hotels.
Embassy Suites by Hilton The Woodlands opened earlier this year in Hughes Landing. Another new hotel, The Westin The Woodlands, will have a grand opening in mid-March on The Waterway. Development officials said both of these new developments are expected to meet demand from the increased number of business travelers and visitors to The Woodlands.
In addition, six new eateries opened on Restaurant Row at Hughes Landing in the past year, including The Blue Fish, Local Pour, Fogo de Chao, Escalante’s, Del Frisco’s Grille and California Pizza Kitchen. Truluck’s is also set to open this spring, which will complete the development.
There is more than 11 million square feet of hospitality amenities—dining, entertainment and hotels—in The Woodlands, according to The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.
CVB President Nick Wolda said the amount of available square feet is significant for a community with a population like that of The Woodlands.
“There are towns in Texas the size of the Woodlands that haven’t grown in 20 years,” Wolda said. “It’s about economic viability within The Woodlands as a regional attraction. We are an influence that is also going further than regional—it’s also on a national and international scale.”
Wolda said The Woodlands’ influence has gone beyond the walls of the community. This is mainly due to the fact that the workforce population is increasing the demand for hotels and restaurants, due to the major corporations that call The Woodlands home.
“If you talk to residents who lived here 30 years ago, they will tell you of the lack of availability The Woodlands had,” he said. “First the residents came, then the community came and then the corporations came.”
The Woodlands is also expected to add more jobs to the area with the two new hotels being developed and an additional $75 million renovation to The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center.
Greg Parsons, vice president of hospitality for the Howard Hughes Corporation, oversees The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center, Embassy Suites in Hughes Landing and The Westin The Woodlands.
“We added 100 employees at Embassy Suites, 200 employees at The Westin and increased staffing by 20 people at Robard’s Steakhouse at the resort,” Parsons said.
Paul Layne, executive vice president of master-planned communities for the Howard Hughes Corporation, said the new hotels and restaurants are expected to bring in many more jobs as well.
“This is going to bring in hundreds of additional workers,” Layne said. “It will help Woodlands residents find a great hospitality job.”
The population increase in The Woodlands along with the number of increasing jobs is also a positive factor for surrounding areas like Shenandoah.
Shenandoah city administrator Greg Smith said two new hotels are opening in the city this year: Holiday Inn and Home 2 Suites. In addition, three hotels are due to start construction in Shenandoah in 2016.
“The increase in hotel count in the whole area is because of the much larger destination for work and leisure,” Smith said. “Our room counts are high enough now for the room rates to get more competitive.”
A larger population and increased competitiveness in The Woodlands also affects both local and chain-owned restaurants, according to officials from the Greater Montgomery County Restaurant Association.
“There has been great growth in the restaurant industry in The Woodlands,” said Crystal Tamillo, future president of the Greater Montgomery County Restaurant Association. “Before, the restaurant scene here had been the same. But in the past 36 months, we’ve seen both local and chain establishments grow, and we’re still in a great position to prosper.”
With The Woodlands in a position to grow, the community also faces the dual concerns of traffic congestion and less parking availability in the area.
Bruce Cunningham, former president of the Grogan’s Mill Village Association, said although it is nice to be close to so many new restaurants in the area, the new developments have brought on a surge of traffic in the Grogan’s Mill area.
“For residents in Grogan’s Mill it has created substantial traffic,” Cunningham said. “The county thoroughfare plan would help alleviate it [by] expanding Woodlands Parkway and Grogan’s Mill. But 25 years ago, we thought nothing here would be taller than the trees. Now there are things bigger than the redwoods.”
Alex Sutton, co-president of The Woodlands Development Company, said although he does not think traffic in The Woodlands will be affected at peak times of the day by the new developments, parking could still be improved in certain parts of The Woodlands.
“It would be good to have more parking available in Town Center,” he said. “Hotels are going to need parking and so are restaurants.”
Rip Reynolds, vice president of leasing and commercial land for the Howard Hughes Corporation, said when growth comes, mobility will tend to be a problem, but the Development Company still tries to plan accordingly.
“At the end of the day, The Woodlands is a master-planned community that is also a business district,” he said. “We want to attract residents and have [businesses] establish a presence.”
The Woodlands is now coming to a close with hotel and major restaurant development and will focus on smaller developments in the area, Layne said.
“There are no more hotels planned for The Woodlands since the demand is handled for the foreseeable future,” he said. “As the demand is there we’ll be focusing on smaller retail developments in other areas of The Woodlands.”