It’s been an exciting year of new openings and continued growth in Houston’s leisure and hospitality industry. Houston First expects to finish 2023 with roughly 51 million visitors to the city, a figure that will only increase in 2024 with several major projects and new attractions on the horizon. Here’s a roundup of what Houston can look forward to in the year ahead.
The Boutique Property
Though one of the most eclectic areas of the city and a draw for visitors, the Montrose neighborhood is short on accommodations. A new boutique property opening adjacent to the Menil Collection campus aims to help change that. Set among a series of low-slung buildings on Loretto Drive near Richmond Avenue, Hotel Saint Augustine will feature 71 rooms, a restaurant, lobby bar and event space. The hotel aims to integrate with the lush surroundings of the Menil campus, creating a seamless pedestrian experience. Slated to open sometime in 2024, the property is being developed by Austin-based Bunkhouse Hospitality, which is also planning Hotel Daphne in the Heights set to open in 2025.
The Innovative Attraction
Renowned experiential arts organization Meow Wolf will open its fifth permanent installation in 2024 in Houston’s 5th Ward. The $42 million attraction is under construction in the former Moncrief-Lenoir Manufacturing Co. building on Lyons Avenue, not far from Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Santa Fe-based Meow Wolf has developed a significant following in recent years, drawing more than 750,000 visitors annually to its Denver attraction. The new 32,000-square-foot space in 5th Ward promises to offer “reality-bending” interactive art for all ages, mixing work from local artists as well as the company’s own talent.
The Iconic Gateway
A massive new public sculpture aims to set a new standard in environmentally sustainable art in Houston. Arch of Time will be a generative sculpture rising 100 feet over Guadalupe Plaza Park. Created by Berlin-based artist Riccardo Mariano, the arch will serve as an iconic attraction and is also an interactive time-measuring device that uses sunlight to project geometric patterns. Using solar modules in the exterior of the sculpture, Arch of Time will generate approximately 400,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, equivalent to the demand of 40 Texas homes.
The Luxury Experience
Rising 35 stories above south bank of Buffalo Bayou along Allen Parkway, the Allen development has recreated part of the city’s skyline. While retail businesses have opened and residents are moving into the condominium floors of the skyscraper, the much-anticipated Thompson hotel is now slated to open in January 2024. Thompson Houston will include 172 rooms, a massive one-acre pool deck, full-service spa, and more. Thompson is recognized as one of the premier luxury brands within the Hyatt portfolio, and this iteration should be no exception.
The Winged Wildlife Encounter
Following the much-anticipated opening of the Galapagos Islands exhibit in 2023, the Houston Zoo plans to debut another exhibit in later 2024. Birds of the World will include three aviaries, each with a specific habitat: African Savanna, North American Woodlands, and South American Wetlands. The African Savanna aviary will highlight grey crowned cranes and the zoo’s conservation partnership with Dr. Olivier Nsemana of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association. The North American Woodlands exhibit will feature American songbirds such as the blue and rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo and painted buntings, and northern cardinals. That habitat area will also showcase screech owls in an effort to connect visitors to the beautiful birds in their own backyard. The South American Wetlands habitat will be an immersive aviary, giving guests the chance to come nose to beak with a variety of South American birds including a perennial favorite, Chilean flamingos. A brand new, state-of-the-art Avian Conservation Environment (ACE) building will additionally provide offices for zookeepers’ day-to-day activities, including behind-the-scenes breeding programs of critically endangered species like the blue-billed curassow and Saint Vincent parrot.
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The Mega Resort
Great Wolf Lodge Texas Gulf Coast will open in November 2024 in Webster. The $200 million resort will include 532 themed guest rooms and suites, a 95,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, a 61,000-square-foot adventure park with entertainment center and attractions, nearly 16,000 square feet of conference and meetings space and several dining options set on a 27-acre campus. The resort, located south of the NASA Bypass along the Gulf Freeway, broke ground in fall 2022. Great Wolf Lodge has one other Texas resort in Grapevine.
The Urban Playground
An underutilized section of Hermann Park is being reimagined as an interactive play space. Slated to open in early 2024, the Commons will include several playgrounds and adventure areas for kids as well as a modern carousel. The hardscape of this 26-acre project is designed by architect Marlon Blackwell with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates handling the landscape architecture. The Commons is part of a multiyear master plan for Hermann Park that’s also included the creation of Centennial Gardens and other redevelopments within the urban green space.
The Waterfront City
Construction is wrapping up on the first phase of Midway’s East River development, a massive 150-acre project just northeast of Downtown. Set along a one mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou, East River will include office, retail, residential and recreational space built out in multiple phases over the next decade. The project is considered one of the largest urban renewal efforts in the nation. Several office tenants have already moved in as part of phase one and East River 9, a golf course and driving range concept, has been open for several months. Retail tenants slated to open in coming months include Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries, EaDo Eye Studio, Lick Honest Ice Creams, Houston Maritime Center, Tomi Jewelry, URBN Dental, La Cantina by La Calle, Kyuramen, City Cellars HTX and Le Tesserae by The Astorian.
The Training Ground
Construction will begin this spring on a new flight academy at Ellington Airport. Texas Southern University will build the new two-acre facility with funding from the City of Houston. Slated to open in 2025, the academy will include a 24,000-square-foot aircraft hangar, 4,200 square feet of office and classroom space as well as other facilities. Texas Southern says new training programs are needed to combat the severe pilot shortage the airline industry faces in the next decade.
The Neighborhood Renewal
Though some businesses such as James Beard Award-winning restaurant Street to Kitchen are already open within the redevelopment project known as The Plant, much of the 17-acre reimagined corridor will be realized in the year ahead. The Plant/Second Ward is a series of 13 industrial properties between Harrisburg Boulevard and Buffalo Bayou East that is being transformed into a pedestrian-oriented “concept neighborhood” with a mix of retail, residential and creative spaces. The project connects directly to the MetroRail and a series of trails that lead to Buffalo Bayou. New tenants in The Plant will include microcinema Aurora Picture Show, rock climbing gym Crux Climbing Center and a series of locally owned eateries and shops.
Written by A.J. Mistretta