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Brandon Wallace, president of Alamo Systems LLC, which specializes in hotel construction, is flanked by Hershal and Raj Patel, owners of Home2 Suites, the new hotel being built in the McAllen Convention Center district.

MCALLEN, RGV – This year marks the 9th anniversary of the opening of the McAllen Convention Center and during this time there has not been one hotel nearby.

Now, however, one hotel, La Quinta Inn & Suites, has opened in the convention center district and three others – Embassy Suites, Cambria, and Home2 Suites – are under construction. And, say McAllen leaders, a fifth hotel could be built on the campus.

Couple this hotel development with construction on the campus of the new McAllen Performing Arts Center and more retail stores and restaurants being built in the neighboring Shops at 29 district and it is clear the area is being transformed.

“To imagine where we’ve gone in 15 months, to me is really amazing, it’s like a change of season, except that this season is going to be here forever,” said McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said McAllen City Commission and his staff have lot of energy into filling the property surrounding the convention center.

“We recognize we have been missing hotels on this campus since we opened the convention center eight or nine years ago. We recognized we had a great weakness here – that we did not have any rooms on what we call our convention center campus. In the last 18 months four hotels have started construction and we will have 500 rooms coming into the area. We are very excited.”

La Quinta was the second hotel to start construction and the first to finish. Its grand opening was held May 5. Embassy Suites was the first to start construction and will be the second to finish, with a grand opening slated to occur within the next month or so. Cambria Hotel & Suites is slated to open by the end of the year and Home2 Suites, which held a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, is set to open in the summer of 2017.

Bigger conventions

Asked if there will be enough conventions, trade shows, meetings, Quinceañeras and the like at the convention center to fill four new hotels, Omar Rodriguez, general manager of the McAllen Convention Center, answered affirmatively. He said that with all the hotels going up he will be looking to host bigger conventions.

“We are running over 450 events annually and over 500,000 people come to events at the center. Conventions, trade shows, consumer shows, graduations. Everybody looks for rooms and they look for walkability and that is what this district really offers to meeting planners and to people attending these events – the opportunity to be at their hotel, walk out, be at their meetings, walk to a restaurant, go shopping. All of those amenities are right here,” Omar Rodriguez said.

“We are close to the airport so you have immediate access for air travel. It really is the best location in South Texas to have meetings. This was the missing ingredient, hotel rooms. Now we have got those to offer, I am telling you, this is a project 30 years in the making. Ten years ago when we opened the convention center, it was the only building out here. We did not have the restaurants. We were just building the shopping.”

Omar Rodriguez said all the ingredients are now in place for people to book into a hotel to spend a weekend in McAllen. “They will be able to catch a show, come to meetings, stay at the hotel. Planners are looking for this. There could be a fifth hotel on the horizon. Embassy Suites alone just added ten more meeting rooms. For the meetings planners that is fantastic. These are great days for McAllen. We are not building for this year. We are building for the next ten years of growth.”

Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, agreed that having the various hotels next to the convention center will help McAllen land bigger conventions.

“It gives us that tipping point in terms of having the infrastructure to try to attract more conventions and meetings. Obviously, you have the shopping, the eating, the convention facility. It is all coming together in a pretty powerful way,” Ahlenius said. “It has taken time. Any vision, any dream doesn’t happen overnight. I think you are seeing a reflection of a lot of hard work on the part of the City of McAllen. And a lot of hard work on our part in terms of there is convention business that will come to South Texas. We are excited about seeing this kind of investment in McAllen.”

Ahlenius agreed with Omar Rodriguez that there will be enough demand to fill four or five hotels around the convention center.

“I think you take a combination of what we will be working on to bring in more conventions and also taking into account the Mexican national market, I think there is demand. It is going to be competitive, which is a good thing. Consumers are going to get some good prices on hotel rooms,” Ahlenius said.

“There is a tremendous amount of focus at the Convention & Visitors Bureau in making sure that we are putting heads on beds. It is not just these hotels. It is all the hotels in McAllen. You have, for example, the Double Tree, which went through a $12 million renovation. There is a lot of money that has been invested in the hotel industry and we want all of them to be successful. We will fail if we are not able to bring everybody together and move forward and make sure everybody is successful.”

Quality of Place

Asked if McAllen has enough attractions for bigger conventions, Ahlenius said: “You are talking about quality of place. We are not there yet. We have some of those elements. I think one of the things that is tipping in our favor is the cuisine. If you look at the number of chefs we have and the number of really outstanding restaurants, it is really another factor that helps us sell this area for conventions. So, we have outstanding golf courses, we have Quinta Mazatlán, we have IMAS and we continue to see other things coming. We will have Dave & Buster’s. And the Performing Arts Center. This does not happen overnight. It is all about having those entertainment venues and the type of destination events you want so people come and spend the weekend.”

Homes2 Suites covers 105,355 square feet and will have 100 rooms. The venue will feature the Oasis lobby area, the Home2 MKT for grab-and-go items, the Spin2 Cycle, a combined laundry and fitness area, and free continental breakfast at the Inspired Table that includes a variety of morning favorites like a hot breakfast sandwich.

“Every Home2 Suites hotel was designed to incorporate features that take the extended-stay concept to a new level, including expanded community spaces, flexible room configurations and enhanced breakfast offerings that assure guests have a varied selection no matter how long they stay,” said Bill Duncan, global head, Home2 Suites by Hilton.

Expansion of business

The Patel family owns Homes 2 Suites and the Embassy Suites. They also own La Quinta Inn & Suites in Cedar Park, near Austin, Texas, and three hotels on South Padre Island – on Hilton Garden Inn, La Copa Inn and La Quinta Inn & Suites. Hershal Patel, manager of Perspective Hospitality, said he and his wife have just moved from South Padre to McAllen.

“I have a lot of faith in the City, the Chamber and the Convention Center and the amount of business they are bringing to McAllen and the size of the groups they are bringing in. The reason we are building these hotels is that we do not have to turn away any business from McAllen. We can keep those tax dollars right here,” Patel said.

“With the amount of money the City is investing here, with the convention center and the performing arts center, there is definitely going to be an expansion of business in this area. We are happy to be the first pick for visitors that wish to stay here, within walking distance of both.”

Patel said the advantage of owning two hotels next to the convention center is that his company can hit two price points. “They, Embassy Suites and Homes 2 Suites, are two distinct products but they both have the brand, the Hilton name behind them. They still have the loyalty program behind them. So, even if we have to send a guest from one hotel to the other, because one hotel is fully booked, they can still use the loyalty program. There are also economies with the cross-training staff and using the same software. If we are understaffed over here we can always supplement. Each hotel can support the other one.”

Asked how big an investment his company is making in McAllen, Patel said: “Tens of millions of dollars. My wife and I recently moved here. We have a lot of faith in what the City does for the community. There is more to do here. There is the running area on 2nd Street, the parks, the performing arts, these are good local and regional draws.”