San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 24th, 2008
Conference center, hotel bolster tourism ambitions

PHOTO by JOE PRATHER

Business and political leaders walk a hallway in the San Marcos Conference Center during a hardhat tour on Thursday. The conference center and an adjoining Embassy Suites hotel and spa are the centerpiece of the city’s efforts to build its tourism industry.

by BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

With little more than four months before its October opening, the San Marcos Embassy Suites Hotel, Spa & Conference Center is already spurring tens of millions of dollars in other construction along Interstate 35 in the city’s southern half, officials say.

A 10-floor, 283 room hotel owned by Springfield, Mo.-based John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts will adjoin a 77,300 sq. ft. conference center owned by the city and operated by Hammon’s management company. Officials hope the $75 million-plus project, including about $23 million in public funds, will bolster an already burgeoning commercial district along the corridor near outlet malls that are consistently one of the state’s strongest tourist draws.

Already the hotel and conference center have more than $700,000 in convention bookings and room reservations including a statewide university facilities and a major tour operator conferences scheduled for January, sales director Ruth Buck told a group of business and political leaders during a hard hat tour on Thursday hosted by Mayor Susan Narvaiz. The facilities’ management expects to have about $3 million in bookings by its grand opening.

“Our goal is to have that much on the books and we are certainly headed in that direction,” Buck told the group, which included both local business people and potential clients.

With about 50,000 square feet in conference and meeting space, the conference center and hotel are expected to employ a base of about 180 people with busy seasons possibly driving the number nearer to 250 positions, General Manager Tom Pugh said. The San Marcos-themed conference facility includes a 36,000 sq. ft. Veramendi Ballroom and convention floor, named for the holder of an 18th century Spanish land grant from which the city was later carved. The hotel includes a 10-floor atrium, spa, restaurant, bar and other amenities.

“Cities everywhere are trying to get facilities like these. San Marcos has so much to offer and so much to gain from a facility of this caliber. Basically having a conference center this size allows you to pull in the conventions, who stay a few days and leave without their money,” said Terri Dusek, a spokesperson for Flintco, the general contractor for both the hotel and conference center construction.

Prime Outlets San Marcos, expanded and refurbished in recent years to the tune of about $50 million, and Tanger Outlets, benefiting from its own more modest renovation, already draw about 7 million visitors a year, mall officials estimate based on sales receipts and traffic counts. One exit south of the hotel and conference center, the outlets provide both a considerable tourism base on which to build and one of the primary reasons the city landed the Hammons facility in the first place, company officials said.

Undeveloped former farm land in the area along the interstate goes for at least $50,000 an acre and some land owners in the vicinity are asking for significantly more, banking on the sector becoming a regional hotspot.

Across the interstate from the Embassy Suites, Dallas-based Direct Development’s 900,000 sq. ft. Stonecreek Crossing retail development, is currently under construction with JC Penney’s and Target committed as anchors. Officials from that company have said they expect to spend a total of about $40-$50 million in two phases. One exit north, near Wonder World Drive, the 311,000 sq. ft. Red Oak Village opened in 2006 with Marshalls, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sam’s Club and PetSmart as major tenants. Other major projects are various stages of planning or marketing, including one by Dallas-based Stratford Group on 245 acres across McCarty Lane from the hotel and conference center and a 500-acre commercial and residential development called Prime Village on 500 acres adjacent to Prime Outlets.

CORRECTION: The story should have said that Stonecreek Crossing is being anchored by J.C. Penney’s and Target, not J.C. Penney’s and Best Buy.

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8 thoughts on “Conference center, hotel bolster tourism ambitions

  1. Very little of this additional development or the resulting tax base and increase in tax dollars would have occured if this was built above Aquarena Springs.

  2. I was on that Aquarena property recently. What a grand location for a resort hotel. Views, woods. Instead, crap. I hope the hotel is succesful but I sure wouldn’t want to go to a conference there. It all turned out for the best since the woods will remain but still, the current hotel location is BORING. Could they have placed it any closer to the freeway?

  3. It may seem boring and close to the highway, but the article was about all the additional development being generated around the facility. Development that would never have been possible above the river. One of the main reasons they are booking large conferences is because of the current location being close to the outlets.

  4. I’d bet most of that development is being driven by the Outlet Mall, as well as the growth along the IH35 corridor in general, just as these factors make the location attractive to the conference center. If the conference center was built above Aquarena Springs, all of this development would have almost certainly happened on 35 anyway.

    If your point is that the conference center would not have benefited from this development, if it were above Aquarena Springs, I’ll buy that. If your point is that the development would not have happened (which sounds like your point, based on the tax base comment), you’re way off.

  5. IH-35 is an economic engine that will keep San Marcos prosperous. The conference center is a nice addition but I don’t think it’s possible to say how much other development can be attributed to it. The reconfiguration of the ramps between WW and McCarty is a good thing and our city officials need to do all they can to work with TxDot and private developers to add or reconfigure other ramps. Good ramp placement can add tremendous value to land. The Posey Rd overpass needs to be rebuilt and a Posey overpass over the RR tracks installed now, before more development occurs and the price goes up.

  6. My comments make both points, Ted. The conference center would not have benefitted from this additional development above the river, because it would not have been there. Obviously not every bit of development on I-35 is because of this facility. However, a lot of additional development occurs around conference centers throughout the country to serve the 350-1000 guests that arrive from out of town. To see a financial return was supposed to be the rationale of the city to invest millions into this project. It was poor fiscal judgement all along to consider allowing this above the river.

  7. I question how much of the development is to support that conference center. Development in that area has been nearly continuous since long before the conference center was planned, from outlet mall expansions, to the Honda, Nissan, Dodge and Toyota dealerships, to the Starplex and the new shopping center with Best Buy, Sam’s etc, and on and on, there has not really been a shortage of development there and it is unlikely that the 1,000 out of town guests for the conference center register as much more than a blip compared to the 7 million visitors for the Outlet Mall and tens of thousands of cars that pass by each day on 35.

    Like any other development on that stretch, the conference center adds to the draw, but it is part of a cumulative impact. I doubt it is a significant driver for development in and of itself.

  8. Also, many of the guests there will likely be here because of the university and the Outlet Mall. They will not necessarily be new faces. There will be some, to be sure, but the hotel will not be booked solid with people who would not otherwise have been here.

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