Houston, Texas: What's New?

A chimpanzee smiling at a child at the Houston Zoo. Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau Photos.
A chimpanzee smiling at a child at the Houston Zoo. Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau Photos.

What's New in Houston?

By Danielle Aihini

The Johnny Steele Dog Park opened on Buffalo Bayou in late 2014 offering more than 2 acres of recreation for four-legged friends. Visit Houston Photos.
The Johnny Steele Dog Park opened on Buffalo Bayou in late 2014 offering more than 2 acres of recreation for four-legged friends. Visit Houston Photos.

For those who know Houston well, know that you can’t visit the big city without a trip to The Space Center, a tour at The Museum of Natural Science or an afternoon at The Houston Zoo.

All three attractions and more add to the appeal of the city, bringing in travelers from all across the globe.

While those landmarks bring tourists in, it’s NEW Houston that keeps them there.

For 2015 and 2016, new major projects are sprouting from improvements in transportation to crowd-pleasing attractions to classy and comfortable accommodations. Just take a look!

New Zoo Attractions

Looking for something new the next time you visit the zoo? At the Houston Zoo you can find the Gorillas of the African Forest expansion, a $33 million project and natural habitat that lets visitors come face-to-face with the primates in an immersive setting.

Why should this matter to the public? Well, A.J. Mistretta, Senior Public Relations Manager for Houston Tourism, said it best. “The Houston Zoo is one of the city’s top attractions, drawing thousands of visitors through its gates every day.

Buffalo Bayou Park offers 160 acres of beautiful scenery and skyline views, iconic fountains and artwork, a large-scale skate park and miles of biking and jogging trails.
Buffalo Bayou Park offers 160 acres of beautiful scenery and skyline views, iconic fountains and artwork, a large-scale skate park and miles of biking and jogging trails.

The zoo has not had gorillas in quite some time, but now these animals have returned in a big way to Houston, helping educate the next generation about the important role they play in our world and how critical it is that we don’t let this endangered species go extinct.”

In 1836, Houston was founded on the water of Buffalo Bayou. Today, the city has put in $58 million to restore and renovate the bayou and the park along its banks.

The project will be completed in fall 2015, with new pedestrian and cycling trails, public art, a visitors center, kayak and canoe rental, a $2 million dog park, new destination features such as The Water Works next to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark and extra benches, picnic tables and water fountains.

Make your way to Houston’s Ellington Airport where The Lone Star Flight Museum will relocate and open to the public early next year. The expected 125,000 square-foot and $25 million facility will include hangar space for aircraft display, hands-on interactive activities, an auditorium, exhibit hall, library, gift shop and cafeteria.

The historical Emancipation Park will undergo a $33 million renovation expected to be complete at the end of this year. The park was purchased by former slaves in 1870 to celebrate Juneteenth, the Independence Day commemorating the abolition of slavery.

A rendering of the Alley Theatre as it will look when it is complete.
A rendering of the Alley Theatre as it will look when it is complete.

Today, the park remains and will continue to remain a symbol of freedom with a new LEED-certified recreation facility, basketball gym, public artwork, small pavilions, a baseball field and more, according to the Houston Tourism Board.

The Alley Theatre renovation campaign has gone through the roof sitting at $73 million and continues to rise for improvement and restoration plans.

These plans include stage upgrades, new seating, expanded restaurants, new lobby space with a skyline view, a new air conditioning and plumbing system and more. The theater will open to the public in September.

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“Houston is one of the only cities in the country with resident companies in each of the major performing arts genres—ballet, symphony, opera, musical and drama.

The Alley is that resident drama company and has been a prominent fixture in Houston at its current space since 1968,” said Mistretta.

New Eateries

Peska Seafood Culture in Uptown Houston -- fresh and flavorful seafood flown in from around the world. Peska Seafood Photos.
Peska Seafood Culture in Uptown Houston -- fresh and flavorful seafood flown in from around the world. Peska Seafood Photos.

Looking to try something new? Peli Peli Galleria is home to South African fusion which features South African dishes blended with American steak, chicken and 
seafood favorites.

The cuisine also has Dutch, Portuguese and Asian influences to create a blend of cultures from around the world. The restaurant opened this past May and invites everyone to ‘embark on a journey that will capture their heart, soul and belly.’

La Grange, one of the restaurants Mistretta is most excited about, opened this June and features coastal Mexican flavors. Relax and enjoy the cuisine of Head Chef Daniel Ajtai on the expansive outdoor patio that was a former horse hospital back in the 1930s.

Peska Seafood Culture is exactly as it sounds. Opened in April, the fish-market and restaurant is the perfect spot for those looking for fresh produce and seafood flown in from around the world.

Texas barbecue — a staple of The Lone Star State. Visit Jackson Street BBQ in Houston where the expertise of Bryan Caswell, Bill Floyd and Greg Gatlin and the laid-back environment is the perfect combination for any barbecue lover.

The revolving restaurant, set atop downtown’s Hyatt Regency Houston hotel, has impressed diners with unobstructed, 360-degree views of the city. Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau Photos.
The revolving restaurant, set atop downtown’s Hyatt Regency Houston hotel, has impressed diners with unobstructed, 360-degree views of the city. Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau Photos.

Weights + Measures, open since January, is a restaurant, bakery and bar all in
one. The large restaurant seats 150 and features Slow Dough Bread Company.

New Accommodations

The JW Marriott Houston located on Main Street opened last year and now has 323 rooms, a full-service restaurant, 806 Lounge, a spa, health club, executive lounge and 16,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Holiday Inn, a former Savoy Hotel and vacant 17-story building, will be renovated and is expected to be complete this fall.

Make your way to the Uptown area later this year to stay at the 325-room Hyatt Regency and 157-room Hyatt Place.

Houston's 13-mile light rail system connects downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, Texas Medical Center, Rice University and NRG Park.
Houston's 13-mile light rail system connects downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, Texas Medical Center, Rice University and NRG Park.

Hotel Alessandra, opening in the fall of next year in Downtown, is expected to be a tall, narrow tower with 225 rooms.

The $67 million project will include 10,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space, an indoor/outdoor restaurant, event deck and bar.

What's New in Houston Sports

Houston will host the NCAA Final Four championship next April at NRG Stadium. The event will include fan experiences and basketball games with more than 75,000 fans expected to attend each game.

Who’s ready for another Super Bowl? Houston sure is! The city will host Super Bowl LI in February of 2017 at NRG Stadium. “That means we will have an unprecedented opportunity to show off the city before the world. We can’t wait to welcome folks to the city who may have never been here before,” said Mistretta.

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Transportation

The Houston MetroRail added two new lines running east and west in addition to the expansion of its red line from 7.5 to 12 miles last year. Now, Houston has a whopping 22.7 miles of rail, all converging in Downtown connecting major districts including the University of Houston, Midtown, the Museum District, the NRG Park Complex, Rice University, Hermann Park and more.

A Southwest Airlines plane takes off from Hobby Airport.
A Southwest Airlines plane takes off from Hobby Airport.

“Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country by population and covers more than 655 square miles. But much of what visitors want to see and do in the city is concentrated in the inner-loop neighborhoods.

That’s why the expanded MetroRail is so important—it connects most of what people want to experience, from Downtown, the ballgames at the city’s pro sports stadiums, to the convention center etc. We’re thrilled more neighborhoods are now connected to our growing hotel package downtown,” said Mistretta.

We’re thrilled more neighborhoods are now connected to our growing hotel package downtown,” said Mistretta.

Traveling into or out of Hobby International Airport? Well, you’re in luck! Southwest Airlines is spending $150 million to upgrade the airport into Houston’s second international gateway. The renovations including an additional parking garage, new concourse, and expanded terminal are expected to be complete at the end of the year. Southwest will start international service out of Houston Hobby in October to bring in more tourists from Mexico and other countries.

The renovations including an additional parking garage, new concourse, and expanded terminal are expected to be complete at the end of the year. Southwest will start international service out of Houston Hobby in October to bring in more tourists from Mexico and other countries.

Don’t hesitate to book a trip to Houston — the city continues to create and renovate for this year and next and is a noteworthy destination for people of all ages.

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Danielle Aihini is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD Travel. She is currently studying Journalism and Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She enjoys exploring the outdoors whenever she can and trying new, exotic foods. When she is not writing, she is either singing, dancing, or both.