AP NEWS

Bay Area, Ellington seeing benefits from Super Bowl

January 25, 2017 GMT

The payoff from Houston hosting Super Bowl LI is spilling into the Bay Area.

“The hotels in the Bay Area are seeing a significant rise in bookings from people flying in to stay here,” said Bob Mitchell, president of Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

Local hotels, museums, restaurants and other businesses have been planning for months for the Feb. 5 game, Mitchell said.

“NASA will have volunteers working at Discovery Green in the days before the game, and they have some incredible things happening that they’ve been working on for a long time,” Mitchell said.

For example, NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle will be on display through Feb. 5 at Discovery Green as a reminder to visitors of Houston’s space heritage and related attractions.

“Space Center Houston has new exhibits to bring in visitors who want to explore the city, and (Ellington Airport) has made special plans for the privately owned aircraft that will be landing there,” Mitchell said. “The Bay Area has been actively involved with Super Bowl planning for quite some time.”

Melinda Mintz, director sales for Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake, said that reservations immediately picked up after the playoffs.

“We saw an uptick in bookings since the teams were announced and we expect to be fully booked that weekend,” she said.

These bookings, 242 rooms at the Hilton alone if the hotel sells out, have a magnified effect on the local economy as visitors shop at local malls, eat out and visit tourism spots such as Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston.

At Space Center Houston, “We have been quite involved from the beginning and have been working on Super Bowl plans for about three years now,” said Gayden Cooper, the center’s director of communications and external relations.

Cooper said that with the Super Bowl came plans for new exhibits and the addition of a new building.

This includes the “Mission Mars” exhibit, which includes interactive displays showing what it would be like to spend a day on Mars, including an opportunity to experience a virtual Martin sunset.

Another new exhibit, “Space for Art,” features art from astronauts, engineers and scientists who work or have worked with NASA and includes items such as the only watercolor painted in orbit.

A new building available for events is slated to open before the Super Bowl and is already booked.

“Many people don’t know that you can rent out our facilities for dinners, weddings, galas, corporate meetings and other events,” Cooper said. “The money that we get from these rentals goes toward our operating costs. We’ve been constructing a new building on the property to facilitate more of these events.”

Cooper said that the center’s facilities during Super Bowl week are all booked.

One of the selling points for Houston to host the Super Bowl was the access the city offered individuals to airports, especially Ellington Field, which will serve as the gateway to Houston for many NFL players, owners and clientele.

“These events bring in many private aircrafts, and Ellington provides a lot of space for those,” Mitchell said. “They have been working on plans for months to provide a smooth travel experience for those clients who will be coming in on their own aircrafts.”

Ellington operations supervisor Shawn Chittum expects from 300 to 400 private aircraft during the event.

“We’re an ex-military facility; so we have a lot of space on the ramp because those military planes that used to come in and out of (Ellington) are larger than the average plane,” he said. “We are able to handle a large amount of aircraft because of our runways and ramp, and these are typically the types of aircraft flown by owners and clientele of the NFL.”

Ellington also provided an attractive selling point in its location away from NRG Stadium. According to Chittum, the FAA will issue temporary flight restrictions that go in rings - anywhere from 10 miles out to 30 miles out - around Houston after the game. Being inside those rings means that it typically takes longer to leave the city. Ellington is outside of one of those major rings, meaning less delays in takeoff for those leaving after the game.

Ellington operations has also worked to make sure that those flying into the airport have a clear pathway out when it comes time to get to their hotels.

“Most of the private aircraft owners set up their own transportation out, whether that’s Uber or rental services, but if they haven’t, we will have (a person) on hand to make sure that travel arrangements out of the airport go smoothly,” Chittum said.

This has been a nine-month planning process in the making, and Chittum said that operations is very much aware that Ellington will be the first impression many guests have of the city.

“This is an opportunity to show what we can do as an airport and what we can do as a city,” he said. “It has the potential for showing why Houston is an attractive place for business owners to bring industry and jobs here.

“We are holding ourselves up to the same high standards that we always do,” said Chittum, “We want to make sure that we’re ready for a smooth transition and that there aren’t any snags, and we want to make sure that we get these people in easily and out easily so that they can have a wonderful time in our great city.”

For more information on the new exhibits at Space Center Houston, visit https://spacecenter.org.