it's canceled

Rodeo Houston shuts down due to coronavirus concerns, city prepares for economic impact

The rodeo has shut down prematurely due to the rising threat of coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Rodeo Houston

As the coronavirus continues to march across the country, the City of Houston and the Houston Health Department on March 11 ordered the shutdown of this year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This stems from Houston and Harris County declaring at least a seven-day health emergency in response to a potential community-spread case of the virus in Montgomery County.

The premature halt to this year's rodeo promises to ripple through the Houston economy. The 2019 version created a local economic impact of $227 million, according to a study commissioned by the rodeo. By comparison, Austin's annual music, film, and tech event — SXSW — generated an economic impact of $355.9 million in 2019. On March 6, the City of Austin ordered cancelation of this year's SXSW, set for March 13 to 22.

The Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show joins a rapidly growing list of events around the world that have been canceled or postponed.

Ed Hirs, an economics lecturer at the University of Houston, says it's hard to gauge the economic damage from the rodeo cutback, but he guesses it could range from $50 million to $100 million. Among those who will feel the pain are rodeo vendors, Uber and Lyft drivers, waiters and waitresses, and hotel employees, he says.

"We can't replace the income that the workers have lost," Hirs says.

The loss of rodeo revenue comes at a particularly inopportune time for Houston.

The earlier coronavirus-related cancelation of CERAWeek, the major energy conference, likely will cost the Houston economy millions of dollars. Last year, CERAWeek hosted 5,500 attendees. Cancelation of other local events could inflict even more financial harm.

Meanwhile, the Houston energy sector is coping with a huge drop in oil prices. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel now projects near-zero growth in oil demand this year, according to OilPrice.com.

Hirs says that as early as the end of this week, some energy employers in Houston could begin layoffs. On March 11, Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. hinted at impending layoffs. The oil and gas exploration and production company said it was slashing capital spending for 2020 from a range of $5.2 billion to $5.4 billion to a range of $3.5 billion to $3.7 billion. In addition, Occidental said it would carry out "additional operating and corporate cost reductions."

Occidental's market value has plummeted to $11 billion, triggering speculation that billionaire Warren Buffett might weigh a buyout of the company. In August, Occidental wrapped up its $55 billion purchase of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., based in The Woodlands.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston area is home to more than 600 energy exploration and production companies, 1,100 oilfield services companies, and more than 180 pipeline transportation establishments. In all, the energy industry employs more than 237,000 people in the region.

The combination of the oil slump, the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing trade war, and other economic drawbacks could push Houston closer to a recession, Hirs says.

"We were heading toward a recession anyway," he says of Houston and the entire country. "I think the coronavirus has tipped it over the edge."

For now, the most immediate economic blow comes from the rodeo shutdown.

In a March 11 statement, the rodeo indicates it's "respectfully and dutifully" following the city's order. The rodeo began March 3 at NRG Stadium and was supposed to end March 22. Last February 21 to March 17, rodeo activities attracted more than 2.5 million visitors.

Rodeo officials say they're working on a process for refunding tickets.

Government officials say an apparent case of coronavirus in Montgomery County prompted cancelation of the rodeo. In this case, the person — who reportedly attended a rodeo-sponsored barbecue cook off February 28 — seems to have contracted coronavirus somewhere in the community rather than as a result of international travel.

In a statement, Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says the organization supports the declaration of a health emergency and the subsequent decision to end the rodeo early.

"It is important that we, as a community, take extra precautions and minimize opportunities for exposure as much as possible to slow the growth in the number of coronavirus cases," Harvey says.

Harvey praises the closure of the rodeo as "the right thing to do."

"As Houston's largest annual event, the Rodeo is a point of pride for our region. We regret the impact this necessary step will have on Rodeo exhibitors, guests, and participants," he says. "But the health and safety of our community must come first."

As of March 11, officials reported 14 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Houston area.

The rodeo says it's "deeply saddened" by the shutdown. However, it adds, "the safety and well-being of our guests and our community is our top priority."

Among the major musical acts whose rodeo performances are now canceled include Lizzo, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Gwen Stefani, Khalid, Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, and Luke Bryan.

"We look forward to the 2021 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to continue to promote agriculture, education, entertainment, and Western heritage," according to the rodeo's statement.

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Building Houston

 
 

XSpace — a huge multi-use commercial condo concept — will be opening its Houston facility in the next few months. Rendering courtesy of XSpace

To some, Houston’s lack of zoning laws is a beautiful thing. The first time Byron Smith visited the city, he remarked on seeing a church, school, office building, and strip club all in startlingly close proximity.

At the time, the Sydney-born entrepreneur, whose previous experience was primarily in the automotive industry, was living in New York. But he fell in love with Space City.

“I was like, ‘We need to be in Texas,” he recalls, referring to expanding his next venture, XSpace, to the Lone Star State.

XSpace is a multi-use commercial condo building that allows entrepreneurs to own a home for their business.

“We’re a cool warehouse space that you own,” Smith explains, calling it “evolutionary space” where a business can grow from the roots up.

Though his family business was commercial real estate, Smith first dipped his toe into working with buildings with last year’s opening of the first XSpace in Austin. The city became “a natural fit” for the first project because Smith identified it as “a little bit more receptive to new things.” But Houston was part of the plan from the very beginning.

Located at 7022 Old Katy Road — close to both an escape room and an Aston-Martin dealership, among other diverse businesses — the Houston XSpace’s 86 units are already between 20- and 30-percent pre-sold, says Smith.

Rendering courtesy of XSpace

Confirmed owners of the spaces include “car guys,” such as a car-wrapping business; media companies that plan to podcast from XSpace; and an interior design company. Smith says that he’s been impressed with Houston’s depth of market.

“We’re trying really hard not to be rich-guy car condo stuff,” explains Smith. “It’s about cool, interesting people who are successful or are going to be successful.”

Though multiple businesses will all operate in XSpace, don’t think of it as a coworking space. In fact, coworking space is just a component included in the package of what owners get when they purchase part of XSpace. That’s inside the Owner’s Lounge, a flexible 4,000-square-foot area.

Each unit has natural light, but also metered electric and hot and cold running water. The whole facility is air-conditioned and well-ventilated and offers 24/7 access. The building is triple-gated for optimum security and includes a backup generator to ensure that owners will be able to work even in the case of another power grid failure.

Smith says that groundbreaking for XSpace will take place in seven weeks. Likely, owners will be able to start moving into the building in the summer of 2024. Until then, Smith says to expect some “sexy announcements” about upcoming partnerships and additional XSpace sites.

Though Smith says that global expansion isn’t yet in the plans for XSpace, “North American domination” is.

“All the cool cities, we’re going to be there,” he says. And it was all inspired by the coolest city of all and its eclectic business landscape.

Rendering courtesy of XSpace

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