Harlingen native aims to run convention center as a ‘premier’ site

HARLINGEN — During his career, Jeff Hamel has operated some of the top hotels in South Texas.

Now, the Harlingen native is poised to make the city’s new convention center the region’s “premier” conference facility.

Last week, BC Lynd Hospitality announced Hamel has been named general manager of the $17.6 million Harlingen Convention Center.

The 44,436-square-foot convention center is nearing completion and is expected to open next month.

Hamel, a veteran hotel executive, will also serve as general manager of BC Lynd’s $25 million Hilton Garden Inn, to be attached to the convention center at Teege and Harlingen Heights roads off Interstate 69.

“I’m very excited to be on board,” Hamel said Friday. “I feel that in my career everything I have done up to his point has set me up to fully operate a successful convention center and hotel.”

BC Lynd, the hotel’s San Antonio-based developer, described Hamel as “a passionate, proven and dedicated professional” with 22 years of experience in the hotel and conference industry.

“Jeff’s experience ranges from full- and select-service multi-hotel and conference leadership to heading multimillion-dollar hotel renovation projects,” BC Lynd stated last week.

Hamel has served as general manager or area general manager at hotels including the Sheraton South Padre Island, Hilton Hill Country Hotel & Spa and Courtyard Westover Hills at Sea World in San Antonio.

“His largest successes and achievements have come in the form of driving revenues (and) profitability, developing high performing engaged teams and delivering seamless and memorable guest-client experiences,” BC Lynd stated.

As part of an agreement, the city is funding construction of the convention center while BC Lynd builds the five-story, 149-room hotel.

BC Lynd will also operate, manage and staff the convention center while splitting any of its profits or deficits with the city.

Executive team

From his office in the convention center, Hamel will oversee a five-member executive staff while working to land bookings ranging from tradeshows, expositions and weddings to large-scale catered events and conferences.

The convention center’s “leadership team” will include a sales director, a sales and event coordinator, a supervisor and a lead engineer.

So far, BC Lynd has hired Judith Medrano, a Port Isabel native, as the convention center’s sales manager.

“The Harlingen Convention Center will serve as the primary booking entity for the City of Harlingen for all future conferences, groups and social events that in turn draw attendees to stay overnight in Harlingen hotels,” BC Lynd stated.

“Destination” city

Hamel’s team plans to promote the city as a “destination” center.

“We are marketing and promoting the convention center as a desirable destination for conferences and special events,” BC Lynd stated.

The developer stated the city’s “numerous selling points” include its central location in the Rio Grande Valley, events such as the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and attractions such as the Iwo Jima Monument.

At City Hall, City Manager Dan Serna has described the BC Lynd’s hotel as critical to the convention center’s success.

“Our 44,000-square-foot convention center alone will be a huge success but will be supported with all combined efforts of the hotel,” BC Lynd stated. “Our number-one priority is to be the premier convention center and hotel in the region, executing a seamless and unique experience for all guests (and) clients.”

The hotel

The five-story, 149-room hotel, which is expected to break ground this month, is projected to be completed in about a year, city officials have said.

“The Hilton Garden Inn will serve as the largest hotel within a 25-mile radius of Harlingen and will have the latest in technology, a full-service restaurant and bar with in-room dining experience and an oversized fitness center along with a beautiful outdoor experience with a South Texas feel nestled into the convention center.”

The hotel, which was expected to break ground about the same time as the convention center, has fallen about 18 months behind schedule.

Last Friday, BC Lynd was expected to close the sale of $32 million in bonds to help fund the hotel’s construction, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez said earlier this month.

In November, Brandon Raney, BC Lynd’s chief executive officer, said the company searched for the “right” financing plan for 18 months.

Under an agreement, the Arizona Industrial Development Authority, an economic arm of the state of Arizona, is issuing $32 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to Provident Group-Harlingen Properties to finance the hotel’s construction.

Bookings

So far in 2019, BC Lynd has booked events for five corporations and a school, according to information the city released earlier this month.

Meanwhile, religious events have been booked for 38 Sundays while one quinceañera and four weddings have also been booked.

For 2020, so far BC Lynd has booked six corporate events.

Bookings

So far in 2019, BC Lynd has booked events for five corporations and a school, according to information the city released earlier this month.

Meanwhile, religious events have been booked for 38 Sundays while one quinceañera and four weddings have also been booked.

For 2020, so far BC Lynd has booked six corporate events.