COVID-19 Challenges: New manager plans to guide convention center, hotel

Art Menendez has been hired by BC Lynd Hospitality as Hotel Executive Manager of the Hilton Garden Inn and will also serve as General Manager of the Harlingen Convention Center. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — Arturo Menendez is taking the city’s biggest hotel job while facing the challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic that’s stunted the industry.

Late last month, Menendez took over as general manager of the Harlingen Convention Center and the nearly completed Hilton Garden Inn, which he describes as the city’s first full-service hotel.

“I’m very excited,” Menendez said. “Years of experience are coming to fruition. I hope to put all of it together. This is my opportunity to shine and bring it to the city.”

Menendez replaces Jeff Hamel, who resigned as general manager last month
to take a regional position after opening the convention center in May 2019.

“I’m glad to be back home,” said Menendez, who first came to Harlingen in 1996 to open the Courtyard By Marriott, where he served seven years as general manager before opening Brownsville’s Residence Inn in 2000.

“Everybody was asking, ‘When are you going to bring in a full-service hotel?’’ Menendez said. “We have the hotel we’ve always wanted. We hope to be a great partner to the city and the people of the Valley.”

BC Lynd Hospitality, which operates the convention center while completing construction of the $25 million, five-story Hilton Garden Inn, hired Menendez after he served as vice president of operations for McAllen-based Castle Hospitality, where he oversaw four hotels.

“We have a high-caliber company. I’m proud to be a part of it,” Menendez said of BC Lynd, a national hotel management and investment company whose portfolio includes the landmark St. Anthony, a luxury collection hotel in San Antonio.

“This is a top-notch hospitality company bringing support to the hotel,” he said. “I’m the general manager but I have an entire team supporting my efforts in the corporate headquarters of BC Lynd in San Antonio.”

Assembling the leadership team

In his office at the convention center, Menendez is working with BC Lynd to spark business.

“This is a central location for the Valley,” Menendez said. “I’ve been analyzing the convention center to see the sales activity and coming up with plans. I’m looking at catering menus and staffing levels.”

From his office, Menendez is filling the hotel’s top management positions.

“We’re assembling a leadership team to come into the Hilton Garden Inn,” said Menendez, a certified Hilton full-service hotel general manager who has overseen Corpus Christi’s Hilton Garden Inn. “They had a great team before I got here and we are assembling a great team to run the hotel to continue to grow.”

Facing the pandemic

Now, the coronavirus pandemic is deeply impacting the hotel industry, posing great challenges for the convention center and hotel.

“We’re being affected just like everybody else in the world,” Menendez said.

Since the pandemic’s March outbreak, federal guidelines and state and local orders aimed at controlling the spread of the virus have capped gathering sizes at 10, effectively wiping out convention center bookings.

At the convention center, officials don’t plan to book an event until at least next June.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has slowed supply lines, helping to push back the hotel’s opening about two months.

Last month, BC Lynd released business plans aimed at drawing business during the pandemic.

“With reduced restrictions in capacity, we will focus on following up with all cancelled business about the possibility of rebooking using our new social distancing guidelines,” the company stated.

The company plans to participate in Southwest Showcase, Texas’ largest association tradeshow, “in order to bring larger association convention business to the Rio Grande Valley.”

The company is also planning to focus on the “social market” to book weddings, quinceañeras and holiday events.

Meanwhile, the company is working to draw training seminars focusing on coronavirus safety measures, school district training sessions and job fairs.

Regional impact

In Harlingen, the convention center will feature the only attached hotel in the Valley.

“There’s great synergy between the two entities — each one benefiting by being next to the other,” Menendez said. “When you attach a name like Hilton to the convention center, that’s provides a lot of benefit to both parties — they have perfected the business of hospitality.”

Menendez believes the convention center and 149-room full-service hotel will help boost the region’s economy.

“It’s going to benefit Harlingen and the region,” he said. “When you have 2,000 people coming to town, they’re going to need more than 149 rooms. When you attract groups of 2,000 to the city, that’s going to benefit the other hotels, too. The more heads in beds, the more tax base we’re going to have.”