Industry Innovator Continues to Thrive in Westchase District | WESTCHASE DISTRICT

Linda Hampton has seen it all. With 32 years of experience under the Norris Conference Center umbrella, Hampton has been part of the company’s transition from meeting space to social events, from pre-pandemic success to PPP loans, from one facility to six.

She was one of three employees when Norris Conference Centers was launched in Austin by Dave Norris in 1990. Norris worked in corporate America and had ideas about how to improve corporate meetings. “His original concept was to offer a privately-owned facility for day meetings that had an executive level feel,” said Hampton. “Only a handful of universities had meeting space back then and access to that space was limited. We wanted to offer an alternative to hotels for companies that didn’t need overnight accommodations, but we had to find an audience.” Michael Dell and Dell Computers became one of Norris’ first clients in Austin.

Choose your size: Norris Conference Centers have small breakout rooms as well as large gathering spaces for corporate meetings.

Houston expansion
The Westchase District location opened in 1996 at 9990 Richmond Avenue. Here, it found businesses eager to host conferences, seminars and board meetings at the facility. Norris’ Westchase District location has been remodeled three times as the business has grown. “We discovered our conference rooms in Westchase were smaller than companies wanted, so we combined them to create bigger spaces. Later we expanded as demand grew and we remodeled the kitchen to make it bigger and better positioned within the facility,” said Hampton. Today, the facility includes 24,000 square feet.

Expanding to social events
In its early days, the company focused exclusively on business meetings. While consulting on a project with the Port of Corpus Christi in the late 90s, Hampton said they realized there was a market for Christmas parties, wedding receptions, fundraisers and other social events. That led to the opening of Norris’ Red Oak Ballroom in CityCentre and later The Ark by Norris in Katy.

Hampton said when they opened Norris’ Red Oak Ballroom, they planned to close the Westchase location. “After all, the two facilities are only three and a half miles away from each other,” she observed. But their Westchase clients begged them not to close the location.

“There are only so many Friday and Saturday nights, so our core audience is still corporate business and hosting their meetings. About 25-30% of our business is social,” said Hampton.

Surviving COVID
“We celebrated the grand opening of our Dallas facility on March 6, 2020, then shuttered for eight months,” said Hampton. “Our staff was still working re-booking events and returning deposits. We received two Payment Protection Program loans and a loan from the Main Street Lending Program. By the grace of God and sheer determination, we survived,” she added.

Their first big post-COVID event was at Norris’ Red Oak Ballroom in CityCentre. “We hosted the Houston West Chamber’s Salute to Veterans event in 2020,” said Hampton. “It was the first time I thought ‘maybe business can come back.’”

“We had our own health and safety protocols, but we also let our clients drive that. We bent to their needs so that they’d feel comfortable returning to live, in-person events. Slowly, but surely, clients started returning,” she said.

Climbing out of the hole
Hampton said the business has returned to about 60% of its pre-COVID operations. Observers are predicting that the third quarter of 2022 will mark a return to normalcy for the hospitality industry.

What started out as a three-person operation in 1990 now employs around 100 people in Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Founder Dave Norris came to work for the company in 2013, giving up his day job in corporate America.

Catering by Norris
Catering for all Norris facilities in Houston is carried out at a kitchen at the Red Oak Ballroom. In the early days, they used outside catering. As the business grew, they could justify their own chef and a kitchen, according to Hampton. Ultimately, they purchased a van to deliver food to the Westchase location. Clients wanted Norris to cater food for in-house events as well, so Catering by Norris was born in 2017.

Married at Norris
Linda Hampton and Dave Norris married in 2012. “When you work with someone, you get to know them as a person. He started out as a boss and one day suggested we have dinner together. We’ve been married for 10 years and the company is celebrating 32 years,” said Hampton. Where did they celebrate their union? Red Oak Ballroom, of course.

9990 Richmond Avenue