Exciting Growth for City of Tomball: Festivals, Small Biz, Tourism

Thinking about buying a new home in Northwest Houston? It’s becoming more and more evident that Tomball is on the up and coming for top places to live in Houston. According to a recent article by Community Impact, the City of Tomball is becoming a popular destination. 

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While the city of Tomball’s population grew by less than 1,000 residents between 2010 and 2016—according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau—its tourist population has swelled in the same time frame.

Business, thoroughfare and festival growth is driving thousands of guests to Tomball from across the state and the U.S. each year, Marketing Director Mike Baxter said.

“The [Grand] Parkway and the extension of [Hwy.] 249 have helped just make it easier to get here,” Baxter said. “The visitation we’re getting at our events has grown a lot faster than the population of the city of Tomball, because we’re still at right around 11,000 people and here we are bringing in close to 70,000 [tourists]a year.”

Baxter said he projects total city-sponsored festival attendance will reach 71,000 guests in 2017, an increase from 57,000 guests in 2016. However, he said city festivals account for a small portion of the number of guests visiting Tomball.

Small businesses in Old Town Tomball—the downtown area between Pine and Elm streets—and events hosted by organizations other than the city, such as the Tomball Farmers Market and the annual German festivals, bring a steady stream of guests to the area, Baxter said.

“From the very start, [festivals were] designed to be a marketing tool to introduce people to Tomball,” he said. “That was the original impetus to doing this was to create a fun environment that would draw people to town and then make them regulars wanting to come back and shop at the farmers market and that kind of thing.”

Festival Growth

Tomball established a marketing department in 2011, funded by the city’s 7 percent hotel occupancy tax rate.

Baxter said no city-sponsored events existed prior to 2011 when Beetles, Brew and Barbecue debuted. Attendance at the event topped 9,100 guests in September, an increase of 2,500 guests from 2016.

“The events we personally are involved in to the point of staging those events ha[ve]grown substantially over the past six years,” Baxter said. 

As marketing efforts have increased, city festivals have grown to about 10 signature events each year, Baxter said. However, severe weather forced the city to cancel three events in 2016, and the Tomball Texas Musical Festival was canceled this year due to Hurricane Harvey in late August. 

 “With one rainout, we already have 44,600 people [as of Oct. 13], so that’s like 12,000 off of last year[’s] total,” Baxter said. “If we just do the numbers we did last year [for the last four events], we’re going to end up around 71,000 people, so that will be a substantial increase over last year with those three rainouts.”

The city’s newest festival, the Freight Train Food Truck Festival, was added in 2016 with 9,200 attendees. It returned for a second year in late October.

In addition to new festivals, the city allotted $150,000 for lighting, sidewalk and splash pad improvements to the Tomball Historic Depot area between fiscal year 2015-16 and FY 2016-17 to improve the festival area, according to budget documents.

Growing hotel tax revenue has yielded more available funding to promote tourism, according to data. Hotel tax revenue increased nearly 215 percent from fiscal year 2009-10 to FY 2016-17, according to city data. Although hotel tax revenue dipped 14 percent to $485,558 in FY 2016-17—which ended Sept. 30—the city expects to collect $525,000 in hotel tax revenue for FY 2017-18. 

Additionally, 65 percent of hotel tax revenue went to fund tourism efforts in FY 2016-17, according to city data. This is an increase from FY 2015-16, in which about 39 percent of hotel tax revenue went toward tourism efforts.

However, Baxter said lower hotel rates in 2017 and a hotel tax waiver for Hurricane Harvey relief in late August and September could affect the city’s available marketing funds this fiscal year.

In addition to city-hosted events, the Tomball Sister City Organization—hosts of Tomball’s two German festivals—also continues to draw thousands of guests to Old Town Tomball each year. The TSCO receives its festival funding from hotel tax revenue.

TSCO Chairman Grady Martin said he estimates more than 60,000 guests will flock to Tomball in December for the German Christmas Market, a festival that launched in 2007.

“So many people have said to me, ‘Y’all have really put Tomball on the map with these German festivals,’” he said. 

Nearly 80,000 guests from across the U.S. visit Tomball each spring for the German Heritage Festival, which began in 2000, Martin said.

“They come from everywhere. We fill the hotels up. We’re by far the largest event in the area outside of the [Texas] Renaissance Festival,” Martin said.

Positioned as a Destination

Located near the Grand Parkway between Hwy. 290 and I-45, Tomball is a short drive from major commercial sites spurring job growth in the area, such as the Daikin Texas Technology Park in Hockley and the ExxonMobil campus in Spring, said Kelly Violette, executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corporation.

“With the Grand Parkway and with [the extension of Hwy.]249 under construction, there’s now this sense of ‘It isn’t far away,’ and you can access all of your markets and [business]customers [from Tomball],” she said. 

The Texas Department of Transportation opened Grand Parkway segments F-1 and F-2 to drivers in early 2016 just south of Tomball, providing a direct route between Hwy. 290 and I-45. TxDOT and Harris and Montgomery counties are also working to extend the Tomball Tollway—the tolled portion of Hwy. 249—from north of FM 2920 in Tomball to Hwy. 105 in Navasota by 2020 to improve regional mobility. 

Additionally, Tomball is located within a few hours reach of other Texas metro areas, such as San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Baxter said the city increased its marketing efforts two years ago to target a statewide audience via “The Daytripper” TV show and podcast, advertisements in Texas Monthly and publications in San Antonio.

“We’re really reaching out to draw people in,” he said. “The [surveys]show they’re coming from at least 50 miles out—in some cases even more.”

You can read the full article by Community Impact here.

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