The Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center: Corpus Christi’s premier event center hosting world-class events
By: Jessica Dusek
Photos by: Paul Marshall
So what do lemongrass cilantro waffles, red Thai curry and vibrant purple bows have in common? They’re the makings of an event to remember. A world-class venue, the Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center features ambiance, world-class menu selections and attentive staff for a successful and memorable event. “It is literally a one-stop shop; anything you need to make an event successful – we provide everything,” explains Neil Fox, general manager. Relationships with their 20-plus venders and dedicated staff contribute to the events’ successes.
What was at one time a cotton warehouse and is adorned with the original industrial features, the center, established in September 2000, was appropriately named after Congressman Ortiz, drawing on its rich history in business port industry of Corpus Christi. “This is a unique venue in being an old warehouse,” explains Ali Choe, events and marketing manager, noting the unique pallet with concrete walls and black trusses.
Lighting and draping contribute significantly to the transformation of any event. The industrial ambiance captures a backdrop for outside events, highlighting the lit-up Harbor Bridge to set the tone. A Port Corpus Christi property professionally managed by the Spectra by Comcast Spectacor, the once “cotton warehouse” provides a floor-to-ceiling view of the ship channel with banquet and meeting rooms to host high-end and colorful events to weekly rotary meetings.
The Ortiz Center accommodates guests by offering in-house resources. “We are a full-service caterer,” Fox explains. “We do home-style, traditional and upscale boutique menus.” Fox, previously the senior manager of marketing and events for cast dining at the Disneyland Resorts, draws on his 16 years of experience. He oversees a tightly knit team of nine employees to keep operations running smoothly, including two fulltime sales managers, a fulltime event manager and culinary and operations staff.
Within the last two years, the Ortiz Center has upgraded renovations with brand-new carpet, sparkling new stemware and a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi system, featured in all conference rooms and the banquet/ballroom. Incorporating features such as full audio-visual access to the venue, this brings in a wide variety of clients for the Ortiz Center. The vibrant venue accommodates anywhere from 10 to 850 people. Specialty events are generally held Thursday through Sunday. “I don’t know what it is about Thursday for Corpus Christi [clients], but they love events on Thursdays,” explains Fox of the Corpus culture. Business and community-based organizations such as the rotary events book throughout the week, hosting meetings and trainings to nonprofit fundraisers, as well as tradeshows and weddings on weekend openings.
In 2015, they featured the Ready or Not Foundation fashion show, bringing in New York style models and designers. The center also hosted the Annual Art Museum Gala event last November, with 500 people in attendance, featuring the Mavericks playing in the background. Museum staff were able to add a personal touch, pulling in the mobile walls to accommodate the artistic design, as though actually walking through a section of the museum.
Hosting a variety of events, last year, they featured Moonlight in the Garden, a fundraising event normally held in at the Botanical Gardens. The event needed to conduct a last-minute move due to excessive rain and winds. The Ortiz Center helped guide the event into production, hosting 900 guests from outside gardens to the waterfront venue.
“We did an immediate change that night at midnight to reset the room and dancefloor for a wedding the following night!” Fox describes. They had a slim 36 hours to make the impossible, possible. With the help of the Gardens staff and volunteers, Butler Signature Events and Razzle Dazzle weddings, the event coordinators could execute a successful last-minute change of venue.
But oh, that menu!
Led by Executive Chef Merci and her sous chef, Alicia, the culinary team is one of its greatest features. Merci, a Del Mar Culinary graduate, was awarded Junior Texas Chef of year in 2006, and the Texas Chef of the Year in 2009. Along with their core menu, Merci began featuring new internationally inspired food selections, adding to the delightful filet minion and lobster tail options.
“More recently, we have been able to help clients to step outside the box,” Fox explains. “We are doing a variety of small plates and action stations. Culinary-wise, we are not a typical venue. We want to work with our client – do a mix-and-mingle with live-action stations to get people to engage with people.” Highlighting the social interaction, they focus on “small plates.”
Currently, they are looking to do a fire-and-ice wing bar with tossed to order wings. “The ice bar is an ice display with all your different condiments,” Fox says, adding that the “Interactive S’mores bar” is where build guests build their own s’mores, with a small flame to toast marshmallows, chocolate and gram crackers.
Savory features also include Thai red curry-braised short ribs on a lemongrass cilantro waffle with coconut peanut brittle and mint lime microgreen. “We do Southern hospitality stations, with barbecue brisket. Including green beans and cornbread,” Choe says. They also pull in their Third Coast Tacos Station, in which they cook to order miniature tacos with mango Pico de Gallo. “The Spud Bar gives you the option of doing Yukon Gold or Sweet Potato Mash where the guest gets to top it with whatever their heart desires,” says Fox of the new additions.
Developments for 2016 are guiding the Ortiz Center, full force. The center is quadrupling their Wi-Fi bandwidth and working closely with the Port on significant audio and visual upgrades alongside adding energy-efficient lighting. “This not only improves [the venue] on a sustainability front, but allows us to do lighting schemes in the ballroom, Fox explains. Providing discounts for non-profit events, they have totaled more than $200,000 in table sponsorships and discounts offering 50 percent off room rate, and 25 percent off of AV equipment. “When we provide those opportunities,” Fox says, “it allows them to direct those funds back to their programs, which is why we do it.”
Book your next event! For more information, visit the website at www.ortizcenter.com.
Ortiz photos courtesy of Ortiz International Center