City leaders share Final Four security plans ahead of events this weekend

Monday, March 27, 2023
Security plans revealed for Final Four weekend
Even if you're not going to the games, there are plenty of other things surrounding the Final Four that you'll want to know about, including street closures.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's a big week for the city of Houston, who will be on the national stage as fans roll into town from across the country for the Final Four.

The matchups are set: Florida Atlantic will face off Saturday in the semifinals against San Diego State, while the University of Connecticut will take on the Miami Hurricanes.

Both the University of Houston and the University of Texas were vying to make it back to the Bayou City for the semifinals and ultimately, a shot at the championship next Monday, but Miami ended up knocking both teams out of the tournament.

Around 75,000 people are expected to come to Houston for the games and festivities. Ahead of fans' descent on the city, local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner, HPD Chief Troy Finner and HFD Chief Samuel Peña, shared their traffic and safety plans for the tournament during a live briefing at City Hall.

Among the top reminders:

  • No weapons allowed inside NRG Stadium, the site of the games and other activities, or the George R. Brown Convention Center
  • Clear bag policies will be in place at all NCAA events.
  • Free METROrail rides on red, green and purple lines on March 31 - April 3
  • Have a plan to reunite with friends and family if you get separated
  • Don't forget to hydrate - you never know what will happen with the weather

Finner said there will be officers at the events, seen and unseen, but did not disclose the numbers. Both he and Peña are encouraging anyone who sees something suspicious to say something.

The capacity for the March Madness music festival at Discovery Green is 22,000.

RELATED: Multiple road closures expected on March 18-20 in preparation for Final Four events

Capacity quickly came up at Monday morning's press conference following the deadly tragedy at the Astroworld Music Festival in November 2021.

"The priority is safety. There is no question," said Holly Kesterson, vice president for the Harris County - Houston Sports Authority and president of the 2023 Houston Local Organizing Committee. Kesterson said that's why the concerts, though free, are ticketed.

Speaking more to the safety concerns with thousands of people expected throughout downtown Houston this weekend, Peña added that there has been "coordination here since the beginning" between all agencies and venues when it comes to establishing footprint and occupancy, unified command, and assigning areas of responsibility.

This is the fourth time Houston has hosted a Final Four, so city planners are no strangers to this event.

Much of the action will center around the George R. Brown Convention Center, where there are street closures.

Avenida de las Americas will be shut down from Lamar to McKinney. Both of those streets are closed as well.

Lamar Street will be closed to La Branch, and McKinney will be closed to Crawford Street.

You'll want to pay attention if you plan to head down there as many of the fan events are taking place downtown.

"The downtown footprint is pretty amazing, especially with all of the fan events being able to be held right next to each other down here. The stadium is not too far from the METRO rail, so out-of-town visitors can just jump on it for the games," said Rachel Quan, vice president of the Houston Local Organizing Committee.

Other events that will affect the streets are the Final Four 4-Miler, starting at Hermann Square at City Hall on Saturday, April 1, and the Men's Final Four Dribble on Sunday, April 2.

Visitors downtown during the weekend should expect additional traffic as the Astros are opening their season at home and the R&B group New Edition concert at Toyota Center on Saturday evening.

RELATED: Houston's own Megan Thee Stallion to headline NCAA March Madness Music Festival

No road closures are expected around NRG Park where the Final Four is taking place on Saturday and Monday.

Above all, the mayor encouraged everyone to be patient and show any visitors the Southern hospitality that Houston is known for.

The estimated economic impact of having the Final Four in Houston is $300 million.

ABC13 spoke with Ryan Soroka, the co-founder of 8th Wonder Brewery in East Downtown. He said they're still expecting a big weekend, despite the University of Houston or the University of Texas not participating in the Final Four.

"A Texas team in the tournament would have added to the energy down here, but it's still going to be pretty busy," Soroka said. "A lot of people out and about."