Downtown Houston is a dynamic place with constant changes, from new retail openings, office re-locations and amenities that impact business, residents and visitors. Since 1995, the Houston Downtown Management District has facilitated many of the public and private projects that have transformed downtown. The District has set important goals with quality of life as the underlying theme: building a lasting constituency downtown; recruiting investors, retailers and tenants while retaining those already downtown; and making downtown clean, safe and attractive.
Below is a summary of developments, openings and announcements in downtown from May 2011 – October 2011. This is the first of a twice-yearly round-up of activity in and around the downtown area and the impact new projects will have on the local community.
The Downtown District follows a five year Service and Improvement plan and is currently in its second year. A full briefing on this plan, including goals and budgets, is available upon request.
Phoenicia Specialty Foods
Local favorite and national recognized Phoenicia Specialty Foods will open its one-of-a-kind 38,000-square-foot international gourmet food market on the ground floor of One Park Place in November of this year. Developer Marvy Finger, who built One Park Place – the first luxury residential high rise built in downtown Houston in over 40 years – has leased space to Phoenicia Specialty Foods, accentuating downtown residents’ quality of living experience. In addition to the grocery store component, there will be a café, where the menu will include both items from the store and popular dishes from Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, as well as a line of pizzas. The MKT Bar will offer tapas and wines for happy hour and evening noshing. Additionally, the store itself will carry an array of household goods and paper products, catering to those who live and work in the downtown area.
Sundance Cinema’s grand opening to the public is scheduled for November 23. Announced on March 31, 2011 by Sundance Cinemas, The Cordish Companies and the City of Houston, the cinema will take the place of the former Angelika center space at Bayou Place, located in downtown’s Theater District. Sundance Cinemas Houston will provide the same unique patron experience and success of Sundance's two other theatres, located in San Francisco, Calif. and Madison, Wis. Sundance Cinemas Houston will offer specialized film programming, playing the finest movies for a discerning audience culled from film festivals and the best in general release. The venue will offer drinking and dining choices, all reserved seating, digital stereo sound and presentation, filmmaker screenings and exclusive events, plus free parking for patrons and community events.
The Capitol at St. Germain
Veteran commercial real estate brokers Randy Fertitta and John Nguyen have added a new dimension to the central business district’s live music and entertainment scene with the adaptive reuse of the St. Germain Lofts on the corner of Main and Capitol. Opened in late October, The Capitol promises something old and something new in a majestic, turn-of-the-century venue restored to its original grandeur.
Icon Hotel Re-launch
In October, it was announced that the Icon Hotel will be re-launched as a Marriott Autograph Collection property. Known for their independent, luxury hotels, this is the first Marriott Autograph Collection to open in Houston. The iconic hotel underwent a foreclosure auction in January 2011, with Canyon Johnson Urban Funds of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Centurion purchasing the property for a reported $27 million.
Georgia’s Market Downtown
Georgia’s Farm to Market will open a multi-concept store on Main Street in downtown Houston in December. The popular farm to market store, which promotes health and well-being to its customers, already boasts a successful market in the Memorial/Katy area. A fresh alternative to everyday living, Georgia’s Market Downtown will include The Market, The Café and The Cellar and will be the premier place to shop, dine, play, relax and enjoy Houston. Owners Rick and Georgia Bost continue to erase and shorten the distance between where food is produced and where it is bought and consumed. As members of the local farming community, the Bosts strive to provide the largest selection of local foods and goods as possible, while supporting farmers and ranchers who use sustainable practices.
Scott Gertner’s at Houston Pavilions
Scott Gertner’s at Houston Pavilions will host high quality local and national performers on an arena-style stage. Gertner has been a cornerstone of Houston’s jazz community for the past 20 years and his new venue will greatly impact a local initiative to make Houston known as a jazz city. The nearly 12,000-square- foot, bi-level venue boasts outdoor space that will include rooftop deck, cabanas, lounge seating and DJs. It will also serve a full dinner menu. Scott Gertner’s is projected to be open later this year.
Free and convenient transportation is returning to downtown with the announcement of the new bus service GREENLINK, set to hit the streets in May 2012. Through a partnership between the Houston Downtown Management District, BG Group and Houston First Corporation, the downtown community can look forward to utilizing the environmentally friendly buses to get them to popular downtown locations quickly. Seven buses will operate Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., approximately 7-10 minutes apart during peak hours. The route spans 2.5 miles with approximately 20 stops and will connect major office buildings along Smith and Louisiana streets to METRO transit, the convention corridor, hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Popular downtown destinations along the route include the George R. Brown Convention Center, Main Street Square, Discovery Green, Macy’s, Houston Pavilions, City Hall and the Central Library.
Market Square Park
In September, the International Downtown Association recognized the Downtown District with a Downtown Pinnacle Award for its work and initiatives related to Market Square Park. The heart of Houston’s Historic District, Market Square Park has truly become a neighborhood park since its re-opening in August of 2010 and this award recognizes capital improvements that enhance the urban design, physical function, or economic viability of downtown and the community.
Downtown Public Safety Guides
In January, the Houston Downtown Management District unveiled the Downtown Public Safety Guide Program. With a focus on both safety and hospitality solutions, the Downtown Public Safety Guides monitor high traffic areas downtown to help deter crime, interact with the homeless and assist the public. To date, Downtown Public Safety Guides have assisted more than 23,000 downtown patrons and businesses.
"The Downtown Public Safety Guides support the mission of the Houston Police Department in several ways. First, they are a visible component that helps prevent criminal activity from occurring. Second, they report crimes and civility issues to HPD, which facilitates a more expedient and comprehensive response. Third, they mitigate many of the quality of life issues, thereby allowing HPD officers to focus on the more serious criminal activity. Having the eyes and ears of the DPSGs supplementing the mission of the HPD certainly adds to the safety and livability in downtown Houston." Captain Jonathan Zera, Special Operations Division, Houston Police Department.
Retail Core Master Plan
The Downtown District has collaborated with LA-based AECOM to develop a plan to promote and build-upon downtown’s existing retail core that includes department store anchor Macy’s and mixed-use developments, Houston Pavilions and The Shops at Houston Center. Pedestrians are at the forefront of planning the public realm with a focus on a lively and well-connected street environment. There is a multi-phase implementation plan with the immediate attention on Macy’s and surrounding retail opportunities in the Main Street Square area. The study can be found at http://www.downtownhouston.org/resource/development/
Downtown/EaDo Livable Centers Study
This study covers an 11-block x 16-block area bounded by Pease, St. Charles, Commerce and Austin. Home to major destinations such as the George R. Brown Convention Center, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and Discovery Green, the study area has experienced recent office, residential, retail and entertainment development. Future development includes the new Houston Dynamo Stadium, METRO light rail transit and new public spaces. In concert with H-GAC, the Houston Downtown Management District and East Downtown Management District are leading this Livable Centers study.
The Downtown District and Houston Downtown Alliance have entered their third year publishing downtown magazine. The definitive resource for what to do and where to go downtown, the quarterly magazine also features the people, businesses and organizations that make downtown exciting, interesting and ever evolving. An online version of the fall issue as well as past issues can be found at http://www.downtownhouston.org/news/downtown-magazine/.
Downtown Parking Task Force
The Downtown District has formed a parking task force made up of a 20-person group representing various downtown stakeholder groups: shopping, entertainment, dining, residential, transportation, park space, major event venues and office. The goal is to make recommendations to, and work with, the City of Houston on customer-friendly parking solutions. The task force will also be looking at shared parking/garage solutions that will better serve visitors that are coming downtown, specifically in the evenings and weekends.
Wilson Building, 500 Fannin
A private partnership, 500 Fannin LLC, has purchased the historic downtown building at the corner of Fannin and Prairie. The 1932 building originally housed the Wilson Stationery & Printing Co. and was most recently owned by Hilcorp Realty. The new owners plan an extensive restoration of the four-story building, which also has a basement, and rent it out to commercial tenants. The building has approximately 30,000 square feet of space. Ziegler Cooper Architects is designing the renovation and Fretz Constructions is the general contractor.
In February of this year, ground broke on the new, state-of-the-art, open-air stadium designed to host Dynamo games, as well as Texas Southern University football games and other sporting events and concerts. The 22,000-seat stadium is slated to open in May 2012 and will be the first soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer located in a city’s downtown district. At a cost of $95 million, the stadium is within walking distance of Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and the convention center, bringing more than 1,000,000 people to the downtown area each year.
METRO Light Rail
Once complete, the Southeast and East End Lines, between I-45 and US-59 will join the existing Main Street Line to connect residents and visitors from far and wide to business, education and government centers, along with major sporting events, world-class theaters, entertainment venues, hotels, restaurants and more in the heart of the city. Current construction is focusing on utility relocation.
Julia Ideson Library
The new $14 million archival wing for the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) was finished and reopened to the public in April 2010 and now renovation/restoration of the historic 1926 Ideson Library is underway. The ceilings in many of the rooms are going from stark white to being painted in their original polychrome colors, the first floor of the north wing is being retrofitted for use as a café, and an exhibit hall will be on the second floor to showcase collections of the HMRC and other exhibits. Substantial completion is projected for fall of this year. Total costs for the restoration is approximately $32 million including both public and private funding.
Harris County Jury Assembly Room and Transportation Plaza
The new jury assembly room is located in front of the civil courthouse and was a one-square-block surface parking lot. With green space at ground level and the assembly rooms underground, jurors now have tunnel access to all the courts without ever going outside. The new jury assembly rooms increase capacity from 750 to 1,000 people. Easier access to and from courtrooms means that eventually Harris County may be able to have jurors arrive at four different times instead of the current two and therefore take up less of their time.
The six-story granite and buff brick building encompasses an entire city block on Fannin between Preston and Congress. Built in 1910 at a cost of $500,000, the building originally housed all downtown county offices and all county courts. By the time the 98,000-square-foot courthouse closed for renovation in 2006, it was bursting at the seams, yet housed only a portion of the county's civil courts. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ultimately will serve as the new home the 1st and 14th Texas Courts of Appeal. They currently are housed at South Texas College of Law.
Trammell Crow Company could break two Houston-area real estate valuation records when it sells Hess Tower, exceeding the aggregate total and per-square-foot record prices paid for previous buildings. CBRE is marketing the new 29-story, 844,763-square-foot building. Hess Corporation occupies the entire building, with a lease expiration in 2026. Hess moved into the building in August from 500,000 sf of other downtown space, thus committing to a net additional 344,763 sf within the downtown market. With Hess’ expanded commitment to downtown, its workforce is now located in a highly sustainable office building, has many restaurants in immediate proximity, and be able to walk across the street and enjoy downtown’s 12-acre, $120 million park, Discovery Green. The building, owned and developed by Trammell Crow Company and designed by Gensler, is certified LEED gold, with skybridges linking it to 5 Houston Center and the new adjacent 1,300-space parking garage.
BG Group Place Goes Platinum
Hines just announced that BG Group Place has achieved LEED platinum status, making it one of only three LEED platinum core and shell buildings in the world. The 46-story, 973,000-square-foot building is 66 percent committed. The building’s largest tenant, BG Group, made its move to downtown, relocating its 650 employees and contractors from the Galleria area. Last year the firm committed to a lease of 164,000-square-feet, and then increased that commitment to 354,000 square feet with building naming rights to the building. The building, located at 811 Main Street and formerly known as Main Place, was developed by Hines for the Hines CalPERS Green Development Fund. Additional tenants include KPMG with 102,000 square feet, Latham & Watkins with 49ksf, Citicorp NA with 49,000 square feet, Hines with 25,000 square feet, and Frost Bank with 9,000 square feet of street level retail banking. KPMG LLP became the building’s first occupant at the end of January when it moved into most of the space on the top four floors.
Chevron Making Moves
Chevron has made several significant changes this year: Chevron purchased 1400 Smith from Brookfield and now owns and occupies two skyscrapers (1500 Louisiana and 1400 Smith) and leases 311,000 sf in a third office building (1600 Smith). They will open a Child Care Center for children of employees later this fall. And, before year end, there are plans to take possession of the former YMCA block now that the building has been removed and the ground sodded.
1300 Main Changes Hands, Gains New Tenant
Energy Transfer Partners has purchased 1300 Main, formerly known as Travis Tower. Owning its own building is not unique to Houston: the firm also owns buildings it occupies in Dallas and San Antonio. Energy Transfer Partners plans to move many of its 650 Houston-area workers into approximately 150,000 square feet of space at 1300 Main in late 2012. This transaction demonstrates the firm’s commitment to and confidence in downtown and continued strength of the downtown office market.
UPCOMING SIGNATURE EVENTS
Holiday Spectacular 2011
The 4th annual Holiday Spectacular connects Houstonians to the holiday events taking place around downtown from Thanksgiving through the New Year’s weekend. Two free downtown trolleys will connect thousands of patrons to the myriad of retail and entertainment options offered downtown during the holidays and free parking will be offered at the Macy’s garage during trolley hours. More than 500,000 Houstonians attend downtown events during the holiday season, including theater performances, Mayor’s Holiday Celebration, H-E-B Holiday Parade, Gingerbread Build off at Market Square Park and ice skating at Discovery Green.
New Year’s Eve Live
New Year’s Eve Live (formerly Gloworama New Year’s Eve), is Houston’s newest signature event. A fun and funky community celebration full of family-friendly activities including kids’ zone, ice-skating, an illuminated parade, and spectacular fireworks display. For more information visit www.newyearsevelive.com.
Chevron Houston Marathon and Olympic Team Trials- Marathon
The 40th anniversary Chevron Houston Marathon and companion Aramco Houston Half Marathon and El Paso Corporation 5K will take place on January 15, 2012, with the Houston Marathon Committee’s hosting of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon on January 14, 2012, one day prior to race day. More information can be found at www.chevronhoustonmarathon.com.
About Downtown District
The Houston Downtown Management District was formed in 1995 for the purpose of revitalizing the urban core of the country’s fourth largest city. Over the past decade, the Downtown District has used a combination of public funds and private resources to catalyze area improvements focusing on the city blocks bordered by Interstate 10, Highway 59, and Interstate 45. Since the Downtown District began operating in 1996, Downtown Houston has seen more than $4 billion of construction completed in over 110 public and private projects, the creation of 3.2 million square feet of new Class A office space, $500 million of infrastructure improvements, 3,000 new hotel rooms spanning 11 different projects, and a 250% increase in the population of permanent residents. For more information please call 713-650-3022 or visit Downtown District on the web at www.downtowndistrict.org or www.downtownhouston.org.
Kate Withall Elmore Public Relations