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January 8, 2010 
 
 
ON THE RIGHT TRACK

To our new subscribers: Bisnow brings something you've never seen to real estate news: brevity. And some humor, when appropriate. We're informative, but easy to read, and we hope you enjoy.

 
Wednesday we talked about the need to revitalize downtown; today, proof Houston’s on it. The renovation of Market Square Park (bounded by Travis, Prairie, Preston, and Milam) began Monday. Tribble & Stephens project director Tom Langley tells us it will be a testament to our history, even as it alters the face of downtown.
 
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Tom has worked on Market Square Park for 28 years, from its first iteration as a freebie by the Junior League in the 70s with lots of hills, to the decision in the 80s that an update was needed and the subsequent flattening of the park to enhance security, through DiverseWork’s insertion of art around 1990, to today’s complete overhaul. Tom tells us the current renovations are a reflection of the increase of residential areas downtown. The existing park is a tribute to Houston’s history, he says, but the new design will provide open space and build a sense of community.

Downtown Redevelopment Authority chair Jaime Mize confirms that Houston is striving to create an urban neighborhood and hopes local property owners will develop their properties as well. Currently, the park contains artwork and fragments from historic Houston buildings. (Among its one-time inhabitants: the original open-air market around which downtown grew, the Texas Capitol and White House, and three City Halls.) Much of the art is being updated and brought back, and James Surls’ statue Points of View (above) will remain at the center. 

New features include a dog park, plaza with Niko Niko’s kiosk, fountains, and Laura’s Garden, a memorial to 9/11 victims, including Laura Catuzzi Grandcolas, a local woman who died on United Flight 93. It includes a water feature with one pebble for every victim of that crash. The park is slated for completion in mid 2010, so a commemorative ceremony can be held on Sep 11. Tom confides that it’s interesting working on a site with no construction perimeter (every inch of the city block is being improved). The project is spearheaded by the Houston Downtown Management District, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, and Houston Parks and Rec, and they brought on Ray + Hollington Architects, landscape architect Lauren Griffith Associates, and GC Tribble.


IN OTHER RENOVATIONS: SHARPSTOWN

 
Grupo Zocalo’s senior property manager Chris Chumley

Grupo Zocalo’s senior property manager Chris Chumley shows off some aspects of the $10M revitalization of Sharpstown Center and rebranding to PlazAmericas. He tells us when Grupo Zocalo (the retail arm of Houston-based Boxer Properties, which specializes in turning around distressed properties) acquired the property in Feb ’09, it already had specific renovations in mind based on their work with La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth. The decision to rename the property was more recent and based on the stigma attached to the Sharpstown name. (It was the first enclosed, air-conditioned mall in Houston but fell into disrepair and bankruptcy.) When Grupo Zocalo acquired it, the center was under 40% occupied, the roof leaked, and no escalators worked.

Now only one broken escalator remains, and major construction is slated to begin in the upcoming weeks. Chris tells us it should be done in nine months. The bulk is a new 83k SF, two level Mercado (marketplace) with numerous stores run primarily by small business owners and startups, plus a play area, family lounge, and chapel. To reflect the over 52% Hispanic population within three miles of the mall, all signs will be bilingual, and decorations and events center around Hispanic culture. Grupo Zocalo is looking for a tenant for the movie theater and a restaurant located in the Mercado, and is focusing on upgrading security.
 

As we saw, crews are constantly working on one of the 96 projects scheduled. Chris informs us it selected this property because “in Houston, you can’t find a better location” and it was dramatically underutilized but is still important to the community. Serving the community is a focus, he states, and free concerts and a room that can be leased free for events (recent ones were HIV awareness, blood drive, and voter registration) are examples. Chris stresses that the renovation benefits everyone: it will create over 500 jobs.  One such job—a wandering mascot dog named Chico.


MOVE OVER, ANDERSON COOPER: THE NEW 360
 

The Marathon Oil Tower may look like it’s blushing, but only because it was designated a BOMA 360 Performance Building this week. The Class A, 1M SF, 41-story office building is the first in the Galleria area to receive this distinction, which is an online self-assessment focusing on six areas, including risk management, training/education, environment/sustainability, and tenant relations/community involvement. In ’06, the tower was the international recipient of the BOMA TOBY award for buildings over 1M SF and it has been recognized by Energy Star for the past six years. Congrats to owner Hanover Real Estate Partners and joint manager Transwestern.

 
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