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Food Halls, Coworking And Luxury Hospitality Now Define Downtown Houston

A decade ago, Downtown Houston was defined by surface parking lots and office buildings. Today, the vibrant central business district is home to more food halls, coworking space and luxury hotel rooms than any area of the city. The transformation, years in the making, has locals and visitors reconsidering something they have taken for granted.

609 Main at Texas

“In 2010 we had a population of about 3,000,” Downtown District Director of Economic Development Robert Pieroni said. “Today we’re well over 9,000. The difference is that Downtown is now a 24 hours a day, seven days a week destination. There’s always something you can do.” 

Most of what people do Downtown is still work-based. At the beginning of the last decade, Downtown contained 31M SF of Class-A office space throughout 34 buildings; Downtown closed out the decade with 40 Class-A building, an inventory increase to nearly 35.5M SF. The newest story in Downtown Houston’s office sector is the rapid growth of coworking. Late to the game from a national perspective, Downtown is catching up quickly, and now has more than 400K SF in coworking space. 

In 2019, WeWork opened its second Downtown location, a 56K SF space at 609 Main. A 28K SF space dubbed The Square was unveiled by Hines in 717 Texas. At The Cannon, Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority are collaborating on a 17K SF space to be shared by two nationally ranked accelerators, Boston-based MassChallenge and Milwaukee-based Gener8or.

Downtown properties are feeling the pressure to stay competitive as new properties continually up the amenity game. By year-end, more than 12.6M SF of office space will be under renovation throughout 13 buildings, according to the Downtown District. 

As the office space has grown, developers and planners have worked to increase the appeal for the people filling those buildings.

“We’ve amenitized Downtown to be attractive to an employee. That makes companies want to be in the inner core,” Pieroni said. 

Exterior of Finn Hall in downtown Houston

Food halls have shaken up downtown’s retail sector, capitalizing on one of Houston’s most underrated aspects: food. Conservatory, Finn Hall, Understory and more are inviting everyone downtown to experience Houston’s vibrant food scene. With many starting weekends hours, the food halls have quickly become part of the downtown walkable lifestyle, as workers and residents traverse the streets or tunnels for a bite. 

“From a press perspective, they’ve gained national attention, putting buzz around something many Houstonians take for granted,” Pieroni said. “Houston is a major food destination, we don’t talk about that enough. Our food halls have dramatically increased Houston’s buzz.”

Whether you are in Downtown as a local or a visitor, looking for a place to work or something to do or eat has never been better. After a decade of growth in every sector, Downtown is poised to enter a new phase of growth as a mature central business district. Plan Downtown has outlined the city and district's vision for the future. 

Downtown will now turn its attention to creating a Green Loop, a 5-mile transportation and recreation circuit that connects Downtown to adjacent neighborhoods. Walkability will be promoted with the development of Downtown Design Guidelines and the addition of new destinations. Work will continue on the Innovation Corridor. After growing its population by nearly 300% in 10 years, Downtown is planning 12,000 additional residential units to support population growth to 30,000 over the next 20 years. 

Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel in Downtown

Downtown’s hospitality scene has been growing nearly as quickly as its permanent residents. Downtown’s hospitality sector had its second-most-active year on record, adding 775 new rooms, according to Downtown District’s report. With the opening of The Cambria Hotel, Downtown now has more than 5,200 AAA Four-Diamond Hotel rooms throughout 11 properties, comprising 64% of all the Downtown hotel inventory.

With three major sports teams playing on one end of Downtown and the second-largest performing arts district in the nation on the other, there is entertainment happening in Downtown Houston every night, year-round. That helps the restaurants and hospitality industry growing in the area. 

“Hotel demand continues to rise, being fed by business travel picking up and a very big push from the Convention and Visitors Bureau to go after the conference market,” Pieroni said. “This year we don’t have any big impacts like the Super Bowl, but we have some big opportunities on the horizon. Downtown is also a big staycation destination. There’s always something to do Downtown, so it’s drawing people from around the region.”