Have You Heard Of New Caney? The Growing Houston Community Has More To Offer Than Its New Waterpark
New Caney is small — the 2016 American Community Survey estimated roughly 22,000 people live in the unincorporated area 5 miles north of Kingwood and about 20 miles east of The Woodlands.
But with 12,500 homes and major entertainment hubs underway, it is emerging in a big way. Master-planned community developers are going all-in on what they hope to be a family-friendly destination touting new entertainment venues, affordable single-family housing and fast-growing school districts.
"This is the next segment of the Houston market that is going to see rapid-fire growth," said Grand Texas Theme Park CEO Monty Galland, who is a panelist on Bisnow's The Future of Montgomery County event on Sept. 5.
Grand Texas Theme Park is one of the biggest economic drivers spurring development in the New Caney area. The 600-acre park is at Interstate 69 and Highway 242, a major thoroughfare for east-west travel.
The theme park is a part of the Grand Texas Sports & Entertainment District, which at full build-out will include the Grand Texas Sportsplex, a professional baseball stadium, multi-use event center, a motorsports complex and almost 300K SF of entertainment, dining and retail space.
Big Rivers Water Park and Gator Bayou Adventure Park opened earlier this year for its inaugural season in Grand Texas. The park features zip lines, free falls, a lazy river, water rides and several on-site food options. Eventually, a theme park will be among the major attractions.
More than 8,000 guests visited Grand Texas on the Fourth of July, its busiest day yet, Galland said. He aims to reach 500,000 guests annually, close to what Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown in Spring draws. However, traffic could top a million yearly guests as Grand Texas expands and offers off-season activities, he said.
An Uphill Battle
Galland purchased the 600-acre plot in 2013, after considering other sites, including one in Tomball. He hired an experienced theme park team to develop and conceptualize the project. Portions of the park were anticipated to open in 2015.
But, the price of oil dropped in late 2014, halting major projects throughout the Greater Houston region. Some sectors are still rebounding from the energy slowdown. Financial lenders lost confidence in the city.
"No one would touch Houston," Galland said.
However, the Grand Texas team continued to prep the site and improved the infrastructure by adding sewer and electricity lines. Many of the communities in the corridor are comprised of manufactured homes with septic tanks.
Grand Texas is adding a number of roads to connect the mixed-use project with the major thoroughfares. Texas Department of Transportation is also widening Highway 242, a project expected to start by year-end.
H-E-B has agreed to anchor a retail development at the intersection of 69 and 242, but plans to wait until road construction is near completion to break ground, Galland said.
Austin-based Stratus Properties acquired the 38-acre site last year, according to the Houston Chronicle. The project will include 145K SF of retail space, including the grocery store, five pad sites and a 10-acre parcel for apartments. Construction is expected to begin in three years, per the Chronicle.
A 12K SF medical office building and urgent care facility recently opened, and Best Western Plus New Caney is underway next door. The hotel will feature 114 rooms, according to Galland. A local, family-owned restaurant, Splendora Cafe & BBQ, is expanding into New Caney with a 240-seat eatery.
Galland also developed the Grand Texas RV Park, which is more than 90% leased. About a dozen trailer lots remain open for short-term users. He is underway on a 7-acre self-storage facility across the street from the RV Park.
"We had challenges, and we overcame challenges," he said.
Racing To Play Catch-Up
Speedsportz Racing Park is another entertainment-focused destination in the New Caney corridor. But like its neighbor, Grand Texas, the development of Speedsportz has been slow going.
The project was delayed a year and had a soft opening in December 2016. A year earlier, Speedsportz Manager Jessica Rudolph moved to the area to help run the facility.
Speedsportz was still under construction, but it had a track and some go-karts, and starting doing business.
"It was me, a foldout table and an iPad taking people's money," Speedsportz Rudolph said.
In the years since, Rudolph has seen the area grow and draw more businesses.
"I don't really want it to be the Woodlands, but it will be the next destination place to come," she said.
Residential expansion is a critical piece to spur additional commercial expansion along Highway 242, East Montgomery County Improvement District President and CEO Frank McCrady said.
Within 6 miles of Grand Texas, over 12,500 homes are under construction, according to Grand Texas. Land Tejas is slated for 6,200 homes. Oakmont, Granger Pines and Porters Mill each have 1,200 homes. Artvaia is underway with 2,700 homes.
Students in this region attend New Caney and Splendora Independent School Districts, and both are experiencing enrollment growth, McCrady said.
New Caney ISD has issued a $200M bond to build a third high school, replace Keefer Crossing Middle and Porter Elementary schools, and expand Woodridge Forest Middle School, according to Community Impact Newspaper.
"The school district is building schools as fast as we can," McCrady said. "Folks are moving here. It all fits together with the retail development, residential development and the continued development of the schools. That is what is warranting people to move into this area."
New Caney residents are enjoying retailers and restaurants they never had this close to home.
The completion of the Grand Parkway has unlocked development along its suburban corridors and it is taking a similar shape at the I-69 intersection, McCrady said. The high growth of rooftops supports investment beyond fast-food restaurants.
"We never had the opportunity to do pad site development for restaurants," he said. "Those types of projects were not remotely possible 10 or 15 years ago."
The burgeoning intersection of the Grand Parkway and I-69 is home to Valley Ranch, a 1,400-acre master-planned community by The Signorelli Co.
A number of retailers — such as Kroger, Academy Sports + Outdoors, PetSmart, Ulta, Chili's, Chick-fil-A, Freddy’s, Subway, Whataburger, Olive Garden, Bath and Body Works, Kung Fu Tea and Yummy Tummy Baker — have signed leases at Valley Ranch Town Center. Over 1M SF of retail has been developed or in lease-up. The current phase is over 92% leased.
Only about half of the land has been built up, leaving major opportunity for future growth. More than 650 acres remain to be occupied near I-69 and the Grand Parkway, Bisnow previously reported.
Ironbridge Realty Partners is redeveloping a shopping center at 69 and FM 1485, about midway between Valley Ranch and Grand Texas, the anchors of commercial development in this Interstate 69 corridor.
The 40K SF space is the former site of Brookshire Brothers, according to Ironbridge's marketing material. The site plan divides the big-box property into three spaces: 20K SF, 12K SF and 8K SF. There is an additional pad site available adjacent a Taco Bell and existing retail.
Not all of the developers have announced their projects along this New Caney corridor, McCrady said. Some are holding onto their land, and others are planning future development to include hotels, multifamily complexes and retail, which will include big-box stores and sit-down restaurants.
"We are looking for things we haven't had in the past and are trying to bring in some new products," McCrady said.