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Westchase District Brings In ‘Fresh Eyes’ For Familiar Mission: Making It More Than A 9-To-5 Hangout

Houston’s Westchase District is a common place for people to be between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. That is why it has been on a mission for half a decade to encourage people to come earlier and stay later — maybe even by living there — and its new leader plans to continue the success it has found so far.

Charly Weldon last week became the second president and CEO of the Westchase District, the organization tasked with promoting economic growth in a 4-square-mile area of west Houston.

Westchase District

Weldon took over the role from Jim Murphy, who led the district since its creation in 1995. He remains on the board in a consulting role and plans to never be more than a phone call away, Weldon told Bisnow.

Weldon enters the role leading an established senior staff that has helped make Westchase District a “highly competitive area,” she said, pointing to the headquarters relocations of Mattress FirmApache Corp. and Bechtel Energy within the past year. For that reason, she is in “listening mode” to learn the district’s priorities and projects, she said. 

“All of the current staff has been mentored by Jim Murphy for years. He’s been a great leader,” said Sherry Fox, vice president of communications for Westchase District. “Charly brings a new skill set to the table, and I think her fresh eyes will identify new opportunities for the district.”

Weldon led Family Houston, a nonprofit organization connecting families to community resources, for the past seven years. Prior to that, she served as executive director of The Beacon, which works to meet the needs of Houston’s homeless population.

“This board ultimately agreed that I was the best candidate for this role because of my nonprofit experience and in-depth understanding of how to work with a board of directors,” Weldon said. 

Previous roles have taught her to build cohesiveness with stakeholders who have diverse perspectives of what it means to improve the district, she said.

“Everyone's going to have a different opinion, but bringing those things together to a common ground is something that I've done in the past, and I look forward to bringing that experience here,” Weldon said.

Charly Weldon

A priority over the past five years has been to diversify the district, which is primarily office space, by attracting more residential investment. 

Those efforts got off to a positive start in 2018 when CBRE's multifamily team closed on six apartment properties in and around the district within three months. Brokers cited a large employment base and mobility in the west Houston area, plus affordable and workforce housing, as being attractive to investors. 

Today, there are about 17M SF of offices within the district bordered by Westheimer Road to the north, Gessner Road to the east, Houston Center Boulevard to the west and Westpark Tollway to the south, according to a Colliers report. As of the first quarter, Westchase’s office market had a vacancy rate of 27%, slightly above Houston’s overall office vacancy rate of 25.8%, the report shows. 

Meanwhile, Westchase has 48 apartment communities with an occupancy rate of 89.4%, just under the average Houston occupancy of 90.1%, according to Transwestern’s Q1 Houston multifamily report. The average effective rent of $1,132 a month was also just below Houston’s overall average effective rent of $1,263.

Westchase’s 380 Area Agreement — similar to a tax reinvestment zone where the city collects and sets aside money from capital improvements — has helped bolster its attraction to residential investors while giving the community what it wants, including green space, trails and amenities. A three-part trail system connects Westchase District to the Brays Bayou trail system and Art Storey Park south of Bellaire.

The district is in the process of renewing the 380 Area Agreement, Weldon said, adding she plans to study how commercial buildings have been converted into housing by looking at what has worked in other districts and cities. 

Westchase is also focused on the opening and programming of Camden Park, which will have playground and entertainment amenities on 3.4 acres off Wilcrest Drive north of Richmond Avenue.

“So not only are [people] coming here for the 9-to-5, but they’re coming early to get a workout in on the trails,” Weldon said. “They’re staying afterwards to attend one of our park events. They’re bringing their family to our free outdoor activities. They’re really not just looking at it as a commercial space, but what makes it a livable space.”