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Maturing Woodlands Development Behind Strong Howard Hughes Returns

Howard Hughes has been gradually transitioning from a development-heavy company to generating stable income by emphasizing operations of its mature projects. Declining property sales in master planned developments recorded in its Q1 filings were offset by a 42% year-over-year increase in net operating income from assets like The Woodlands.

The Woodlands Waterway area

The Woodlands is a key example of the company's dual-pronged focus on the old and the new. Howard Hughes CEO David Weinreb attributed the company's better-than-expected first-quarter results to "further improvement in our operating assets segment as our portfolio matures and stabilizes," as well as to the delivery of a few new assets. 

Howard Hughes just completed its first-ever self-storage asset in The Woodlands, and medical development is very active, The Woodlands Development Co. president Tim Welbes told the crowd at Bisnow’s Future of Springwoods Village/The Woodlands event on Thursday. (The Woodlands Development Co. is a division of The Howard Hughes Corp.

But as The Woodlands begins to run out of land, Welbes is looking forward to a shift to operations.

First American Title's David Crawford, The Woodlands Development Co.'s Tim Welbes, The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau's Bruce Rieser, Colliers International - The Woodlands' Elena Bakina, Marcus & Millichap's Nate Newman

“How we manage all this will be really exciting,” Welbes said.

Only 307 of 28,000 acres remain for residential construction in The Woodlands. Seven hundred fifty-two acres still remain for commercial projects. Howard Hughes expects to sell out of residential land by 2022 and commercial by 2025.

The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau's Bruce Rieser and Coventry Development Corp.'s Warren Wilson

"I see us in Act 2 of this long-running play that is The Woodlands," said The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau chairman Bruce Rieser, who was recently elected Township director.

"We started rebranding ourselves about a year ago as our residential build-out completed."

The Woodlands Waterway

Howard Hughes needs The Woodlands to pay off. In a recent 8K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, nine of the company’s 13 unstabilized assets are in The Woodlands area. But the firm is optimistic; Howard Hughes estimates all will be stabilized by 2020. 

The Woodlands has changed since Howard Hughes bought it in 2011. Welbes pointed out The Woodlands is a reverse commute community now, with stronger northbound traffic on I-45 than southbound. The area is now a hotbed for corporate campuses with the likes of Chevron Phillips, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Baker Hughes and SWN, which hosted Thursday's event.

Black Forest Ventures' Sean Quinn, Newcor's Rob Banzhaf and The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership's Gil Staley

Development and land sales may be winding down within the Woodlands but as The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership CEO Gil Staley pointed out, population growth is driving plenty of development in surrounding areas. Projects like Springwoods Village are a crucial step in maintaining the momentum of the area.