Washington Corridor Is Houston's Historic Redevelopment Hub. That's No Accident.
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Houston’s history with historic redevelopment is a rocky road.
After decades of sprawl and demolition, developers are finally starting to see the value in preserving the past. The Washington Corridor, once a hub of Houston’s industrial distribution network, is now home to some of the city’s most ambitious redevelopment projects.
Local developer Levcor's recently completed 7800 Washington in the latest renaissance of the neighborhood.
Originally a warehouse distribution center built in the 1950s, 7800 Washington is the perfect example of what has been happening in the area. Similar to projects up and down Washington Avenue, Levcor has preserved the feel of the old warehouses and distribution facilities while updating the property to higher use.
“Historic preservation is built into our zone,” Sixth Ward Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones Chair Claude Anello told Community Impact. “We’re able to shape how things develop here, how we protect our character but also make key improvements.”
The results can be seen in every direction. At 7800 Washington, redevelopment included repairing and restoring the exterior building facade, enlarging and replacing the windows and upgrading the system's parking lots.
"When we have real estate with history like 7800 Washington, we always want to keep the characteristics that make the building interesting while also updating the interior and exterior for modern retail and office needs," Levcor Vice President Justin Levine said. "Finding the balance of what to keep and what to redo is always the trickiest part of projects like this."
That challenge has been embraced by several developers.
Just off Washington, another local developer, Lovett Commercial, developed Sawyer Yards, eight city blocks of historic redevelopment, centered around The Silos at Sawyer Yards. It is home to more than 400 local artists under the watchful eye of the area’s storied rice silos.
On the eastern edge of the Washington Corridor, Lovett is pursuing its most ambitious project to date, a historic redevelopment of the Barbara Jordan Post Office, dubbed Post HTX. The adaptive reuse will turn the venue into a vibrant mixed-use space with more than 500K SF available on the 16-acre site.
In between, a two-story building, located at 1919 Washington Ave., is another prime example of adaptive reuse. Catalina Coffee’s home at 2201 Washington Ave. and Rockefellers' at 3620 Washington are also adaptive reuse projects.
"Our biggest priority when purchasing and redeveloping real estate is to be good stewards to the neighborhood," Levcor's Levine said. "For us, it means finding projects that are part of the community's fabric and enhancing them to add value to the neighborhood. As Houston continues to evolve into a world-class city, we will see more projects focused on enhancing building’s that have interesting characteristics that make developments special."
Despite those efforts, the character of Washington Avenue, formerly known as the Sixth Ward, has changed dramatically. The industrial zone, still constrained by a rail line running through it, has attracted plenty of new development alongside the reuse projects.
The Washington Corridor is now a hub of nightlife, but that, too, is changing.
Twelve multifamily developments are coming to the corridor in the next two years, according to ApartmentData.com. They will add an estimated 3,500 additional units of housing to the more than 10,000 units already in the area.
"We’ve seen the Washington Corridor evolve and grow into a neighborhood less focused on bars and more focused on community and living," Levine said.
The new developments and old reuse projects have blurred the lines of the neighborhood. The Heights is encroaching. H-E-B's new location on Washington has been dubbed Buffalo Heights. Gulf Coat's commercial forthcoming 20-acre development in the area has been branded Lower Heights. Both are signs that The Heights residence-focused lifestyle may be taking over the Washington Corridor.
So far the Old Sixth Ward TIRZ has been able to hold on to the character of the neighborhood. TIRZ 13, the official name of the Old Sixth War TIRZ, has put serious effort into preservation, establishing a historic and installing historic street lighting.
While much has changed, many landmarks have stayed the same, anchoring the thriving district to its Sixth Ward roots. Like nearly every neighborhood in the Bayou City, the area's fight for preservation is never over. As more money and residents pour in, the area will change. As long as developers continue to see the value in preserving the past, the Washington Corridor will always have a connection to its roots.