Drew Alexander Dishes On River Oaks Shopping Center, And The End Of The Universe
Weingarten Realty owns one of the plummiest parcels of land in Houston—the River Oaks Shopping Center. We asked CEO Drew Alexander about plans for the iconic shopping center, how technology is changing retailing and how it feels to own The End of the Universe.
In December, Weingarten announced it was exploring mixed-use options for the iconic River Oaks Shopping Center, and followed that up the next month with a purchase of property adjacent to the complex. So what's planned now?
Drew tells us everything is on the table. The company is considering a residential component, office space, parking options and landscaping improvements (don’t worry, removing there are no plans to remove the palm trees). The residential component would probably see more empty nesters than Millennials, considering the area, Drew says.
Weingarten is always looking for ways to modernize the iconic shopping center, Drew says, even when those improvements whip up controversy. The company's exploring ways to connect the north and south sides of the complex. They’ve considered an elevated crosswalk, but that idea never got off the ground—literally. The distance across the road is too short; the span would be too steep to walk comfortably. An underground tunnel would likewise have a number of obstacles. Discussions continue.
Kroger is being remodeled, no surprise since Drew says supermarkets are a bright spot in Houston's Goldilocks economy: OK, but not great. Weingarten’s grocers average an outstanding $602/SF in sales, Drew tells us. Kroger recently launched its ClickList service, in which customers order online and store employees assemble the groceries and load them into customer’s cars at an assigned time. So far, the service has earned rave reviews.
It's an example of the blended omnichannel models many retailers are turning to, where brick-and-mortar has some component of technology to drive sales, while pure Internet companies are opening retail stores. Customers want to touch, feel, try on. “You can’t get your hair cut on the Internet,” Drew quips.
One question begged to be asked: how does it feel to own the real estate where The End of the Universe is? Drew told us a secret: there are not just two Starbucks across from each other at River Oaks Shopping Center. There are actually FOUR STARBUCKS. One is in the Kroger and the other is in Barnes & Noble. (And he finds Lewis Black's bit about the End of the Universe hilarious.)
Elsewhere in the US, Weingarten is building a Wegman’s in DC, redeveloping Walter Reed Medical Center in the DC area, building a 60k SF mixed-use project in Seattle anchored by Whole Foods, and in Atlanta, it's redeveloping the civic center north of downtown. That will be a $300M mixed-use office, retail and residential complex.