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Street-Level Activation: Houston Center To Receive Multilevel Makeover

Houston Retail

Brookfield Properties is taking another major swing at a Downtown redevelopment.  

This time it is tackling a multilevel redevelopment at Houston Center — a 9.2-acre portfolio of three high-rise office buildings and a 16-story tower atop a 196K SF retail center, claiming the title of Downtown's largest asset. 

"This was always a part of our plan when we underwrote the project," Brookfield Properties Executive Vice President Travis Overall told Bisnow in a one-on-one interview. 

A rendering of the 2 Houston Center lobby in Downtown Houston

Acquired by Brookfield in late 2017, Houston Center includes LyondellBasell Tower at 1221 McKinney St., 2 Houston Center at 909 Fannin St., Fulbright Tower at 1301 McKinney and 4 Houston Center & The Shops at Houston Center near Lamar and McKinney streets. At the time of sale, the portfolio was valued at about $875M

The renovation announcement comes on the heels of back-to-back quarters of positive net absorption for Houston's office market; office vacancy has decreased to 23.4%, according to JLL

“The capital investment we are making in Houston Center is reflective of the confidence we have in Downtown and in Houston as a whole,” Overall said.  

Returning To Glory

Brookfield understood that if it wanted Houston Center to prevail among the top tier of the Downtown office buildings it would have to reinvest money into the property, Overall said. 

A fresh new look will be one of the signs of the revitalization efforts at 2 Houston Center. The building's exterior will be modernized with a three-level glass facade, activating the street-level plaza with new food and beverage offerings and infusing new pockets of green space.

A rendering of 2 Houston Center's upper lobby

Brookfield is renovating 2 Houston Center and LyondellBasell Tower's lobbies and upgrading the elevators. It will also add several amenities, such as a 10K SF fitness center, a conference center, a lobby with coworking space and a new outdoor sky deck.

Brookfield Senior Vice President Clint Bawcom admitted the campus lacked the major amenities that sought-after office assets provide. 

Gensler will design the property, while Harvey Builders will be responsible for construction. Clark Condon will serve as the landscape architect. Construction is slated to begin in February and wrap up in late 2020. 

Going Greener  

Brookfield also noticed the underutilization of its green space while other Downtown spaces like Discovery Green and One Allen Center, another office redevelopment by the developer, are thriving.

As more residents move Downtown and frequent outdoor activities and events, those green spaces are becoming more populated and energized, a trend taking hold nationally.  

A rendering of the renovated Houston Center plaza

The reimagined plaza will feature a digital water wall, flexible entertainment space and a massive spiral staircase providing connectivity to the soon-to-be enhanced sky bridge.

Restaurant concepts will be able to occupy space that opens into the plaza area. Future retail expansion will be available throughout the LyondellBasell Tower's ground level, Overall said. 

The Houston Center renovation is another example of the focus Downtown to create amenity-rich developments, Downtown District President Bob Eury said. 

"This progressive, strategic shift accommodates the blurred lines of today’s live-work-play corporate culture that tenants desire,” he said. 

The plaza also embraces the resurgence of street-level retail in Downtown. 

"It is something Downtown has needed for a long time,” Gensler principal Dean Strombom said. “Forever it seemed like all of the retail was in the tunnel system. That is changing with all the different uses coming Downtown." 

Downtown's Last Retail Center 

The Shops at Houston Center is a major element to the overall vision for the development, Overall said.

However, the center struggles due in part to a lack of any in-demand retailers, while it does offer a range of fast-food concepts. Occupancy for the retail wing stands at between 50% and 60%, according to Overall.

"The retail has dropped, and we have allowed that to happen,” he said. “It gives us more flexibility to redevelop the shops when we don't have all these leases in place.”

The redevelopment of the shops is planned for future expansion. Brookfield is actively studying the space, and Gensler is considering design plans, Overall said.