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As Uptown Builds Up, It's Banking On Walkability To Ease Growing Pains

The Galleria was built as the retail anchor of the Uptown Houston District. Since then, the submarket has thrived as a premier retail, office, hotel and multifamily destination. 

Galleria Place office complex in Houston

From multiphase road construction to street beautification, the latest wave of improvements seeks to encourage a car-centric city to embrace walking, biking and taking public transportation. Improving the walkability and activating the green spaces within Uptown follows a national trend for the new era of mixed-use environments. 

"It is a continuum of what we have been doing from the beginning," Uptown Houston District President and CEO John Breeding said, who is speaking at The Future of Uptown Houston panel on April 17. "Simply, it is the difference of building a building and building a community."  

With the low inventory of undeveloped land in the district, developers looking to tap into Uptown will have to buy and redevelop older product, Breeding said. 

Tear Down To Build Up

Redevelopment has been the calling card when it comes time to build something new in the urbanized Uptown. 

The Post Oak Hotel, the luxury hotel billionaire Tilman Fertitta opened in 2018, was previously an old apartment complex. Williams Tower also rose from an outdated residential building about 40 years ago. 

Williams Tower

Nearly every single- to mid-rise commercial property in Uptown, a densified stronghold for commercial property in Houston, has the potential to be redeveloped, Breeding said. The future uses include mixed-use components like office, retail, multifamily and condos, which will help offset rising construction and land cost. 

"We will see land changing hands with the intent of a more densified development," Breeding said. 

Local developer Martin Fein Interests tore down slabs left over from unfinished townhouses to build the Reverie at River Hollow. The new development will feature five- and six-story mid-rise buildings that will house 304 units. The property will feature studios to three-bedroom apartments at an average size of 912 SF, Martin Fein Vice President Rebecca Fein Luks said, who is a panelist at Bisnow's Uptown Houston event.  

Construction is on schedule, with crews currently pouring the first concrete slabs, and is expected to wrap up by the end of 2020. The site is a few miles from Uptown Park, a redeveloping retail center, and close to the northernmost stop for The Boulevard, the dedicated METRO bus lanes along Post Oak Boulevard. 

Braun Enterprises is redeveloping an office building formerly known as Yorktown Plaza at 5353 and 5373 West Alabama in the Galleria area.

The firm is wrapping up design plans to do exterior renovations and major interior upgrades to the common areas, President Dan Braun wrote in an email. He expects construction to start in the next 60 days and be completed by year-end. 

"The building will have a very fresh and modern feel to it with lots of open space," Braun said. "This is a unique opportunity to be within walking distance to the Galleria, as well as have 35K SF of traditional retail under the office building. We love the opportunity to use our relationships to bring great retail as an amenity to an office building." 

Urbanizing By Improving Walkability 

As the city's second-largest office submarket and the largest hotel market — and still growing — Uptown Houston is underway on a massive transportation overhaul that will improve options for employees, residents and tourists.  

Nearly 75% of Uptown employees work in office buildings and the rest in hospitality, retail or other service jobs, according to Uptown Houston District data. The majority of the employees live in Southwest, West and Northwest Houston, with another significant portion commuting from West Interstate 610 and West Beltway 8.

The Boulevard will include eight new bus stops along Post Oak Boulevard that will increase north-south connectivity in Uptown.

In addition, the new express lanes at the Northwest Transit Center and the new Uptown Transit Center are aimed at improving the inner-city and suburban transportation networks, which will increase accessibility to the park-and-ride lots.

The elevated bus lanes on Interstate 610 to the Northwest Transit Center are expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2020, Breeding said.   

With the range of salaries available in Uptown, Breeding believes the transportation upgrades will have a positive social and economic impact on who can work and access the district. People can opt to use the METRO system to get to work, experience a host of restaurants for lunch, attend local meetings and after-work shopping and entertainment. 

Uptown is planning on build a land bridge over Memorial Drive to provide a convenient way for pedestrians and residents to get across to Memorial Park, with a combination of funding from the Uptown Development Authority, Memorial Park Conservancy and the Kinder Foundation. The foundation's contribution is part of a larger $70M donation from tapped for the park

The bridge will open by 2022, Breeding said. Uptown is also adding smaller parks and green spaces throughout the district. 

Flower Child at Uptown Park

Reimagining Retail To Build Community

The idea of connectivity is not limited to road construction, but also how property owners are reimagining commercial property from Uptown Park to the north to a planned mixed-use megadevelopment at the south. 

Houston-based McNair Interests, founded by the late Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, is constructing a 1.2M SF property with a hotel, luxury residences, multifamily, office restaurant, retail and green space components at Post Oak Boulevard and Richmond Avenue. Construction is expected to start this year and deliver in 2023. 

At Uptown Park, a 160-acre retail center in the northern portion of the district, developer Edens is focused on enhancing the placemaking, Edens Managing Director Tom Kiler said. 

"The buildings didn't speak to each other," he said. "Uptown is interesting because it has a history. People know it. We feel like we must evolve and bring new life to it."   

Uptown Park features new places where customers can sit, relax and people-watch or use public WiFi, Kiler said. The public spaces will also be infused with local art to bring another level of authenticity to the property.  

The lineup of new tenants will not only complement the current tenants, but also provide additional reasons to visit, Kiler said. Potential new concepts include restaurants, health and beauty retailers, home goods, a movie theater, a sports bar or a local partnership related to performing arts. Uptown Park is currently 91% leased, according to Edens. 

Edens will soon announce a boutique fitness concept that will bring another level of activity to the property that previously didn’t exist, Kiler said.

“The morning is a time where we have been historically quiet,” he said. “[The gym] will bring some energy in the morning, mid-morning and, with all the office buildings, an after-work crowd.” 

Join Edens' Kiler, Landry's Rodney Lehrer and a host of others discuss The Future of Uptown Houston at The Westin Galleria Houston on April 17. 

CORRECTION, MARCH 29, 4 P.M. CT: The Kinder Foundation partnered with two other groups to fund the land bridge over Memorial Drive. A previous version of this story misstated the funding for the bridge and which road it transversed. This story has been updated.