A Win For The Houston Dynamo, Dash Means A Win For Businesses In EaDo
Nearly seven years ago, the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium — the home of professional soccer teams the Houston Dynamo and Dash — was a major catalyst for the revitalization of East Downtown Houston.
The neighborhood known for its creative industrial redevelopments, restaurants, bars and live entertainment has continued to evolve during this period.
In November, the Dynamo selected John Walker as the president of business operations. Walker, who will be a panelist at Bisnow's Future of EaDo and East End District June 4, said he understands the team's on-field success translates to an uptick for the local businesses and incites people to want to live and build new commercial developments in EaDo.
Covering more than a city block, BBVA Compass hosts not only soccer games, but also up to 50 events a year and welcomes about 500,000 people annually, Walker said.
Before and after people attend events at the stadium, they often visit, eat and shop at the local businesses, including a stretch of popular restaurants, bars and music venues on St. Emanuel Street.
Bringing more than 30 years of experiences in sports business, Walker most recently served three years as executive vice president for business operations with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. He has also worked in Major League Baseball, college athletics and with third-party ticketing companies.
Bisnow sat down with Walker to discuss the role the Dynamo franchise plays in the continued expansion of EaDo. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Bisnow: How have your past experiences prepared you to lead this team, one that is located within a revitalizing community?
Walker: In Memphis, the [FedExForum] arena was built consciously next to Beale Street, which is over 100 years old and [has] always been a place with a lot of commercial establishments from bars, restaurants and live music. The arena was built [in 2004] with the intent that people would stop on Beale Street before they came to the events and after the events. It is a really great location.
In East Downtown, we have the same type of chemistry that is being manufactured by local businesses, civic leaders and the Houston Dynamo as one of the primary tenants. We certainly see that growth. We are extremely proud to be here and want to be viewed as one of the great reasons to come and visit.
Bisnow: Within the first six months with the Houston Dynamo, what has been your first impression of EaDo?
Walker: It is young, vibrant and has a lot of artistic flair and innovation — all things that the Dynamo aspire to be as well. Ultimately, we hope we can be a reflection of the community and the community can be a reflection of us so that it makes sense for us to be here, and people who live in this community will want to come to our events.
One of the things I have seen is an incredible amount of forward thinking about EaDo. The master planning for development and infrastructure is all very critical to our business. We are a part of the conversation because it adds value to our customers.
Bisnow: What are the development needs you would like to see addressed?
Walker: The primary need is parking, not only for our stadium but for the other commercial developments that are happening here to make this a place where people want to come, visit and live in. To have more residential development near here would also be great for our business and the area.
It is the chicken or the egg phenomenon. Do people come, then the businesses, or do the businesses come and then the people? In this case, there is a vision for both. I have met with private developers and city officials to see if there are things that we can do in conjunction with them.
Bisnow: What role has and can the Houston Dynamo play in the placemaking of EaDo?
Walker: Our ownership group has a pretty diverse portfolio of holdings. Part of what they do is real estate development. They continuously look for opportunities in and around EaDo and around the stadium in particular.
In many urban environments, stadiums have been the catalyst for new development. We have seen that with the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park. We think that same thing is happening here. A fresh, young product is contributory to this being a cool place to be, to live, open up a shop or restaurant.
Bisnow: What are your thoughts on the Pierce Elevated redevelopment project, which would provide more connectivity between Downtown and EaDo?
Walker: The ultimate outcome is pretty exciting. If you look at the vision for the project, it will be a tremendous way to connect EaDo to the rest of downtown, which seems to be a barrier right now because of the highway.
It is very ambitious. I don't think it will be easy throughout the project because it is so massive in scale. Between the rest of the businesses in EaDo, the city, the construction team and the Houston Dynamo, we are going to have to get our arms around getting people in, getting people out and parking.
Bisnow: How has the attendance at the Houston Dynamo games been, and does the on-field success of the team impact activity for the local businesses?
Walker: We are in our 14th season, and during that stretch, there [have] been peaks and valleys in attendance and team performance. They are a little dependent on each other. In the last few years, attendance has been one of the valleys.
We are still averaging between 12,000 and 15,000 people at our games, so the building is more than half full, which is good. But, our challenge is to get a point where we are near capacity every night.
As a business, we always looking at ways to do that. We have tried to improve the in-arena experience with happy hour prices and ticket promotions, all in an effort to get new fans to come and test-drive the product.
In some of the new MLS markets, they have seen a great deal of organic fan support. We are trying to build that kind of spirit here. It doesn't really exist on the same scale as other markets.
We have some die-hard fans, don't get me wrong. But in some cities, they are greater in number. Houston is multicultural, multinational and has hundreds of thousands of kids in youth soccer. We want to become Houston's team.
That is additive to EaDo. If we have the spirit of the city, we will have something special.
Walker, Midway Executive Vice President David Hightower, Lovett Commercial Director Kirby Lui and more will outline EaDo's key developments and trends at the Future of EaDo and East End District on June 4.