Houston Community News >> Houston Midtown Project

6/6/2006 Houston -- A four-acre parcel owned by a family in Midtown could become the future site of a transit-oriented development if suggestions from a recent Urban Land Institute technical assistance panel are implemented. Sources tell GlobeSt.com that the land tract, at Alabama Street and Almeda Road could become a mixed-use project with student housing, market-rate units and about 50,000 sf of retail.

"Being the home of energy, people in the know understand that Houston's got to have an urban core," says Gary Altergott, a principal with Morris Architects' Houston office and chairman of ULI panel. "Transit is one way to encourage that development. Real estate development around transit has a 10 to 15% greater value than real estate in other areas."

The challenge is that, while light rail is gaining slow acceptance, the idea of transit-oriented development would be a first for the city. "I haven't seen a model transit-oriented development on the books to speak of," Jeff Kaplan, an urban broker with Wulfe Urban, a division of Wulfe & Co. in Houston, tells GlobeSt.com. He is working with landowner and partner Adam Brackman to market the site.

Brackman, an urban broker, favors a transit development on the site. He says he'd like to work with a developer with the same interests. Furthermore, the ULI recommendation comes at a time during which Midtown--a tax increment reinvestment zone created some years ago and bordered by downtown, Texas Medical Center and the Montrose District--is undergoing a resurgence.

"Midtown is going to be a niche neighborhood especially when it comes to retail," predicts Robert Kramp, the locally based vice president and director of the national client services group for Grubb & Ellis Co. Kramp, who has lived in Midtown more than eight years, says he's seen it go from blight to boom, which is attractive to retail and residences. "It won't be a cookie cutter in terms of one strip center after another," he adds. "This is an area where the architecture or feel of a particular property can make or break it."

As a result, Midtown could be a good Petrie dish for a transit-oriented development. Developers point out that transit-oriented development is different from the standard neighborhood retail center. For one thing, ideas about parking and parking lots need to change. "Parking is still an issue, but you don't have to show it as much," Altergott says.

Retail tenants will differ, too. "The kind of retail that works best in these areas are more edgy rather than your traditional shopping malls," Kaplan says, adding a typical tenant base could include chef-driven restaurants and small locally owned businesses rather than large national chains. He points out, too, that such a development requires fairly dense residential units within a quarter-mile walking distance of a light-rail line.

Though the ULI's suggestion is a good idea in a good location at the right time, none of it will happen overnight. For one thing, it's not certain if the city's Metro will build its line in that particular area. But Altergott points out that even if transit-oriented development isn't in the parcel's future, interest has been generated.

"We wanted to create a developer forum and to interest the development community in this," Altergott says. "Hopefully we can create some ideas and inspire local development communities to go in this direction, which will create greater value for them."

(Contributed by Globe St.com)