Tax dollars key to downtown vision
Task force hopes to develop retail hub by offering incentives to property owners
City officials and local real estate developers, appointed by the mayor to help jump-start downtown retail, are proposing using tax dollars to help create a new shopping district in the city center.
Their hope is to transform a portion of downtown into a vibrant commercial hub with national, regional and local retailers operating amid sidewalk cafes in a pedestrian-friendly environment.
The additional activity would be centered around Dallas Street but likely expand to other parts of downtown, they said.
The plan would involve providing financial incentives to property owners within about a 20-block area who add retail tenants to their buildings or vacant parcels of land, according to members of the Downtown Retail Task Force who discussed the plan with the Houston Chronicle editorial board Thursday.
“This is a bold concept and initiative,” said Ed Wulfe, a veteran retail developer and task force member. “It’s not going to
The group envisions Dallas Street as the “spine of a shopping district” that would extend from Milam to LaBranch. Dallas was selected because of its proximity to properties that support retail: the George R. Brown Convention Center, office buildings, and hotels and residential buildings — more of which are under development.
The group also cited existing downtown retail in the Shops at Houston Center and GreenStreet, the former Houston Pavilions, as key to expanding the shopping district and adding more stores and restaurants to their properties. The group said it has identified 325,000 square feet of space of potential leasable retail space in the area.
Members of the task force include public officials, developers and property owners. An executive from Midway Cos., owner of GreenStreet, is part of the group.
Bob Eury of the Downtown District, Fred Griffin of Griffin Partners and the city’s chief development officer, Andy Icken, attended the meeting Thursday. Macy’s closing
Mayor Annise Parker created the task force in January, when Macy’s announced it was closing its Main Street store downtown. The idea was to develop recommendations for increasing shopping options downtown.
“As the fourth-largest city in the U.S., Houston needs, and should have, more retail options downtown,” she said in a statement when the group was launched.
During the Chronicle meeting Thursday, a week and a half before the abandoned Macy’s is to be torn down, task force members showed off a rendering of a portion of Dallas Street that would be part of the new district.
On one side of the street, outdoor cafes are shown lining the three-block GreenStreet development and a newhigh-rise has been added to the property that task force members said is a proposed hotel. Across the street, a major retailer occupies the ground floor of the Sa- kowitz Building, currently used for parking.
Officials said they are still determining how the financial incentives would be structured, but they likely would be tax reimbursements paid to the property owners after the stores are open. The program would be limited to retailers who sell items such as clothing and “hard-good” merchandise. Restaurants and bars would not be included.
Ideally, new shops would begin to open in July 2015. Broad ‘urban core’
The money would be used to help landlords and retailers pay for building out the stores, the group said.
The market for downtown retail includes the 150,000 people who work downtown, a growing residential population and visitors or those attending conferences at the George R. Brown Convention Center. But the task force said downtown shops would draw from a wider area, including Midtown, Washington Avenue and the East End.
“The true urban core of this city within a downtown environment is that broad area,” Icken said. “That’s the marketplace. The population is not as slim as some have projected it to be.”
Crews prepare the downtown Macy’s building for implosion. News in January of the department store’s closure was a blow to downtown and prompted the mayor to form the Downtown Retail Task Force.