Tax dollars key to down­town vi­sion

Task force hopes to de­velop re­tail hub by of­fer­ing in­cen­tives to prop­erty own­ers

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Nancy Sarnoff

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

be easy.”

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.”

Mayra Bel­trán / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.