Urban Growth Equals Smart Growth
Redeveloping urban core and mixed-use projects continue to show payoff.
Developers in Texas are forging ahead with smart-growth projects—urban infills and mixed-use centers at highway crossroads.
“The smart money is going to be chasing buildings that perform and have more capacity to weather the ups and downs of the economy,” says David Lake, founding principal of the architectural firm Lake|Flato in San Antonio, which crafted the master plan for redeveloping the former Pearl Brewery site in San Antonio. “The best thing we can do in Texas is make our urban cores stronger and more livable.”
|Multifamily downtown developments and urban infill projects strengthen urban cores and lead to “smart growth,” say new urbanist leaders and thinkers. Shown, East Avenue, which is under construction on the former site of Concordia College in Austin. (Photo by Eileen Schwartz.)
John O. Norquist, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a Chicago-based organization promoting neighborhood-based development, adds that Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio are moving toward smarter growth.
“I think Texas is a state that is really dynamic right now,” Norquist says.
Larry Speck, design principal with PageSoutherlandPage in Austin, says urban mixed-use projects are increasing in the state.
“People want a much easier environment to live in,” and that explains the popularity of multifamily downtown development, he adds. “There’s a way to have everything compact and convenient.”
PageSoutherlandPage designed East Avenue, a $750 million, 23-acre mixed-use development with moderate-income rental housing, condominiums, retail, medical offices, a boutique hotel, entertainment facilities, an urban park and a plaza. East Avenue is now under construction on the former site of Concordia College in Austin.
Scott Wilkinson, executive vice president of Kirksey in Houston, also indicates an increase in mixed-use projects. However, he cautioned that the deals are difficult to put together even in good economic times, and the current state of the financial markets has hurt some development.
Kirksey designed two loft-over-retail buildings now under construction at the $500 million, 1.8-million-sq-ft, 37-acre CityCentre at the edge of Houston’s energy corridor and is working on an office building over retail at the same site.
“Retail is important,” Wilkinson says. “It creates reasons for pedestrians to be there, and adds to the excitement.”
Dallas-Fort Worth Trinity Bluff Development of Fort Worth continues work on the $500-million, 42-acre Trinity Bluff project along the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth.
“This is a little different than new urbanism,” says Tom Struhs, developer and managing partner of Trinity Bluff. “This is a renaissance of a wonderful downtown area that did not have residential.”
|An artist’s rendering of Vitruvian Park shows a bird’s eye view of the $1 billion mixed-use project in Addison. Andres Construction will build phase one, which includes more than 30,000 sq ft of retail.
The site offers walking or streetcar access to downtown. Lincoln Property Co. of Dallas is developing 13 acres of multifamily homes: 304 apartments and 41 townhouses are complete, and 368 are under construction. In addition, the construction firm Thos. S. Byrne of Fort Worth is building the six-story Villa de Leon, 23 >> high-end condominiums for Struhs, scheduled to finish in April.
Construction of a hotel should start soon.
Several mixed-use projects are under way in Dallas. Austin Commercial of Dallas is building the $200 million 17 Seventeen McKinney for Granite Properties of Austin and Gables Residential of Atlanta. The development will have 292 residential units, 375,000 sq ft of office and 14,000 sq ft of retail when finished in December.
The first residential units at Forest City Enterprises’ $230 million Mercantile Project, the redevelopment of the former Mercantile block, are coming on line. The Cleveland, Ohio, developer expects the project will lure office tenants as well as residents to the urban core. It received $60.5 million in tax incentives.
In Addison, UDR of Denver broke ground in May on Vitruvian Park, a $1 billion multifamily, retail and commercial development about 1 mi north of Interstate 635 and the LBJ Freeway. The first phase, being built by Andres Construction of Dallas, will include 667 apartments, 32,100 sq ft of retail space at the street level and 50,000 sq ft of office.
“Maximizing the opportunity for housing, rental or for sale, with walkability to office and retail will have a strong story to tell,” says Tom Lamberth, vice president of development for UDR. “We see more demand for mixed use as development becomes more infill.”
Houston The first office building is open at the CityCentre development at Interstate 10W and Beltway 8, the Sam Houston Parkway. Developer Midway Cos. of Houston expects completion of all components—425,000 sq ft of office, a 245-room hotel, 400,000 sq ft of retail and 677 residential units—by fall. Gensler & Associates of Houston designed the master plan.
|Some downtown condo projects in Austin are being delayed. Not so the $150 million, 55-story mixed-use project The Austonian, being built by Balfour Beatty, Dallas, and designed by Ziegler Cooper of Houston. (Photo by Eileen Schwartz.)
“This was one of the best intersections to own real estate,” says Jonathan H. Brinsden, chief operating officer of Midway. “After we bought the mall and the dust settled, we analyzed the opportunities on the site. The market told us there was demand for office, retail, a first-class hotel and residential.”
Burton Construction Co. of Sugar Land is working on the office and retail space, and Tribble and Stephens Constructors of Houston is building the hotel. Potentially, a third contractor will construct the last office building. At one point, five tower cranes were operating simultaneously.
“It’s a small city under construction,” Brinsden says. “When you are creating a mixed-use development, the goal is for the value to be greater than the sum of the parts.”
Brinsden considers the fitness center, movies and restaurants critical to its success.
“Midway has done a great job of coming up with a goal for mixed use, and it stayed with those goals,” Wilkinson says. “They have not opted for an easy way out by compromising.”
|An aerial view shows work progressing on the $500 million CityCentre project in Houston. (Photo by Aero Photo.)
In downtown Houston, the new 12-acre Discovery Park, whose buildings were designed by PageSoutherlandPage, has spurred development. The $156 million, 30-story Discovery Tower, which Gilbane Building Co. of Houston has under construction, overlooks the park. The 37-story, 346-unit One Park Place, adjacent to the park, is scheduled to open in March. D.E. Harvey Builders of Houston is the contractor. Harvey also is building the 46-story MainPlace office building, which includes retail.
The Houston Downtown Management District hopes to transition the city’s historic district from an area solely known for its nightclubs to a more traditional neighborhood, with residential units, a market and coffee shop, says Angie Sallee Bertinot, director of marketing and communications at the Houston Downtown Management District.
Austin “There’s an incredible renaissance of development in downtown Austin,” says Austan Librach, president of the CNU in Austin and director of emerging transportation technologies with Austin Energy. “We’re getting a lot of high-rises along the river’s edge.”
In addition, Balfour Beatty of Dallas is building The Austonian, a $150-million, 55-story project near the newly redeveloped Second Street District downtown. When all of the projects are complete, Librach estimates the number of people living downtown will increase from 10,000 to 40,000 residents.
Librach says the opening of the Whole Foods market and headquarters and the light-rail system now under construction have attracted development. He says that rail line stations planned in East Austin are also spurring growth in an area with reasonably priced land.
Taurus of Texas Holdings of Fort Worth plans to begin infrastructure work this year on Whisper Valley, a 2,053-acre, mixed-use planned community in East Austin. And, the city of Austin is considering proposals to purchase Block 16 for redevelopment.
San Antonio San Antonio, Bexar County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Antonio River Foundation have embarked on the $345.4 million San Antonio River Improvements Project, which will improve flood control, restore natural habitats and create redevelopment possibilities.
|Lake/Flato crafted the master plan for redeveloping the former Pearl Brewery site in San Antonio.
Lila Cockrell, co-chairman of the San Antonio River Oversight Committee, says Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio, is on schedule with its $49.8 million Museum Reach section of the project, which should wrap up in May.
Laughlin-Thyssen of Houston began work in June on the $23.4 million first phase of the southern, $126.6 million Mission Reach. It is scheduled for completion in December. Phase two is in design.
“It’s a huge opportunity for development,” Lake|Flato’s Lake says. “It will provide a park and amenities for development to happen along the river.”
Lake is aware of hotel and office projects along the River Walk now in design. His firm is working on the $40 million Broadway Project, near Interstate 35 and Interstate 37. It will include 350 housing units, including some affordable apartments; 80,000 sq ft of office; and a parking garage.
The Pearl Brewery project sits at the northern end of the new River Walk. It will have about 500,000 sq ft of existing stock and about 600,000 sq ft of new structures needed to sustain a neighborhood, Lake says.
“The [River Walk] area downtown is an entertainment district, but as it goes north it will be more of a 24-hour neighborhood,” says Doug Lipscomb, senior associate with Marmon Mok Architecture in San Antonio, which designed the Incarnate Word retirement community on Broadway in a pedestrian friendly section of the city.
Lipscomb says San Antonio’s recent adoption of form-based building codes rather than traditional zoning will encourage more new urban, walkable developments. The Form-Based Codes Institute defines form-based codes as a method of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Such codes create a predictable public realm primarily by controlling physical form, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations.
“It’s a whole different mentality about how you regulate growth,” Lipscomb says. “The idea of form-based codes is not new. It goes back to the founding of a lot of cities, including San Antonio.”
Lincoln Trinity Bluff: lincolntrinitybluff.com
Villa De Leon: villadeleon.com
Vitruvian Park: vitruvianpark.com
San Antonio River Authority: sara-tx.org