A Retail Plan for Downtown Houston

Between now and 2017, Downtown Houston is going to see some massive changes on all fronts. Along with new office towers and a slew of new residential projects, the city is also rolling out a plan to build a healthy retail core in downtown. Here’s the full press release, directly from the Mayor’s Office

“Retail Task Force Releases Final Report

Goal to add destination national and regional retailers over a 3 year timeframe

(Reporters may contact Angie Bertinot at the Downtown District Friday to arrange interviews and obtain copies of the report.)

The panel Mayor Parker created in January 2013 to develop recommendations for increasing shopping options in Downtown Houston has released its final report. The plan presented by the Downtown Retail Task Force envisions Dallas Street serving as the commercial spine of a downtown shopping district that would extend from Milam to La Branch.

“Increasing the amount and quality of downtown shopping will enhance the economic vitality of the entire city,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “This report details how we can build a healthy, vibrant mixed-use downtown shopping district. Coordination between my office, the Downtown District and Downtown Redevelopment Authority will be crucial to achieve the vision.”

Dallas Street was selected because of its proximity to the dense office population in the southwest quadrant of downtown and to residential growth areas to the south and east. It is also near the George R. Brown Convention Center, seven existing hotels, two new hotels in development, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, Discovery Green and public transportation, all of which can help support increased retail shopping options.

Dallas and adjacent streets Main and San Jacinto also already have the only concentration of existing downtown street level shopping at The Shops at Houston Center and GreenStreet, formerly known as The Pavilions. Both properties are critical components of an expanded shopping district and have potential to add more soft goods, restaurant and entertainment-focused retail to their projects.

Although it will be a challenge to convert/develop existing properties along Dallas into retail space, the task force believes that this area has the highest amount of potential leasable retail space in the downtown market—approximately 325,000 square feet of retail space has been identified.

“Density, critical mass and co-tenancy are essential in creating a successful retail environment,” said Downtown Retail Task Force Chair Fred Griffin, Chairman of Griffin Partners. “The task force, supported by past studies and the potential for concentration of shopping activity, determined that efforts be focused on transforming Dallas into a pedestrian-oriented retail street by improving the streetscape and providing financial assistance to property owners to attract retailers. We expect improvements to building facades, in order to enhance retailing, will also be needed.”

The task force’s report details twelve recommendations as a path forward to ensure the evolution of shopping in Downtown:

1. As a major urban center, Downtown Houston should have a premier shopping district that adds to the character and reputation of the city and helps attract residents, visitors and employers.

2. Develop a unique, commercially viable setting for a premier shopping district on Dallas Street between Milam and LaBranch with connections to adjacent retail activity on Main, San Jacinto and Austin.

3. Provide a public realm within the shopping district that is supportive of a premier retail setting which will attract national, regional and local retailers and shopper that will support them.

4. Secure commitments from enough property owners to participate in coordinated development, management, leasing and promotion of the shopping district to ensure critical mass of shopping.

5. Provide incentives to help develop the shopping district, attract the right retail tenants and in the end, pay for themselves.

6. Designate or create an entity to coordinate planning, design, leasing, promotion, programming and management of the shopping district.

7. Attract anchor retailers to enhance the urban lifestyle mix.

8. Provide convenient parking, transit and pedestrian access to ensure high levels of shopper traffic.

9. Designate portals connecting the shopping district to the tunnel system.

10. Develop brand awareness of the shopping district.

11. Attract additional residential and hotel development in or adjacent to the shopping district to increase the pedestrian traffic and street life in the area and increase the attractiveness of Downtown as a destination.

12. Advance development of the shopping district by the 2016 NCAA Final Four and 2017 Super Bowl LI.”

Here’s the link to the full report.

I think this is a big step to help transfigure Downtown. The neighborhood is a highly under-utilized resource for Houstonians, who mostly visit downtown for work, government business or special events (games, concerts, etc.). But along with increasing overall retail for the area, hopefully planners will remember to incorporate tourist centered retail. As Houston works to increase the Convention business, it becomes critical to have more options for people staying in all of these new downtown hotels. Things like gift shops and tourist information booths (to point people to other nearby attractions) in close proximity to the Convention district shouldn’t be left out of the plan.

I drew up a quick map to pinpoint the areas being discussed. It’s good to see a comprehensive plan for Downtown retail, and I’m glad the city and downtown district have started the process.

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