Leah Binkovitz | @leahbink | July 7, 2016
Hopes are high for a 136-acre former industrial site just east of downtown Houston, after a recent sale put it one step closer to redevelopment.
When the land — long owned by the engineering and construction company KBR, Inc. — first sold in 2012, there was hope of repurposing the collection of buildings on the lot or constructing apartments and retail at the site. Situated on the north shore of Buffalo Bayou with a view of downtown, the property represented a new — and expansive — opportunity for the industrial Clinton Drive.
But now, the property has changed hands again, and some are hopeful it’s a sign of things to come. According to the Houston Chronicle, an “affiliate of Houston-based Midway, the company behind CityCentre, GreenStreet and other local mixed-use developments purchased the site in May.”
“We’re very excited about them being the ones guiding the eventual development,” Diane Schenke, president of the Greater East End Management District, told the Chronicle.
Indeed, the Greater East End Management District has had plans for the property for a while. Included in its Livable Centers Master Plan, the former KBR site represents just one of several locations comprising “considerable inventory of vacant land, underdeveloped property, and obsolete industrial and warehouse uses.”
While much of the Management District’s activity has been centered around Navigation Boulevard south of the bayou, the plan outlines a strategy to stretch across the water with waterfront park space, pedestrian bridges and even a trolley.
Looking at the old KBR site, the management district’s plan mused, “this area could become a significant concentration of office and other commercial uses, perhaps focused on the clean-tech and next generation energy industries that would benefit from a location close to the port.”
And it could be done without many complications. “This area is also large, assembled, and relatively unconstrained to redevelop at fairly high intensity,” the plan said.
Midway did not respond to requests for comment from both the Chronicle and the Urban Edge about its plans for the area, but, as real estate blog Swamplot pointed out, the company’s annual report does seem to make an oblique reference to the property, saying, “We closed 2015 by forging a new joint venture which brings lasting and far-ranging ripple effects, including stewardship of an extraordinary mixed-use environment on Houston’s historic riverfront. The market-defining project requires us to carefully and thoughtfully curate an exceptional mix of uses, enlivening the property while it evolves over time.”
One of its uses will surely be as park space, as the property includes an easement for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to build trails along the water.
In its master plan, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership envisions the area north of the bayou as a mixed-income, mixed-use area with townhouses.
“On the linear bluffs east of Jensen Drive, with exceptional views,” reads the plan, “a street-based town-house plan is a model that fits the site.” The townhouses would have landscaped front yards with parking in rear alleys. Paths would lead to the waterfront, which would include an open-air performance space dubbed “Symphony Pavilion.”
But the plan also identifies several challenges for the East End, including limited public access to the banks and edges along the waterfront, something the East End Management District has been working to address.
Then there’s the site itself, which will likely take years to develop. “This property has been industrial for a long time,” explained Schenke. For the kind of dense, mixed-use development many are hoping for, she said, it will require much more infrasructure.