HOUSTON – Northeast Houston, bypassed for decades as growth surged elsewhere, is gaining jobs and a growing share of single-family construction, although it still lacks a distinct identity in the minds of many Houstonians.
The northeast sector is now capturing 10 to 12 percent of new home sales, up significantly in recent years, says Scott Davis, regional director of the Metrostudy housing consulting firm.
“The northeast has established itself as a single-family market,” Davis told an audience of Urban Land Institute members in Houston Thursday.
The ULI panel, in a session called “Waking the Sleeping Giant” focused on Houston’s northeast side, which is generally east of U.S. 59 North, along Beltway 8 and near Lake Houston.
Davis says a number of communities in the northeast are showing promise for single-family sales momentum, including Bridges on Lake Houston, The Groves and Lakewood Pines.
Although it’s happening farther south, expansion of chemical and refining plants – Exxon Mobil and Chevron both have $6 billion projects underway – is creating a lot of jobs. This is injecting growth into the northeast development, Davis said.
“Energy in Houston is not just something that happens in an office building on the Katy Freeway,” Davis said.
The region will also anchored by jobs being created in the 4,000-acre Generation Park, which is being developed as a mixed-use commercial development.
“Northeast Houston really has had a key economic driver, but Generation Park will provide that economic driver,” Davis said.
FMC Technologies, which creates subsea equipment, is building a 1 million square-foot facility that will bring some 1,800 employees to Generation Park, located along Beltway 8.
Ryan McCord of McCord Development, the developer of Generation Park, said creating a local job base is critical for the region’s long-term health. He noted that The Woodlands had benefitted greatly its strategy of bringing in office space and corporate jobs.
McCord said northeast builders and developers are working on a plan to brand and market the region as “West Lake Houston, “a reference to the 12,000-acre Lake Houston, which feeds off the San Jacinto River.
“We’ve got to create a regional brand,” McCord said.
Enhancing the new brand will be Westlake Marketplace, a 550,000-square-foot retail center on Beltway 8 being developed by Fidelis Realty Partners.
The northeast will also benefit from the extension of the Grand Parkway, which will connect with U.S. 59 north of Kingwood. The 38-mile extension of the Grand Parkway will be routed close to the new Exxon Mobil campus near The Woodlands and connect to U.S. 290 on the northwest when completed in 2016.
“The Grand Parkway is the most important thing to happen in Houston real estate in 20 years,” said Jason Baker of the Baker Katz retail center brokerage firm.
The new road will provide an easy connection to the new Exxon Mobil campus and retail in The Woodlands, Baker said.
Broadcast journalist Andrew Schneider of Houston Public Media moderated the ULI panel. Schneider began with a light-hearted quip likening northeast Houston to Brazil, the nation with a long-lived reputation for unrealized economic potential.
Decades ago, when Brazil was called “Country of the Future” some snide humorists added “… and it always will be.”
Some of the biggest names in Houston real estate, including Larry Johnson, Rick McCord and Friendswood Development, have created communities on the northeast side of Houston. But despite the relatively easy commutes on U.S. 59 and its close proximity to Bush Airport, the northeast sector never gained the traction to place it in the big leagues for business locations or in the top-of-mind bracket for residential growth and retailing.
With the new Grand Parkway, the job creation at Generation Park and the petrochemical expansion, this time the northeast may be ready to shed its Brazil-like potential and step into the upper echelon of Houston growth corridors.
By Ralph Bivins, Editor, Realty News Report