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Wrecking Ball Swings with a Stroke of Genius at Allen Center – a Rarity for Houston

By Ralph Bivins

Editor, Realty News Report

The age of confinement is over.

The age of openness is here.

 Skybridges and tunnels are out.

Sidewalks and streetlife are in.

 Cubicles fade into relics.

Open workspace articulates hip.

 — A quick verse by R. Bivins for Kenneth Schnitzer, Texas Eastern and the prior generation of downtown development.

Brookfield Property Partners, which has listened to thousands of corporate tenants over the years, knows a thing or two about office buildings and urban working environments.

To keep up with emerging trends, Brookfield is preparing to spend almost $50 million to improve its gigantic three-tower Allen Center office complex, which was built in downtown Houston in the 1970s.

And to accomplish its transformative mission, Brookfield is doing something Houston hasn’t seen in a while – if ever.

Brookfield is tearing down a skybridge.

You know skybridges – those gerbil tubes that connect skyscrapers so office workers don’t have to go outside and walk on the sidewalk. Some call them “elevated walkways.”

Brookfield is taking out a skybridge that connects the One and Two Allen Center skyscrapers. This a good demolition, though – unlike the typical Houston demolition where 100-year-old historic buildings are destroyed without a whimper from City Hall.

The removal of the skybridge opens up the seven-acre Allen Center complex to the street. An earthen berm under the skybridge will be scraped away.

No bridge. No berm. No barriers.

Erasing the skybridge opens up one acre of green space between the buildings. Currently, it’s heavily landscaped as something nice to look at, but it will be transformed into a lawn that can actually be used by people. Performances, events, art installations, even yoga classes will be held on the lawn.

Rendering of green space planned at Allen Center in downtown Houston.

Rendering of green space planned at Allen Center in downtown Houston.

The Office of James Burnett, a highly regarded landscape architecture firm, has been engaged for the project, which will be underway in June.

“It’s very unusual to have all that land,” notes Brookfield executive Paul Frazier, who has leased office space in downtown Houston for a long time. Downtown’s popular Discovery Green park provided some inspiration for the Allen Center lawn project, Frazier says.

Frazier says the three Allen Center office buildings will receive extensive interior improvements, such as renovating common areas into Millennial-friendly workspaces with collaborative environments, omnipresent wifi and seating where Millennials can work with their laptop computer. The architect for the office redevelopment is Morris Dilworth and Walls of Dallas.

The three Allen Center office buildings, located near the corner of Smith and Dallas, have a total of 3.1 million square feet of office space and it’s 90 percent leased, Frazier says.

May 9, 2016

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