HOUSTON (By Michelle Leigh Smith) – Change is coming to Westheimer Road, the main east/west artery Houston’s colorful Montrose area, not far from downtown. “Lower Westheimer is an “urban main street” with an enhanced pedestrian experience. Lower Westheimer should support transit, improve access to local businesses, be aesthetically pleasing, preserve local culture and character, and manage traffic safely and effectively,” according to the City of Houston’s planning department. With a focus on the future, the City is preparing the Lower Westheimer Corridor study that may yield some answers in 2017. Apartment developers have been exceptionally active in the Montrose area with Finger, Hines, Hanover, AMLI and several others developing high-rise and midrise projects in Montrose, reports the Montrose District.
For some insights on Lower Westheimer’s future, Realty News Report reached out to commercial real estate broker Mark Davis of Davis Commercial, one of the city’s leading experts on the district. A graduate of nearby Rice University, Davis also serves as president of the Museum District Business Alliance. He worked for Trammell Crow real estate before founding Davis Commercial, a boutique firm that specializes in Houston’s Inner Loop.
Realty News Report: As principal of Davis Commercial, which represents so many commercial real estate clients in the Montrose area, do you feel like you are a stakeholder in guiding the look, the feel of the area?
Mark Davis: I do. Montrose is a special area of Houston like no other. It has an urban feel and look with a terrific variety of unique restaurants and shops. Plus, it is a walkable and bikable place to a large degree (and only getting better in that regard).
Realty News Report: How would you describe the lower Westheimer area?
Mark Davis: A place of gradual transition with lots of exciting things in the works. The City will be redoing the entire stretch of Westheimer from Shepherd to Bagby. They are doing a terrific job of gathering community input. At the end of the day, it will make this stretch of Westheimer much more pedestrian friendly. Plus, Whole Foods (a mixed-use development with 260 apartment units by Morgan Group) is planned near Bagby, which is a great bookend to Lower Westheimer.
Realty News Report: Lower Westheimer is dominated by restaurants, isn’t it? Is it going to stay that way?
Mark Davis: Restaurants are the user du jour and I think it will remain that way for a couple of reasons. Land prices are expensive which translates to high rents. Restaurants can pay the higher rental rates due to their greater sales volumes vs. a typical retail merchant. Plus, the restaurants love the area due to the demographics – high densities with high household incomes.
Realty News Report: What are the Westheimer weaknesses that need to be overcome? Strengths?
Mark Davis: The biggest weakness is parking. There is no magic bullet solution to the problem, but I do think the city needs to treat the area much differently than the suburbs. I love Austin’s downtown parking vision – I understand they have no minimum parking requirements and the market figures it out. I think that is the direction we should go. The world is changing – More people are using Uber, biking, etc. Self-driving cars are coming down the pike. Everyone wants to live in an area where they can walk to things. That all translates to less need for parking spaces. Our strength is that it is the closest thing we have in Houston to South Congress in Austin. We have a fun mix of one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops plus a great mix of residents, businesses, and architecture.
Realty News Report: You just sold a Lower Westheimer site for a restaurant? What was its name? Can you please tell me more?
Mark Davis: This site was owned by the El Tiempo folks, who originally purchased it for parking for their new El Tiempo restaurant up the street at Westheimer and Taft. As it turns out, they didn’t need it, but to my above point, parking is at a premium in the area and it is not economically feasible for folks to pay $75-$100 PSF for land for parking. (The recent deal: Mark Davis brokered the sale of 8,250 SF of commercial land located at 223 Westheimer to Gazebo Management. A dumpling restaurant will be developed on the property.)
Realty News Report: What’s going on with real estate prices on Lower Westheimer?
Mark Davis: They continue to be strong. Paradoxically, the larger the site, the higher the price PSF since a larger site allows for potential vertical development. In general, I’d say single lot prices are selling in the $75-$90 PSF range and they can go up from there depending on how large of a site can be assembled.
Realty News Report: What would you tell the city Lower Westheimer Corridor Study committee if you had some suggestions?
Mark Davis: As I mentioned, I’m super impressed with Patrick Walsh and his planning committee regarding the improvement of the Lower Westheimer Corridor. I think Patrick really “gets it” and realizes this is a special place of Houston that needs to retain its character and vibrancy. Making this stretch more walkable, bikable, and lowering the parking requirements will be a great plus.
Realty News Report: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mark Davis: My office building is in the middle of everything just off Montrose and Hawthorne. People come by and we walk to lunch with a choice of great restaurants like Uchi and Snooze, an AM Eatery at 3217 Montrose. We get a cup of coffee at one of a kind specialty coffee places like Mercantile at 3321 Stanford or Fix Coffeebar at 415 Westheimer or grab a drink at fun bars like Anvil Bar & Refuge at 1424 Westheimer or Stone’s Throw at 1417 Westheimer. The reaction is always the same from folks – “This is such a neat neighborhood and I love being able walk to all these different places.” I couldn’t agree more.
Dec. 18, 2016 Realty News Report Copyright 2016
Realty News Report is a Texas-based publication edited by Ralph Bivins.