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Houston’s Quirky Elevated Buildings: Can “Stilts” Make a Comeback in the Inner Loop?

This one-story elevated office building on "stilts" is located at 2607 Bissonnet. Decades ago, buildings like this were early-day solutions to density and parking issues.

This one-story elevated office building on “stilts” is located at 2607 Bissonnet, near Kirby. Decades ago, buildings like this were early-day solutions to density and parking issues.

HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith) – You see them all over Galveston Island.

And if you are really observant, you see these rare structures sprinkled across Houston’s Inner Loop.

We’re talking about buildings on stilts – the upright columns that support small, elevated buildings with surface-level parking underneath.

How often have small buildings been built with stilts in dense urban Houston?

“You see it here and there,” says Mark Davis of Davis Commercial, a Houston real estate firm that is active in Montrose and the Inner Loop. “I would not say it is typical, but also not particularly uncommon either. As land prices go up, I think we might see more of it happening.”

Davis’ firm recently handled the sale of a small office building on stilts at 2607 Bissonnet. The 2,520 SF office building is just west of Kirby Drive. The buyer, Houston-based Jermar Company LC, was represented by Barret Von Blon of Davis Commercial.

Could more structures like this be a parking solution in Montrose, where parking problems are severe?

Mark Davis, Davis Commercial

Mark Davis, Davis Commercial

“It is a way to increase the building size on a property and still meet parking requirements,” says Davis. “It makes the building cost a little more expensive, but it is often cheaper to go up than buy more land for required parking.”

Although it worked decades ago, it may not make economic sense to build only a single-level of office space and prop it up on stilts. In some cases, the building type is squeezed onto small lots that were probably used for single-family homes originally.

“It can help,” says Davis. “However, when land prices are in the triple digit range, you can’t make sense of this type of development whether it be office, retail, etc. You have to go up with multiple stories to get the economics to make sense.”

Davis points out that with parking at a premium in the area, it is not economically feasible for folks to pay $75-$100 per SF for land for parking.

Several elevated buildings are located on Bellaire Boulevard (4110, 4130 and 4204 Bellaire Boulevard in West University Place) and there’s another one at 5001 Bissonnet in Bellaire. They are typically one-level office buildings constructed over a parking area. And the parking area, of course, is de facto covered parking, protected from summer sun and the downpours of a rainy day.

David Hightower

David Hightower

“I am not aware of any that have been built in recent times.” says David Hightower, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer with Midway Companies. “There were some built years ago, I believe in the 60’s and 70’s. Most are found inside Loop 610.”

“They could be built in areas like Montrose, however I do not know if they are economically viable in today’s market,” says Hightower.

However, on a larger scale, Houston’s rising land costs already have forced developers to construct taller buildings, such as mid-rise and high-rise residential buildings. Two-story garden-style apartments don’t make economic sense anymore because land costs are high.

And multi-level retail buildings may become more common in Houston. H-E-B, for example, is developing a two-story grocery store with a parking garage in Bellaire.

March 23, 2017 Realty News Report Copyright 2017

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