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ULI Marketplace: Reknitting the Urban Fabric and Making Houston a 24-Hour City

Mark Falcone

Mark Falcone

HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet) – A thriving urban core needs development mindful of the traditional, diverse neighborhoods in and near it, said Mark Falcone, founder and CEO of Continuum Partners, based in Denver.

As keynote speaker at Urban Land Institute’s Urban Marketplace 2017, held April 13 at the Marriott Marquis Houston, Falcone covered the dynamics and challenges affecting cities as their pipelines of new projects help reboot their vitality — causing new challenges.

The fourth-generation developer considers his varied projects as “human habitats” as well as solid economic ventures. Falcone’s 20-year-old company’s approach has earned industry kudos for a string of successful results, including the nationally acclaimed Denver Union Station Transportation Center. The historic Union Station, now the nexus of eight commuter rail lines, is surrounded with significant mixed-use development by Falcone’s firm and its partners.

If there’s change blowing in the tailwinds of urban development, he said, demographics are behind it, and not just the millennials. While all those youths toted in mini-vans to school, practices and entertainment are defining their built environment differently, their parents (known to want to keep close by) are also being introduced, or perhaps reintroduced, to downtown experiences.

And yet, Falcone told ULI: “We’re beginning to see signs of a new group of stresses.”

First on that list is geographic displacement, now occurring at a high rate and altering the vibe of why some parts of urban centers were appealing in the first place. Just ask the artists, whom Falcone likened to canaries in the coal mine, locating, creating value and thriving in overlooked or forgotten districts.

“As our cities change, adapt and evolve, we have to become better at human ecology,” he said. There’s a need to get ahead of the displacement trend “to ensure that our cities remain places of opportunity — for all of its residents.”

Falcone is a noted advocate of more sustainable settlement patterns. He also characterized himself as a capitalist, just one who thinks affordable housing is a vital part of a robust city.

Another challenge ahead is the dwindling availability of easy-to-develop sites. Meanwhile, new projects serve the same narrow audience: the highest paid and most productive.

Falcone suggested projects be assessed not only on their financial merits, but also on what they might add to an existing environment, rather than as so many units or optimal square footage on a site.

With the flow of capital driving these trends, he said, “We as an industry need to develop a way to accommodate the social impact as well as the economic returns.” That might require more creative funding mechanisms, such as more direct access to investors rather than the deep pockets of what he called “capital traffickers.”

In developing urban centers, he said, “a healthy dynamic” is the goal.

After touring and examining the Houston market, Falcone has noted the Houston’s “remarkable investment” in infrastructure and architecture. With time, he said, technology will further connections and pathways between the major centers – downtown, Texas Medical Center, Greenway Plaza and Uptown Houston.

Another highlight of the ULI event was a panel discussion entitled: “The 24-Hour Downtown: When Do We Get There?”

Houston has made significant progress from the days when downtown shut down a 6:00 pm and thousands of residential units have been constructed, said panel moderator Minnette Boesel, owner of Minnette Boesel Properties.

Over the years, a huge change has been the blossoming of the eastern part of downtown Houston, said Peter McStravick, chief development officer of Houston First.

“The east side of downtown was dead,” McStravick said.

The George R. Brown Convention Center, which opened in 1987, stood in isolation on the east side of downtown for years. But the addition of Minute Maid Park, the Hilton Americas and the Discovery Green park were key anchors that added to east side density.

Thousands of new residential units have been built in downtown Houston in recent years and several thousand more are currently under construction.

Mark Cover

Mark Cover

Mark Cover, CEO of the Southwest Region for Hines, said the housing element is key to making downtown a 24-hour city and a complete community. Hines is nearing completion on the 32-story Aris on Market Square , a 278-unit residential rental property on a block bounded by Prairie, Preston, Main and Travis streets.

Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners of North Carolina, said 4,000 apartment units are under construction in downtown Charlotte now and another 5,000 units are planned. One concern that has arisen, Smith said, is the possibility that multifamily may be too dominant and other uses may be needed in downtown Charlotte.

April 13, 2017 Realty News Report Copyright 2017

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