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The Death of a Vision

Ralph Bivins, Editor

HOUSTON – (By Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report) – It’s a corpse now. For sale signs will soon be spiked into its blackland prairie skin.

It was the dream of Retired Admiral William T. McRaven, the war hero who became chancellor of the University of Texas System.

McRaven envisioned transforming 300 acres about a mile south of Loop 610 into a data science institute that tapped into the great intelligence at the nearby Texas Medical Center, area universities and Houston’s corporate community.

McRaven went all-in. About two years ago, in a series of deals, the University of Texas paid a whopping $215 million for the land, which is near the intersection of Buffalo Speedway and West Bellfort, close to Willowbend Boulevard.

But the push-back was fierce, as opposing forces emerged from the University of Houston and the State Capitol in Austin to extinguish McRaven’s quantum leap vision. McRaven lost. The man who directed the Navy SEAL commando mission that killed Osama Bin Laden couldn’t overcome the small-minded vision killers in Texas.

McRaven, 62, recently announced his resignation from the University of Texas, effective at the close of this spring semester.

The land will be going up for sale soon under the direction of Jeff Hildebrand, a member of the UT board of regents. Hildebrand is the founder of Houston-based Hilcorp Energy. The university is putting out requests for proposals, in case you’re interested.

Although it’s only three miles or so from Rice University and the medical center, many consider the site to be industrial in nature. Some people in the real estate community believe the eventual sales price may be less than half of the $215 million paid for it.

If carved up into smaller parcels, the best tracts could draw as much as $20 per SF– maybe. Other pieces could be worth less than $10 per SF.

But the location is intriguing.

“What makes it attractive is that it’s a large assemblage of land near the Inner Loop. That makes it a rarity,” says land broker Reed Vestal of Lee & Associates.

The value of this property was slammed by one of the project’s naysayers, State Sen. John Whitmire. When McRaven announced a year ago that UT was cancelling its plan, Whitmire snarked to the Houston Chronicle: “Next time, don’t waste $200 million on a dump.”

Thanks a lot, Senator Whitmire, for running down the value of state-owned land.

The University of Texas project, estimated to be as much as 1 million SF, could have been a tremendous economic generator for Houston. It could have energized a lot of land just south of Loop 610 that has been long overlooked. The site is due south of West University Place, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Houston. The UT project could have created thousands of jobs and untold chapters of data science innovation.

But the leadership of the University of Houston felt threatened and they rallied against it and won. The UH Cougar boosters should be ashamed. They hurt our city.

What could have been a great project for Houston is now dead.

It was murdered by Cougar Pride.

March 5, 2018 Realty News Report Copyright 2018

Commentary by Ralph Bivins, editor of Texas-based Realty News Report.


  1. Ralph:
    Your article is spot on. Unfortunately, politics got in the way of something Houston needs in a big way, and that is a data science center, particularly given the Texas Medical Center, Big Oil, NASA, and institutions of higher learning located in Houston. These centers are being developed in other cities around the country, especially where you see concentrations of academia. UT was the perfect driver for this endeavor but political pressure from UH killed it. What a shame.
    I will suggest, however, the property acquired by UT should generate more than what UT paid for it. The beauty of the property is the fact that it is a large assembly, 300+ acres, and so near the Texas Medical Center, Rice University, West University, and NASA. Given that the infrastructure is already in place and a Metro Stop designated for the site, it is certainly positioned for something greater than industrial use.
    The recent announcement by the Texas Medical Center teaming up with Big Energy to focus on the development of a data science center is indicative of the validity of McRaven’s vision. What a shame we have elected officials and UH Regents incapable of welcoming this vision and rolling up their collective sleeves to achieve what would have been a fantastic asset of the City. It is unfortunate that Senator Whitmire did not know more about the property before he made his comment. The property was cleaned up a long time ago and environmental issues are not a factor.
    I am only sorry that McRaven stepped down as Chancellor of UT for health reasons and that the Govenor did not buck the locals and back McRaven as a visionary. UH’s stated concern that it would rob UH of local support and unfairly compete with the UH System was very short sighted. The proposed data science center would have been such a positive for all participants. Now, hopefully the recently announced intent to develop a data science center will move forward.

  2. Just remember that Whitmire Rene Couture and Tilman Fertitta all the powers that be at the U of H recanted and realized the value of a Datacenter
    McRaven’s flaw was that he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to use the land for when he bought it. Had he explained a whole Vision things would have been different. However now the Texas Medical Center is talking about doing Big Data there so it may still come to fruition I know we all hope it will

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