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Redeveloping 1950-Vintage Center Bring Change to Heart of Bellaire

Bellaire Town Center, which opened in 1950, is located on Bellaire Boulevard, two miles south of the Galleria. Photo by Ralph Bivins

BELLAIRE, Texas – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – Redeveloping one of the oldest shopping centers in the Houston area means losing some familiar tenants and getting new ones.

 Bellaire Town Center, owned by the Shears family’s SDI Realty, has stood at the corner of Bellaire and S. Rice for almost seven decades. The centrally located shopping and office center opened in 1950 and design and construction was handled by the William G. Farrington Company.

The center is being expanded from 39,000 SF to 71,000 SF.

The Edge marketing materials for the 70,880 SF Bellaire Town Center list the median income at $140,879, and average household income at $199,693 within a 1-mile radius. The ground level rate is $46 PSF, with a $30 PSF rate for the second level and a triple net rate of $11.51 PSF.

“I think the redevelopment will have a very positive impact on the City of Bellaire, and I believe it will spur other redevelopment to happen too!” says Bellaire City Councilmember Trisha Pollard.

Brooks Shanklin, Vice President at Edge Realty Partners, agrees, “There’s nothing like this in Bellaire. The first building, which the agents refer to as Building A, is ready for delivery now. A few of the tenants should be opening this month.  Coldwell Banker, on the second floor, is scheduled to open in March.”

The center’s redevelopment is hitting the market at a time when the shopping center market is good – but not great. “Retail rents and occupancy are pretty stable at current, although have not grown over the last 12 months the same way they rose for a number of years prior,” observes Jason Gaines, Senior Vice President, Retail at NAI Partners.  “There has not been as rapid of vacancy absorption over the last year, but at the same time very little space has come back to the market during the same period, so the net is a stable or slightly more occupied year on year.”

At the Bellaire project, two existing restaurants tenants, Lemongrass and Costa Brava Bistro, are relocating to new space in the Bellaire Town Center.

Kitty Bailey at Costa Brava Bistro says the restaurant’s new space is  being handled by the Boucher Design Group.

Fah Vorarittapa, owner of Lemongrass, plans an April debut. “We are in the final stages of signing with the general contractor,” she says.

Lemongrass, at 5109 Bellaire, will relocate to 2,500 SF in what Shears has designated as “Building A” in the newly developed space.  Similarly, Costa Brava Bistro opted to also move west, into 2,846 SF in Building A. Dream Dinners has signed on for 1,500 SF between the two longtime Bellaire restaurants.  There are four spaces in Building B, with two at 2,500 SF and one at 2,822 SF noted as “under negotiation,” and the largest of the four, at 5,610 SF, listed as available and divisible.  Building C, where Auntie Pasto’s was located for more than 28 years entails a 4,285 SF space at the front, a nail salon in the middle with 3,001 SF and 2,501 SF available at the rear.  A parking garage with 223 spaces, 97 of which are on the first level, is planned for the rest of the south side of the property. Building B and C are listed with a July 2019 delivery.

A newcomer to the center is a Club Pilates studio.

Some long-time tenants have relocated to nearby retail centers. Marble Slab, Salon Stephan and KNails all moved to property on centrally located at 5200 Bissonnet, owned by Sion and Michael Saghian. KNails moved out in July.

The family-value oriented Auntie Pasto’s, at 5419 Bellaire near Bernie’s Burger Bus since Dec. 3, now offers same menu, with a reduced price on the dinner salad and two new appetizers (spinach dip and fried mozzarella sticks).  “We didn’t notice price change for our fave main course meal that we share (sausage and peppers on angel hair),” says longtime Condit Elementary teacher Janice Donalson. “Wine is sold by bottle rather than carafe but price was comparable. The new location seems to seat about the same number of patrons.”

Maddie Tunchez, who works behind the bar, says she likes the new Auntie Pasto’s location much better. “There is plenty of parking for our customers and it’s nice to start fresh,” says the brunette, who manages to go orders and couples who fill the bar stools with equal aplomb.

What was unnecessarily difficult on the loyal Auntie Pasto’s clientele was the inconvenience created by the redevelopment team when they started work in the parking lot, reducing customer parking to a minimum.  Residents on Linden threatened to call tow trucks on the customers who parked on the street.

Night manager Paul Hill says they are working on new specials and other menu additions. In the move, the portrait of Sophia Loren was damaged, but she’ll grace the walls again before Valentine’s Day.

A site plan was submitted to Bellaire’s Development Services department by SDI Realty in March of 2017, requesting approval for redevelopment of Bellaire Town Center.

SDI is a commercial real estate firm that leases the restaurants, office and retail spots in Bellaire Town Center where Bellairians celebrate rites of passage. Anniversary dinners at Auntie Pasto’s, dinner after a Condit Elementary choir performance and weekly dinner gatherings at Lemongrass have long underpinned the family fabric of Bellaire.

First jobs, first dates all happened here. “We’ve had wedding receptions, birthdays, even life celebrations after a memorial service,” says Gary Cunningham, general manager of Auntie Pasto’s. “We moved in in April of 1991. This space was originally a corner grocery and later, a menswear shop.”

This is not the first time Shears made a run at redevelopment on the property.

“They attempted that before and it was rejected by the city,” says Cunningham. “There was   a neighborhood drive from Linden residents who objected vehemently to the center being moved to the back of the property.”

“I remember there being concerns over costs and of course the neighbors wanted to make sure about certain things,” says former councilmember and now Mayor of Manvel Debra Davison. “I don’t remember any dissension. I do remember a suggestion of condos at one point, but that was all in the dreaming phase. Nothing came to pass.”

A project like this would involve permit review, relocation of parking, construction schedule, none of which now departed Planning Development czar John McDonald was willing to discuss.

“I found letters from late 1999 and August 2000 from the residents of the 5100 block of Linden to Shears Investments asking for their proposed plans to be made more “residential-friendly,”  says Pollard. “Our primary concern was their plan to have additional curb-cuts (driveways) onto our residential block.”

“We believed then, as now, that the three entrances off Bellaire Blvd., two entrances off Fifth Street, three entrances off S. Rice Ave. and the entrance at the eastern end of Linden provided sufficient access for entry into and exit from that block,” says Pollard. “The residents of the 5100 block of Linden bought and planted 17 oak trees in 1994 and any additional curb cuts would destroy some of those trees.”

Jan. 17, 2019 Realty News Report Copyright 2019

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