The Houston 2020 Downtown Awards
By Ralph Bivins, Author of Houston 2020: America’s Boom Town – an Extreme Close Up
Downtown Dealmaker of the Year: Skanska Commercial Development. Skanska pulled off two megadeals in downtown Houston. Most impressive was its acquisition of four surface parking lots near Discovery Green park – a total of 3.5 acres for $55 million. High-rise, mixed-use development is in the offing. This is downtown’s most important development land, strategic for the city’s future. The city has been trying for 50 years to make the eastern half of downtown into a premier activity center, so Skanska must deliver a world-class mixed-use development for this property. In its second noteworthy deal, Skanska is selling a 90 percent stake in its new downtown skyscraper, Bank of America Tower for $695 per square foot, a record price for Houston. (California State Teachers Retirement System is acquiring the 35-story building for $542 million.)
Downtown Builder of the Year: Hines. In 2019, Hines broke ground on two buildings in downtown Houston – the 47-story Texas Tower office project and The Preston, a 46-story apartment building. The towers are rising near the corner of Texas Avenue and Milam – sites that were once the location of the Houston Chronicle building and its parking garage. The office building, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli; and the multifamily tower, designed by Munoz + Albin; both will add to the monumental collection of Hines skyscrapers on the Houston skyline.
Downtown Office Tower of the Year: TC Energy Center, nee RepublicBank Center. Renamed TC Energy Center in the fall of 2019, the 56-story tower is one of the most recognized landmarks on the Houston skyline. Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the red granite tower, 700 Louisiana, features a steep gabled roofline punctuated by spires. In the summer, the building’s namesake tenant (Bank of America) moved out. The office space is being refilled. A major re-do is underway in the old-timey bank lobby, which had space for 35 tellers. The long-hidden Western Union mechanical space – encased behind granite walls since the building opened in 1983 – is being rebuilt as leasable ground-floor space. The landlord/developer is Ken Moczulski, CEO of M-M Properties.
Downtown Philanthropist of the Year: Lynn Wyatt. Long-time Houstonian Lynn Wyatt is giving $10 million for redevelopment of Jones Plaza, which is located in the Theater District’s Jones Hall, Wortham Center and the Alley Theater. The plaza will be renamed the Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts. The $29 million redevelopment will correct an unfortunate tile-coated version of the plaza that drew snide comparisons to a men’s room at a third-world bus station. The park is bounded by Smith, Louisiana, Capitol and Texas Avenue. Ms. Wyatt, once called “The Best Little Socialite in Texas” by Vanity Fair, is well known in social circles, counted as a friend to Elton John, Mick Jagger and various members of royalty and the fashion world.
Houston 2020: Newcomer of the Year Award: SoDo. Denver has its LoDo (Lower Downtown). Manhattan has its SoHo… Houston already has EaDo. Isn’t Houston ready for SoDo (Southern Downtown)? … The big driver for this award is Southern Downtown Park, a new public place that will be developed next year on a block bounded by Fannin, San Jacinto, Leeland and Bell. The park, with a restaurant, should be open in 2021. Lately, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority has been referring to it as “Southern Downtown Park.” But naming it “SoDo Park” might help create a new urban district.
Dec. 4, 2019 Realty News Report Copyright 2019 (Commentary by Ralph Bivins.)
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