Bellaire’s Town Center: Reaching for a Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

BELLAIRE, Texas – (By Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report) – Three commercial acres, which have been designated as part of the “Urban Village – Downtown District” at the heart of the city of Bellaire presents an opportunity for transformative development.

A shuttered Randall’s grocery store sits on the property, located about a half mile from Loop 610 at the corner of Bellaire Boulevard and South Rice Avenue.

In what appears to be Bellaire’s last remaining commercial redevelopment jewel at core of the town’s center, expectations should be high. It’s only two blocks from City Hall, but considering the city’s visionless leadership, the site might as well be 200 miles away.

So, the Bellaire City Council is moving toward a vote to allow Methodist Hospital to build a three-story, 95,000-SF medical office building there.

That’s right, the city leadership believes a medical office building – with office hours of something like 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday –  can be the core of its urban downtown district.

Could anything be worse than a medical professional building to anchor a town’s downtown urban village?

Redevelopment specialists would say Bellaire’s cornerstone development should be mixed-use, walkable and multi-story. To encourage 18-hour activity, multiple restaurants, outdoor seating, a public greenspace and retention of existing oak trees are all musts. Compatible tenants should be selected for the upper floors where upscale condos could add a residential element. Visitors should be inspired by high-quality public art.

Must the existing 32,000-SF Randall’s store be demolished as the plan calls for? It was built in the mid-1950s as a Weingarten’s grocery – a near-historic facility that fed Bellaire families for decades even as the store brand changed. Can the store be redeveloped?

The property is now owned by Kimco Realty, which acquired the Weingarten Realty company in 2021. Kimco plans to lease the site to Methodist Hospital.

The opportunity for the “Urban Village Downtown District” Randall’s site could be frittered away with a City Council vote in July.

Bellaire Mayor Andrew S. Friedberg did not disclose his stance on the Methodist proposal. “Personally, I’m pretty sure what my vote will be, but as always I will maintain an open mind to what my colleagues have to say and to ongoing public comment,” the mayor said in an email Tuesday.

The Bellaire municipality has an unreasonable fear of multi-story development and density, as evidenced by its handling of the plans for the 30-acre former Chevron campus at Loop 610 and Fournace.

Perhaps city leaders could visit the Montrose Collective development on Westheimer Road for inspiration and talk to project’s developer, Steve Radom.

Perhaps, Bellaire can borrow inspiration from Dallas’s downtown bridges – landmarks designed by Santiago Calatrava. A signature pedestrian bridge from the Randall’s site to the uber-verdant esplanade in Bellaire Boulevard would be a landmark that gives the people easy access to wide, blocks-long green space that now lies behind a barrier of a six-lane thoroughfare.

Now is the time to make a statement at the key intersection in Bellaire. Anything is better than a medical office building. Bellaire’s absurd fear of the slightest hint of planned urbanity has gone on long enough.

How the Bellaire City Code Defines its Urban Village Downtown District:

This district is intended to support a transition to a more urban development character through redevelopment in the core downtown area. This could provide the critical mass the area has always lacked to spur greater foot traffic and extended visits that are essential to a vibrant mix of retail, service and hospitality businesses.

June 20,  2023 Realty News Report Copyright 2023


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Image: Courtesy Weingarten

File:  Bellaire’s Town Center: Reaching for a Vision.  Development. Municipalities. Bellaire’s Town Center: Reaching for a Vision

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