Demolition of Landmark Grocery Store Clears Way for Urban Village

BELLAIRE, Texas – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – Kimco has signed a lease with a group of medical professionals from Houston Methodist who plan to raze the 106,000 SF Randalls, according to city officials. The venerable connection with Bellaire’s go-go days of 1956 sits on 3.1 acres. The grocery store, adored for its convenience and high-quality wines and foods, has stood at 5130 Bellaire Boulevard at S. Rice Avenue  for more than 66 years.

Officials believe the demolition of a long-beloved grocery destination in the small commercial core of the independent municipality of Bellaire, will make way for much anticipated progress in the heart of Bellaire.

A Former Weingarten Store from the 1950s

What began as one of Weingarten’s most modern grocery stores in the 1950s has survived hurricanes, the Great Recession, and a series of branding transitions that renamed the store Apple Tree, Safeway and finally, Randalls. Yet underperformance led to its shuttering in January, 2021 and the space largely has remained vacant, except for short stints as a Halloween-oriented season location.

Monique Alejos, Development Review Coordinator, Development Services, City of Bellaire says the medical group is part of Houston Methodist and plans are congealing for a surgery center – one that will not involve expensive Texas Medical Center parking fees and dense TMC traffic.

According to the City of Bellaire zoning regulations, the Randalls site is classified as part of a “Urban Village – downtown district.”

“I think it will really begin to take off,” says Chris Canonico, a Bellaire resident and civil engineer. “This will start the process.”

Houston Methodist Hospital

Walter P. Moore and Anthony Wright at PageThink have been engaged to work with the City of Bellaire on a new site plan and permitting. Engineer Avinash Kalagarla is looking at existing utilities to see if they have the capacity to handle a new 106,000 SF medical office building. He’s exploring detention criteria, 500-year elevation requirements and the planned development process with Bellaire city officials.

Michael Babajanov, who has presented Saturday morning Farmers Markets on the Randalls parking lot had to relocate to Hillcroft/Willowbend Boulevard area at Westbury Baptist Church, 10425 Hillcroft.  “They kicked me out … once the new lease was signed,” says Babajanov.

The parking lot has 270 spaces on 3.97 acres, or 37,699 SF. Previously, the land was owned by Weingarten Realty Investors, a Houston-based REIT real estate firm that once owned 162 shopping centers around the nation before it was purchased in 2021 by Kimco for $4 billion.

“It is my understanding that the Randalls building would be demolished so the client could put a new building there,” says Monique Alejos. “The client is limited by our current height restrictions in the UVD District so they are working to apply for a Planned Development application. No formal applications have been submitted yet. They will be presenting an informal presentation before P&Z at 6 p.m. on Thursday 9/8.”

Documents obtained through an Open Records Request

According to documents obtained through an Open Records Request, the group will request permission to build the new structure four stories high. They are discovering the rules pertaining to proposed height of buildings or maximum height allowed in Code, and the zoning code requirement for public hearings before (1) P&Z and (2) Bellaire City Council, coupled with the need for public attendance at the applicant’s initial presentation of desires before P&Z.  It has not yet been disclosed if the applicant plans to remove other existing buildings on the site, such as the banks and the Subway fast food restaurant. “One of the plans I’ve seen includes the Subway and one does not,” says Alejos.

Is it indeed a group of Methodist doctors who plan to build out this as a Medical Office Building?

“That is my understanding,” says Alejos. “Page Architects is the architect for this property.”

Houston Methodist’s Director, Communications, PR and Creative Services Stefanie Asin confirms, “We have entered into a ground lease for the site but our plans for the location are in the early stages of development.”

Defining an Urban Village

The City of Bellaire’s Urban Village district code provides for a mix of uses and style of development intended to reinforce the “small town downtown feel desired by Bellaire residents, including opportunities for shopping, services, dining and entertainment. While they may frequent the area for convenience shopping and multi-purpose trips, “it has not offered the typical experience of a destination downtown given how this primary commercial area in Bellaire developed over time without a traditional Main Street or other focal point for typical downtown amenities. The district is also a high-profile area of the community given its proximity to busy Bellaire Boulevard and its bifurcation by the Bissonnet diagonal. District standards require that more visible landscaping and green elements be incorporated on all sites, including within off-street parking areas and any higher-intensity residential or mixed-use developments that emerge within the district.”

Secondly, the code addresses the character of design within the Urban Village 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. Encouraging housing options adds another important element by putting full-time residents in the area with expectations for a safe and hospitable environment in which to live, recreate, and host guests and visitors. Keys to an Urban character are relatively small block sizes (or pedestrian routes through larger blocks), more intensive site development and coverage, reduced reliance on off-street surface parking, and greater architectural enclosure of public streets and spaces to support a pedestrian orientation.

Under uses, the guidelines provide for a mix of commercial, office, civic and entertainment uses appropriate for an urban character setting, and especially for new residential presence to add built-in demand for local shopping and services.

The Bellaire Randalls was deemed to be an under performing store in the competitive Houston grocery market by Albertsons Companies, the Boise-based grocery firm that owns Randalls.

Can Bellaire’s Urban Village Plan Overcome an Ill-Placed Transit Station?

The departure of Randalls places 3.1 acres of land into a redevelopment play. Its 136,517 SF of prime property – between Bellaire and Bissonnet streets, across from an ill-placed 1.2-acre METRO transit station, a utilitarian facility which sits in what could have been an attractive addition to the esplanade greenbelt in the heart of Bellaire Boulevard. Instead the esplanade was transformed into an elongated bus stop that does little to beautify or advance the vision for an Urban Village.

The Randalls site sits half-mile west of Loop 610 at South Rice Avenue, due south of the world renown Galleria mall. Bellaire has delayed and retreated from prior proposals for high-rise residential that would move the city toward denser urbanity that would be consistent with the vision for an Urban Village.

Will a medical building help to create an Urban Village in Bellaire?

“It’s very premature at this stage to speculate what might happen with the property,” says Bellaire Mayor Andrew Friedberg. “While we were all saddened to see our Bellaire Randall’s closing, the turnover does present an exciting opportunity to continue fulfilling our commercial redevelopment objectives on a site that’s appropriate for it and can further enhance the residential character and quality of life in our community.”

And so, the wrecking ball moves in for the kill of what was once known Randalls store #3064, or just called “64” by Randalls employees and its informed inner circle.


Sept. 5, 2022 Realty News Report Copyright 2022

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File: Randalls Demolition of Landmark Grocery Store

 

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