BELLAIRE, Texas – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – 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.
Located on Bellaire Boulevard in the small commercial core of the independent municipality of Bellaire, Randalls will be closed within a month. It’s the end of the line for Randalls, an underperforming store in the competitive Houston grocery market, says Albertsons Companies, the Boise-based grocery firm that owns Randalls.
The departure of Randall’s places 3.1 acres of land into play. Its 136,517 SF of prime property – between Bellaire and Bissonnet streets, across from an ill-placed 1.2-acre METRO transit station. The Randalls site is about a half-mile west of Loop 610 at South Rice Avenue.
According to the City of Bellaire zoning regulations, the Randall’s site is classified as part of a “Urban Village – downtown district.”
“It’s very premature at this stage to speculate what might happen with the property,” says Bellaire Mayor Andrew Friedberg. “While we’re 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.”
The Randalls building and surrounding land is owned by Weingarten Realty Investors, a Houston-based firm that owns 162 shopping centers around the nation.
“We are looking at several different alternatives which could include re-leasing the building with the addition of some pads (freestanding restaurants or small stores),” says Drew Alexander, President and CEO of Weingarten Realty. “Alternatively, we could look at a denser multi-story development. It’s a great location and we are confident we can do a nice project but it’s quite early.”
At one of Weingarten’s upscale centers, the River Oaks Shopping Centers on West Gray street, Weingarten is building a 30-story apartment tower called The Driscoll.
A 30-story residential tower would not be allowed under Bellaire zoning, which limits building heights to about 55 feet or five stories.
Lisa Barnes, a Coldwell Banker Realtor and a board member with the Bellaire Business Association, says she would like to see a six-story mid-rise community for people want to remain in Bellaire. “They love the community, they want walkability and they want to be close to the Texas Medical Center,” Barnes says. “If we could have a development that offered right-size housing with no stairs for them, priced between $300,000 to $600,000, I think that would be the highest and best use of the land now. If they wanted to do mixed use, they could do something on the first floor but it’s really important to have walkability to the monthly concerts in the park, restaurants, and to a coffee shop. They would also need to have a swimming pool. People want to stay in the neighborhood and they don’t want a 1970s townhouse with stairs.”
“If I had a two-bedroom with no stairs, I could sell those all day long,” says Barnes.
Bellaire, which has a population of 19,000, has a median home listing price of $835,000, according to Realtor.com.
Would the City of Bellaire allow a tall building? “The city does have height requirements on buildings in Bellaire, however if an interested party wanted to build higher, they could request this through the proper process,” says Cheryl Bright, Bellaire’s Community Relations Administrator.
Weingarten Realty could opt to place another grocer in the vacated Randalls building in Bellaire.
Weingarten’s owns many grocery-anchored centers, including the center on Shepherd Drive where the historic Alabama Theater has been transformed into an Art Deco-flavored Trader Joe’s grocery.
Another grocer would face competition from Houston’s first two-story H-E-B which opened July 27, 2018 – right across the street from the soon-to-be-vacated Randalls.
Other stores in the wide area include Sprouts Farmer’s Market at 1212 Old Spanish Trail, the Wal-Mart at 5405 S. Rice, and El Ahorro Supermarket on 5859 Bissonnet. Another double decker H-E-B opened in January of 2020 in the nearby Meyerland Plaza.
“The only information we have on Randall’s property is that they are closing,” says Chavonne Sampson, Bellaire’s Director of Development. “There have not been any development/ permit applications filed with the city at this time.”
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. “Land assembly and master-planned development is encouraged, as is vertical mixing of uses in buildings that accommodate upper-floor residential, office or other uses above street-level retail and services,” reads the code, noting that the “unusually shaped and undersized building sites, caused by the diagonal orientation of Bissonnet through the community, pose a particular challenge in some parts of the district, which is also good reason to encourage more vertical development where appropriate.”
The Randalls store has been an important place to the Bellaire community for many years.
Teachers from nearby Condit Elementary often stopped in for supplies or groceries. It was the store where Juanita “Nita” Quaid bought the chickens and pot roasts that fed her sons, Dennis and Randy Quaid and where many a Bellaire Belle bought her beauty supplies.
“I tell you what, they had the most delicious soup – no matter what flavor you got, it was all good. My favorite was the bacon and potato soup – you could pay at the deli and there was often no line,” says J.J. Smith. “The allure was I could pop in, pay for it and be back in my Cadillac and on the way to my dress shop in five minutes.”
Bellaire Police Chief Byron Holloway recalls incident when the store was an Apple Tree grocery. The meat cutters went on strike and the union brought in picketers. “They hired off-duty Bellaire Police officers to safely escort customers in and out of the store. I remember that the officers were able to negotiate a synchronous lunch time with the picket line,” Holloway says. “In fact, we’d all eat lunch together at the Church’s Fried Chicken that was where Subway stands today.”
Randalls store #3064, or just “64” as referenced by Randalls’ inner circle, will complete its grand finale with an act of service.
Barbara Bronstein, Founder and President of Second Servings, recently met with the Randall’s Bellaire store manager Cindy Fletcher to plan for the liquidation leftovers. Whatever is not sold by February 20 will be picked up by their food rescue squad volunteers for donation. Bellaire-based Second Servings is Houston’s only prepared and perishable food rescue organization on a mission to fill stomachs, not landfills, with delicious and healthy surplus food.
“We pick up unserved and unsold food from distributors, retailers, manufacturers and other food businesses, and deliver it the same day to 90 approved charity sites (shelters, soup kitchens, low-income housing and others),” says Bronstein. “Randalls’ food will help nourish veterans, adults in recovery, abused women and children, at-risk youth, homeless disabled seniors, developmentally challenged adults, and many others.”
Jan 18, 2021 Realty News Report Copyright 2021
File: Randalls Leaves 3-Acre Opportunity in Downtown Bellaire