HOUSTON – (RNR) – Lacee Jacobs is vice president of strategic leasing and advisory at Midway, the Houston-based real estate investment and development firm. Drawing on nearly a decade of industry experience, she specializes in merchandising and advising national, regional, first-to-market and experiential brands. Most recently, she worked with CBRE, strengthening its leasing team in Houston’s Inner Loop with her local and global perspective on the real estate market. Prior to CBRE, Lacee worked with Edge Realty and Waterman Steele. This Q&A is an excerpt from a new video podcast, THE RALPH BIVINS PROJECT.
Ralph Bivins: Lacee, what restaurants have begun to launch in Houston and the area, particularly considering what is happening with the coronavirus pandemic?
Lacee Jacobs: I think maybe that one of the sadder things for us in the real estate and restaurant world is this. Toward the end of last year and the beginning of this year, the market was on fire. Brands were coming at us left and right. Businesses were looking for ways to enter the market and were moving toward relocating. A lot of that had to be put on hold, obviously. The big question mark is: Will these groups that are moving in from Nashville and Chicago and LA come back and look at Houston as a place to make a comeback? Our fingers are crossed that Houston will be a good recovery market. Will Houston still be attractive to these firms involved in the fast casual and full-service segment of the food and beverage industry? The way things are going now, it appears fast casual restaurants will be back in business more quickly than the full-service places. Full-service restaurants are struggling with the new COVID regulations, and curbside delivery and to-go food. It’s more difficult for thee restaurants that weren’t familiar with those services before. I would imagine it is a learning curve. Fast casual seems to be moving more quickly than others in adopting this style of service. We’ve already seen rumors in other publications of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken and places like that are getting active again, as is Flower Child, which has opened a new location in The Heights. Fast casual restaurants are moving a lot faster in the recovery process. It’s hopeful that full-service restaurants are not too far behind. You would expect them to arrive a little later.
Ralph Bivins: Downtown has been a ghost town. So many employees are working from home, it’s got to be tough for downtown restaurants that don’t have a lunch trade. I’ve heard 10, 15, or 20 percent of the workforce is actually traveling downtown to work and actually occupying buildings. Is this your observation?
Lacee Jacobs: I’ve heard the 10 percent occupancy figure a few times. I went Downtown last Friday. It was a little more encouraging. I would think about 20 percent occupancy in areas like the Historic District. It was nice, but we are far from what it was before. We need to see the big companies telling their people to go back to the Downtown – in a safe and well thought-out out manner. This is needed to have an impact on improving the restaurant and retail segments. I noticed that the number of people living downtown has grown. I saw some of the residents running in and grabbing food – mostly to go – from some restaurants. This is what we must see. But we must reach a number that not only keeps the downtown alive, but also keeps it growing.
Ralph Bivins: Your company, Midway, has GreenStreet, a three-block, mixed-use complex along Dallas Street , near Fannin in downtown. What’s going on there?
Lacee Jacobs: At GreenStreet, our efforts have really been focused on supporting our tenants for the entire year. We must make sure to help them get through all of this. It has been tough; it is really hard on them. They are our priority. Also, we must make plans for when we get back to a level of normalcy – whatever that is. We are working for our office tenants; we want to add some really great amenities. We have the House of Blues, but it has not been able to operate because of the coronavirus. I believe they are looking to open the restaurant, but they are not offering concerts. This is really tough on their business. We have added some really good restaurants and will be adding casual options for the lunch business. Also, we are looking to add amenities for our office tenants once they have come back. We are making a big push to lease office space in our tower. We have added entertainment options for nights and weekends in that area and will continue to do that. We are located close to the convention center and the Toyota Center.
Ralph Bivins: I have also heard that a drive-in movie theater has popped at East River, Midway’s 150-acre mixed-use project under development along the banks of Buffalo Bayou on the east end of downtown. Outdoor movies – an interesting trend?
Lacee Jacobs: Yes. Most drive-in theaters in town are offering classic movies, old movies that we have seen a hundred times, but still love. This drive-in will offer first-run movies. If you have a big vehicle, like a lot of us in Houston do, you can fill up the car and see a first-run movie for about $25. It is safe; you just have the people from the same household. It’s a rather good deal. Right now, we have all that land that can be used for the community benefit. Pre-development for future use takes a long time.
Ralph Bivins: People have been talking about Skanska’s purchase of a parcel at the corner of Main and Montrose in the Montrose area. Skanska just bought that. That’s a huge, high-profile intersection. What do you make of this?
Lacee Jacobs: There are a lot of opportunities. Of course, with Skanska, you would expect office space and multifamily residential. I’m pretty confident they’ll put retail in there. What would be nice for that area is a hotel. I mean, isn’t that where everyone from out of town wants to go, to Montrose? Trying all the award-winning restaurants, hanging out in all the cool shops, walking up and down Westheimer. Where do visitors stay? They either go to the Galleria or Downtown? A boutique-style hotel would fit in that trade area.
Ralph Bivins: What about the Montrose Collective project? Construction is happening at the northeast corner of Montrose and Westheimer. The structure I saw when I drove by went up three or four stories. What’s happening there?
Lacee Jacobs: At the Montrose Collective, I understand there is a lead office tenant going in, which makes sense. Construction is well under way. There is a big retail leasing push; great, great restaurants and retail space right there in Montrose. I looked at it with a couple of clients. There is some really good space facing the library. I hope we can find some good names to locate there.
To hear The Ralph Bivins Project session with Lacee Jacobs Click Here.
Oct. 6, 2020 Realty News Report Copyright 2020
File:The Ralph Bivins Project with Lacee Jacobs of Midway