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From the empty ninth floor of a Brookhollow Central office building, the view looks beyond ongoing road construction in the North Loop West-U.S. 290 corridor. So did the viewpoints shared at a panel discussion on the area’s potential growth. A half-dozen commercial real estate experts joined transportation planners at the event, hosted by BisNow, an online business news provider, and attended by a curious-about-the-corridor audience topping 250 people.
Weave. Dodge. Re-route.
Road projects either under way or planned for smoother use of the interchange – or avoiding it entirely with direct connectors to I-10 – are part of a larger, accelerated $1.8 billion program shared by Texas Department of Transportation and Harris County Toll Road Authority to build all U.S. 290 projects between IH 610 and SH 99 (the Grand Parkway) by 2017, said Karen Othon, Texas Department of Transportation’s U.S. 290 public info officer.
The as-yet funded Hempstead Tollway, however, won’t likely be tackled for another 20 years, she said, though Hempstead Highway will get an asphalt overlay in the interim, starting in about three months, since it will serve as a relief route.
“It’s a lot of spaghetti, I know,” said Mike Zientek of engineering consulting firm HNTB, after screening a video flyover of the interchange’s connectors, ramps, and color coded lanes (available at www.my290.com).
Mobility + population growth = potential
Immediate mobility challenges aside, the North Loop/290 corridor has been gaining interest and activity, panelists said, citing what their tenants report appreciating about it, such as equal distance to both airports and proximity to both downtown and The Galleria. And with Houston’s population growing west where there’s available land as well as rediscovering closer-in neighborhoods on the near north side, an increasing chunk of the workforce isn’t too far away.
As for the road work, “There’s always construction in Houston somewhere,” said Tom McKenzie, DTZ senior vice president.
Colvill Office Properties’ president, Chip Colvill, said suburban markets are pretty tight so tenants are looking at the U.S. 290 area. And it’s also becoming a “viable alternative” to the Galleria/Uptown.
There’s “access without the hassle,” said Stephen Bronner, managing principal at Parmenter Realty Partners.
Lower rental rates are the reason, said Andrew Segal, Boxer Property president, adding the corridor’s sale pitch should be “290 is half of 610.” Tenants with smaller offices (800 sq. ft. to 2,000 sq. ft.) have been especially active here, he said, and they are more rate-sensitive than larger companies.
North Loop West office space also seems to be attracting small tech companies and other entrepreneurs wanting proximity to the Washington Corridor’s close-in amenities and younger workforce, said Michele Ellis-Felder, senior vice president at Transwestern.
Moderator Jason Atkinson, senior vice president at Bury + Partners asked what will trigger development in the area, prompting Ellis-Felder’s response: “It will be re-development” given the industrial land use history of the area.
Colvill, providing a little submarket history, said North Loop/290 was “viable” in the ‘80s, but “became the forgotten market for many years.” Look at it now, he said. The population growth projections are running at 8 percent a year and the housing market is booming.
“Once the public infrastructure is complete, private development follows,” Atkinson said, leading McKenzie and other panelists to compare this corridor of roadwork and commercial rebooting with that of the overhauled and expanded 1-10 corridor.
“Companies fled I-10 and relocated, then moved back,” Colvill said. “I can barely remember the construction now on I-10.”
However, while the road expansion scopes in the two corridors might be comparable in magnitude, the I-10 work was funded differently and the affected area more highly developed, said Kimberli Deagen-Loessin, managing attorney of Barron & Adler’s Houston office.
The sizes of available sites in the northwest corridor mean big scale redevelopment opportunities eventually, Atkinson said.
Segal, meanwhile, challenged panelists — and audience –to consider what might make the North Loop West corridor a more interesting, happening place to be, especially for younger workers. “We need some unique places,” he said.