Houston: Downtown District Unveils 20-Year Redevelopment Plan
Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
Posted: 11-21-2017, 1:42 p.m.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris County) – The Downtown District (Houston Downtown Management District), in concert with a coalition of twelve public and private partner stakeholders, unveiled on Nov. 10 the “Plan Downtown” master plan for the next two decades of development in or near the central business district.
Based on an 18-month planning process, Plan Downtown takes into consideration the city’s unique topographical challenges, the region’s energy industry, ongoing traffic plans, and the city’s projected population growth.
“The leadership group and steering committee, in addition to robust public input, have provided big ideas from 30,000 feet in the air to throughtful observations from a street level point of view, culminating in both large and small projects that will continue the Downtown transformation for the next five, ten, twenty year,” the Plan Downtown document states.
A large portion of this transformation is dependent on the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan to retire a section of Interstate 45 between I-45’s interchange with Interstate 69 to the south of downtown and its interchange with Interstate 10 to the north. This would end the expressway loop that encircles downtown and allow for the creation of new connections to the neighborhoods to the west, such as Midtown and the Fourth Ward.
TxDOT’s expressway modernization plan is known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP). It is divided into three segments and the downtown sector is Segment 3. In addition to retiring the downtown section of I-45, Segment 3 would also submerge sections of Interstate 69/U.S. 59, which would create ground level “caps” that could be repurposed for use as parks and plazas to improve walkability and create recreation opportunities. Some sections of these caps might also be repurposed for commercial real estate development as hotels and other structures. The caps also create new opportunities to develop connectivity to the east into the Eado district and the Second Ward.
Hurricane Harvey had its effect on Plan Downtown, which was in final development when the storm paralyzed the city. This added renewed urgency on efforts to incorporate resilient design into the master plan.
“In recent years as climate changes and development patterns throughout the region have accelerated, major flood events have become more frequent,” the document states. “Through this plan, Downtown can support resiliency goals in numerous ways, including development state of the art guidelines for development within the floodplain, strangthening the flood readiness of government facilities through new master plans for the city and county campuses, continued attention to ‘smart’ technologies and improvements to vital infrastructure, and support for a city and regional resilience strategy.”
This newfound respect for the power of nature has led to a commitment to more greenspace, particularly in flood prone areas. The removal of I-45 along downtown’s western edge would be replaced with a “green loop” that would encircle downtown with a system of parks, trails and public spaces, with key connections to downtown and bordering neighborhoods.
Illustration of proposed downtown Green Loop courtesy of Downtown District’s Plan Downtown.
The plan not only reimagines how the central business district should be reorganized, it looks at downtown’s prospects for expansion along the edges, mapping out new zones for high density residential and the public transit such development would need. This requires the construction of 12,000 additional residential units within Downtown to support population growth from 7,500 to 30,000 over the next 20 years.”
There is also a call to “establish and grown Downtown’s Innovation District to become the center of gravity for technology and entrepreneurship … today, more than 250 early-stage software and digital technology companies are already a part of the Downtown innovation community.”
Implementation of the 48-page document is divided into “Near-Term Priorities,” and “Long-Term Priorities.” The Near-Term Priorities mostly have to do planning and the building of community and corporate partnerships. This includes coordinating planning with TxDOT, developing downtown design guidelines, updating the Harris County Downtown Campus Master Plan, and redevelopment of the Civic Center, Justice Complex and Convention Center.
The seven Long-Term Priorities focus more on actual construction:
Develop signature attractions Downtown.
Develop the Green Loop and guide development to adjacent sites.
Expand strategies for corporate relocation.
Build an additional 12,000 residential units Downtown.
Build a new North Downtown Transit Center.
Incorporate new and emerging technology/data collection in new infrastructure and public improvements.
Continue the redesign and rebuilding of Downtown streets to provide greater multi-modal access and support character and development goals.
The partners were Downtown District, Houstonfirst, Central Houston Inc., Downtown Redevelopment Authority, City of Houston, Harris County, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Greater East End Management District, Theater District Houston, Greater Northside Management District, East Downtown Management District, and Midtown Management District.
Developer and architect firms represented within the leadership group included Hines, and HKS Architects.
The 2017-2037 Plan Downtown document projects future residential zones in the beige areas. Courtesy of Downtown District.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.