Real Estate Round-up

Houston's Top 10 shopping center additions: Stores that are transforming spaces

Houston's Top 10 shopping center additions: Stores that are transforming spaces

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The arrival of Tootsies placed a stamp of approval on West Ave for retailers. Photo by Clifford Pugh
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With its new store on Waugh Drive, just south of Allen Parkway, Whole Foods made grocery shopping inside the Loop a lot better.
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Angelika died last summer, but the space will not stay dark forever. An eight-screen Sundance will open there at the end of the year. Courtesy of Angelika Film Center
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As if Whole Foods wasn’t enough to spiff up Waugh Drive, here comes Tony Mandola’sm a 6,700-square-foot restaurant with 225 seats. Photo by Shelby Hodge
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Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
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Attention shoppers: Here are my top 10 additions to the Houston retail scene.

We’ve made it halfway through the year and although there aren’t any more Gallerias being built, there is some new activity in shopping center development — places for fun and enjoyment.

 One of the biggest trends making an impact on Houston’s retail center market is what real estate professionals call “backfilling” of vacant space. 

This list includes new stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, new construction projects and proposed deals — an assortment of happenings that will make Houston a more interesting place to spend money. After all, there are only 150-something shopping days till Christmas.

1. Tootsies. The upscale fashion apparel store relocated from Highland Village to West Ave, the mixed-use project at the corner of Kirby and Westheimer. The arrival of Tootsies placed a stamp of approval on West Ave for retailers.

West Ave attracted renters to its apartments and diners to its restaurants. But Tootsies could be the icebreaker West Ave needs to elevate itself to a prime shopping destination.

2. Whole Foods. With its new store on Waugh Drive, just south of Allen Parkway, Whole Foods made grocery shopping inside the Loop a lot better. H-E-B will respond with a Montrose-area outlet at West Alabama and Dunlavy.

3. Sundance Cinema. Everybody was amazed a few years back when Angelika movie theater opened at Bayou Place in downtown Houston. That Angelika died in the summer of 2010, but its space will not stay dark forever. As first reported in CultureMap, an eight-screen Sundance will open there at the end of the year.

4. Star Cinema Grill. The dinner-and-a-movie concept arrives in the southwestern suburb of Missouri City. This a nine-screen version of the perfect date night built into a former Alberstons store at 4811 Highway 6 South.

5. Premier Cinemas. Movie theaters must be a great way to re-purpose vacant retail boxes. Premier put 20 screens into a vacant 69,000-square-foot JC Penney in Greenspoint Mall.

6. Carl’s Jr. Hungry? Poor? This California-based fast-food merchant continues to add new outlets in the Houston area for quick and affordable grub. Drive-through for burgers, fried chicken sandwiches and late-night cholesterol.

7. Flying Saucer Draught Emporium is bringing its extensive menu of quality brews to the southwest suburbs. The Saucer will be drawing the draughts soon at the Sugar Land Town Square in Fort Bend County.

8. Tanger Outlets. The outlet mall format turns on a lot of shoppers. This proposed mall, to be built off of Interstate 45 in Texas City, will have 90 stores in 350,000 square feet. The project, which could be open next year, is being developed by Tanger Factory Outlet and Simon Property Group — a pair of outlet mall pros.

9. Container Store. The premier retailer for outfitting a freshman’s dorm room opened a 34,000-square-foot store in The Woodlands. Not that huge of a deal, unless you consider the fact that the Container Store went into a former Circuit City. The demise of Circuit City left a lot of vacant space around town. But it has been steadily refilled with other stores, like the Container folks.

10. Tony Mandola’s. As if Whole Foods wasn’t enough to spiff up Waugh Drive, here comes Mandola’s eatery — a 6,700-square-foot restaurant with 225 seats. Mandola’s was a fixture in the River Oaks Shopping Center for years and his new facility opened with great fanfare.

Trend Summary

One of the biggest trends making an impact on Houston’s retail center market is what real estate professionals call “backfilling” of vacant space, according to a report by the Weitzman Group, a realty firm that specializes in retail centers.

Space that was vacated by Circuit City, Linen 'N Things and other departed retailers is gradually being refilled with new stores. There are still some other vacancies to come — resulting from problems such as the ones facing Blockbuster and the liquidating Borders. But the worst is over.

Weitzman reports that there has been little change in occupancy rates in the citywide statistics for Houston. But there’s no doubt that the market for retail centers has improved from the dark year of 2009, when stores vacated a ton of space.

So far this year, about 500,000 square feet of empty retail space in Houston has been filled, according to the CB Richard Ellis realty company. That is tremendous improvement over what was recorded at this time last year, when more space was being emptied than was being leased, CB Richard Ellis says.

The key metrics here: Only a tiny amount of new retail space has been built in Houston over the last year or two. And the Houston economy is still in a modest recovery as a steady number of new jobs are being added. That means the retail center market is on a path for improvement.

Ralph Bivins, editor of Realty News Report, is a former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.