One of Houston’s most visionary and admired figures in real estate has died.
Ed Wulfe, a gregarious and beloved civic leader who spearheaded the development of shopping centers in the Gulfgate, Meyerland, and Uptown areas, passed away on Sunday, July 28, in Houston. He was 85.
“Ed Wulfe spent decades reshaping Houston into the city we know,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner, in a statement. “Even if you didn’t know his name, you saw and experienced the significant ways he made our city better. Mr. Wulfe revitalized the Gulfgate and Meyerland Plaza shopping centers and successfully chaired a city-wide referendum campaign to expand Houston's light rail and transit systems.”
A towering presence in commercial real estate for more than 40 years, Wulfe was president and founder of Wulfe & Co., the Houston-based commercial retail real estate brokerage, development, and property management firm. His most recognizable work came via the award-winning and nationally recognized Meyerland Plaza, Gulfgate Center, and BLVD Place — all of which were pivotal in changing the atmosphere and culture of their respective areas.
Notably, Wulfe's innovative development of the high-profile BLVD Place received the Houston Business Journal's 2015 Landmark Award for Mixed-Use development. His redevelopment of Gulfgate Shopping Center and the resulting revitalization of the surrounding area generated ULI's 2012 Development of Distinction Award and two 2003 Landmark Awards for Gulfgate as the “Best Commercial Real Estate Rehabilitation/Renovation Project” and the “Best Impact on the Community Project.” His renovation of Meyerland Plaza Shopping Center earned two Legacy Awards for “Deals That Made a Difference” in 1995 and 1996.
Commercial yet personal
“All of those projects were special to him,” Robert Sellingsloh, president of Wulfe & Co., tells CultureMap. Sellingsloh, who worked alongside Wulfe for 39 years, notes that Wulfe took a keen and personal interest not just in specific retail developments but in the areas they supported.
“Each retail project is unique. That’s what Ed loved about real estate,” says Sellingsloh. “In the ’90s, Meyerland Plaza was special to him because it was a redo and reinvention and because he lived in the area for so long. In the 2000s, we developed Gulfgate, which Ed felt had real significance and helped change the neighborhood. And in 2012, with BLVD Place, despite the special challenges, Ed knew that it was an important, prominent corner.”
A man of the city
Wulfe’s bio is a study in city planning and urban development. He began his career as a mechanical engineer with Texaco, before moving into real estate. Wulfe spent 17 years with Weingarten Realty Investors, where he rose to executive vice president and a member of its board. Since 1998, Wulfe served as chairman of the Mayor's Main Street Coalition, where he led the redevelopment of Houston's Main Street Corridor.
In 2003, he successfully chaired a city-wide referendum to expand Houston's light rail and transit systems. In 2012 he co-headed the city's successful $100 million parks bond issue campaign. He served as chairman of the Stadium Land Redevelopment Committee and co-chairman of the Broadway Scenic Enhancement Committee.
“But Ed’s other legacy is his dual careers,” says Sellingsloh. “He spent almost as much time on his civic causes as he did his real estate. It’s really remarkable.” Wulfe was a past chairman of the board and president of the Houston Symphony and a founding member of the Greater Houston Partnership's Quality of Life Committee and the Steering Committee of Houston's Quality of Life Coalition.
“Ed was innovative — he always embraced new ideas that he thought were quality and worthy,” adds Sellingsloh. That meant warming up to walkability at a time when it was often dismissed in Houston. It also meant championing mixed-use retail. “Ed was quick to embrace that,” says Sellingsloh. “He saw it in mature cities — not just in the U.S., but in Europe. Ed knew that as you urbanize, the area gets more dense, and you have to be creative in how you build retail.”
In a city where developers can, at times, be all too comfortable with the status quo, Wulfe pushed forward. “Retail has evolved over the decades,” Sellingsloh says. “He was never close-minded. Being persistent was very important to him. He wouldn’t mind circling back and trying again if he was unsuccessful the first time.”
A towering, humble presence
So affable, generous, and humble was Wulfe that it could belie his true prominence in the city. Culturally, Wulfe will be remembered for helping negotiate the end of the 2003 Houston Symphony strike. He served as chairman of the Holocaust Museum Houston and president of synagogue Congregation Emanu El.
“He was just an absolute joy to work with in everything he did — he was a lot of fun,” recalls Sellingsloh. “He had a magnetic personality; he was always very positive and energetic. He had a great sense of humor and a huge heart, which is why many of the employees of Wulfe & Co. have worked for the firm for decades. He was a remarkable man and truly one-of-a-kind.”
For his part, Sellingsloh hopes that Houstonians remember and regard Wulfe as a force in local, urban development during a pivotal time in our growth. “Ed never got stuck in the past. He was always looking forward. And that’s exactly what our city needed.”