The Houston skyline is the most impressive in the nation.
A few other American cities have taller buildings, such as the Chicago’s 108-story Willis Tower, which lost a lot of cache when the Sears name was removed.
And in terms of pure bulk, New York City certainly has a greater mass of office space.
But from a spectator's point of view, no other city has Houston’s great collection of interesting, well-designed and basically beautiful buildings.
The drive into downtown Houston via Allen Parkway is always breathtaking, even for people who drive that way everyday to work.
So the Hines organization has a great responsibility as it adds a major new tower in downtown Houston. After all, downtown Houston has been a significant canvas for the artistry of Hines, which has developed 23 downtown projects over the years.
The new structure, called MainPlace is 46 stories tall. The project has topped out, meaning the structural skeleton is complete. It’s easy to spot — just look for the highest construction crane in downtown Houston. It’s reflective glass skin is going on and an idea of what it will look like is materializing.
The Houston-based Hines organization, founded by master developer Gerald D. Hines in 1957, is keenly aware that the new building’s architecture should “complement that half-century legacy of Hines’ work” in downtown Houston.
“Our choice of Pickard Chilton, we believe, will build on this legacy,” John Mooz, senior vice president of Hines, says.
Pickard Chilton is a New Haven, Conn.-based architecture firm led by Jon Pickard and his partners. Pickard was formerly with the Cesar Pelli & Associates firm and he was a key player in the design of the 88-story Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Unimpeded power views
With the MainPlace building, Pickard Chilton’s design is going to be highly visible from the north and east sides of downtown. There aren’t many skyscrapers to block the view from the north and east.
“Of prime significance was the potential for fantastic view corridors, which are afforded by the surrounding low and mid-rise urban fabric,” Mooz says.
A look down Main Street is going to put the building on prime view on the city’s central corridor — Main is a straight shot through the heart of downtown. Hines will light the building’s exterior at night with sustainable LED light.
“Exterior lighting is an important design element for MainPlace,” Mooz says. The length of the building’s axis will be lit, in addition to its five-story atrium.
Hines’ building will also be a boost to Main Street, which has seen its highs and lows over the years. Historically Main Street was a primary corridor for commerce and retailing with high-end stores like Sakowitz. But a lot of the retailers died out after 1970 and Main Street was dominated by buses, bus stops and bus exhaust fumes for years.
The METRO light rail has helped to turn around Main Street and new office space, restaurants, clubs have been a positive force there. Plus, several historic buildings, including the old Kress store building, 705 Main Street, were converted into residential lofts.
“It was important for us that MainPlace engage Main Street, which is the primary pedestrian corridor,” Mooz says “With this in mind, MainPlace will have a vital street presence for retailers, and provide a pedestrian experience that complements Main Street very well with trees, plantings and outdoor dining.”
MainPlace, located at the center of downtown at 811 Main, will have 12,000 square feet of retail space.
Of course, the main thing in making MainPlace a financial success will be leasing its 960,000 square feet of office space. KPMG, the accounting firm, has leased 100,000 square feet at the top of the building. That’s the only lease deal announced for the building so far.
Even though Houston's economy has fared better than most places, the office market in downtown Houston has been stagnant for months. To make matters worse, there’s been speculation that Continental Airlines, Shell Oil and Devon Energy may be all downsizing their presence in downtown Houston, putting more empty space onto the market.
Mooz says inquiries about leasing have been increasing as the building draws closer to its opening in January.
“Fortunately, 2010 has had a significantly higher level of tenant and broker interest in MainPlace,” Mooz says. “We are working with a number of prospective large tenants on their occupancy needs.”
It won’t be long till MainPlace is open. It should be a welcome addition to the skyline. All it needs now is a few massive corporate tenants.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.