Real Estate Round-up
Where should our next stadium — a field for the Dynamo professional soccer team — be located?
Here are the choices:
A) The Dynamo stadium becomes a growth catalyst for EaDo, the urban district just east of the George R. Brown Convention Center. A significant infusion of development dollars into EaDo is unprecedented and could be a turning point for the transitional neighborhood. The city owns the proposed stadium site bounded by Dowling, Hutchins, Walker and Texas Avenue.
B) The Dynamo locate in the Galleria/Bellaire area. Midway Companies, a Houston developer, owns 30 acres south of Westpark and east of South Rice Avenue, about a mile south of the Galleria. The site has easy access to the Westpark Toll Road, the Southwest Freeway and the West Loop.
“The downtown location probably does more for the city of Houston,” says land broker Stan Creech. “But either site works. The Midway site is an attractive alternative.”
The city paid $15.5 million to acquire the land in EaDo. The Dynamo team has offered to pay $60 million for the stadium construction with $10 million in improvement contributions to be added by both the city and county governments. But months have gone by without final governmental approval, a new mayor has been elected, and there’s been talk of using the land instead for an “inmate processing facility” (read: jail).
“We’re somewhat frustrated,” says Tina Araujo, general manager of the EaDo - East Downtown District. “It’s not time to abandon this project.”
Having the city’s stadiums, arenas and public facilities clustered in downtown makes a lot of sense, says downtown real broker Mike Hassler of CB Richard Ellis. Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center have been good additions for downtown, where the retailers and restaurants sorely need a boost.
From a negotiation standpoint, the emergence of the Westpark/Midway property as a possible location does something else very important. It gives some leverage to the Dynamo.
Dynamo President Oliver Luck, who played quarterback for the Houston Oilers in the 1980s, says nothing is firm yet and the whole process is full of unanswered questions. Both sites are still under consideration.
Luck says he receives frequent inquiries from land owners who tout their property as a great site for a soccer stadium. But the Midway property near the Galleria has the outstanding characteristics that make it a site that deserves serious consideration, Luck says. More study is needed on traffic issues parking and infrastructure, but it could be a winner location.
On the other hand, downtowns are great places for stadiums, Luck says, because the roads, freeways and transit systems are designed to bring thousands of workers into downtown every work day.
Riding the Rail
METRO Rail stops are already planned for both sites whether the stadium is built or not.
In EaDo, a rail station is planned at the corner of Texas Avenue and Bastrop adjacent to the proposed stadium site. The Midway site is also designated as a key rail stop where trains are routed into the Galleria and eastward toward downtown.
Midway’s property had been envisioned as a mixed-used development, with a dense collection of residential and commercial space. A rail station could be the cornerstone of a mixed-use project and Midway, which redeveloped the Town & Country Mall into the new CityCentre project, has the wherewithal to do a noteworthy development there.
However, in the current economic climate with a constrictive credit crunch, even top-rung developers have difficulty getting new projects started. Midway’s rail-based development, which is the kind of project rail proponents have dreamed about, could be years away if the Dynamo deal does not materialize.
The Dynamo stadium is facing opposition from Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel, who has voiced concern about traffic, parking and noise problems associated with the 21,000-seat facility.
Wherever it goes, the Dynamo deal is going to be steeped in heavy politics.
If EaDo misses out, the disappointment will be dark and deep. People have been trying for years to revitalize the area. Despite the challenges, some seedlings of new development have been able to take root. But it’s been an uphill climb and the Dynamo stadium with the massive infrastructure improvements could be the lift EaDo needs for a breakthrough.
Twenty years ago, a developer named Bobo Woo tried to transform the east side of downtown into a world-class Chinatown. It was a difficult maneuver and Mr. Woo failed to get much traction.
This time around, EaDo needs a little luck.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.