Visionaries have to squint a little harder to see it now. Dreamers have to fly to the highest cirrus cloud to get excited about it at this late date.
Realists see acres of weeds held captive behind the perimeter of chain-link fence. The only sign of life is the occasional tractor, taking its harvest of urban weeds and resetting the calendar as another month passes by.
Developer John Darrah is the keeper of the vision. The flame still flickers. The delays have been long. Years have passed since the billion-dollar vision for Regent Square was announced. But the developer still believes these 24 acres of urban land off of Allen Parkway in the northern part of Montrose, will be the site of a phenomenal new project with high-rise condos, stores and offices.
“We’ve owned the land for 24 years and we are very much proceeding with the development,” says Darrah, vice president in charge of the project for Boston-based GID Urban Development Group, a division of the General Investment and Development Companies.
Regent Square was talked about in 2006. It was formally announced in January 2007. Construction was supposed to start in 2008 and part of it should have been finished by now.
But the recession came along. Lenders quit lending. Retailers quit expanding. And new construction projects became a rarity. So Regent Square, like many other proposed developments, was put on hold.
Darrah now says groundbreaking for the project is anticipated in 2012.
Let Me Take You Down
To make way for Regent Square, the developer demolished most of the Allen House apartments. It was a large apartment complex and a very popular one. Allen House, built in the 1960s, had 900 units that were over 90 percent leased in 2007 when the developer begin notifying residents that they had to find a new place to live. So the Allen House was scraped, giving way to the weeds that grow there now in the vacant fields.
Have no doubt — the site will not be weeds forever. This is an uber-prime parcel of Inner Loop land with outstanding access to downtown Houston. Even in today’s depressed market, the acreage is worth many millions. The site, covering four blocks, is bounded by Allen Parkway, West Clay, Rosine and Tirrell, and is just west of Waugh Drive.
Regent Square is not designed to be ordinary. A slew of architectural talent signed on at the beginning to work on the project with master design architect David M. Schwarz / Architectural Services, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based specialist in urban design. Others named to contribute to Regent Square included Robert A.M. Stern Architects, New York City, NY; Aponwao Design, Miami, Fla.; B&D Studio, Parma, Italy; Hartman-Cox Architects, Washington, D.C.; and Bowie Gridley Architects, Washington, D.C.
And Morris Architects of Houston was on the roster, which was the design equivalent of the New York Yankees lineup.
The result is an urban design that respects people on foot. The project will have wide sidewalks, mid-rise buildings with retail at street level and upper level apartments, on-street parking and public plazas. When the final phase is built, the project will have 400,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 240,000 square-feet of office space, 900 apartment units for rent and 550 condominiums units for sale, including a high-rise residential tower. Regent Square will be huge.
“It’s going to be one of Houston’s most visible projects,” Darrah says.
Regent Square remains relevant and GID is in discussion with retailers that are interested in being tenants in the proposed project, Darrah says.
Strawberries, Field Greens and Organics
A neighboring project is generating a bit of momentum for Regent Square. A couple of blocks away, construction is underway on a separate development — a Whole Foods store at the corner of Waugh Drive and West Dallas.
The 40,500-square-foot grocery store is expected to open in February or March of 2011. Whole Foods is being built on land developed by Houston apartment magnate Marvy Finger.
Finger, who developed the One Park Place residential tower in downtown Houston, plans to construct his own apartment project adjacent to Whole Foods.
Whole Foods, a natural and organic food store, will be within walking distance of the Regent Square. Having Whole Foods nearby will make Regent Square a more desirable place to live for the thousands of people that will live and work there someday, Darrah says.
It takes a visionary to believe that Regent Square will exist where the Allen House apartments once stood. Houstonians have waited years for it to happen. But the waiting game isn’t over yet. A few more years of patience will be required.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.