Trendysomething in SoMo
Is Denver Harbor the next EaDo? New Hope Housing says, Yes
The projects have gone platinum.
On a shaded lane in the Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor area stands a beacon of urban change: 2424 Sakowitz, a Platinum LEED Certified subsidized housing complex. The mere address of 2424 Sakowitz lends the new property instant glam, as it conjures images of Houston's original luxury department store dynasty and its most celebrated heiress, Lynn Wyatt. The property represents the latest development by New Hope Housing, Inc., which won the hearts of CultureMap readers in June with its art-infused Brays Crossing project.
Let me start by saying that I love a good project. As a child, I would throw myself into science fair and craft projects, and I may have indulged in a few Alan Parsons Project albums during a frivolous Prog Rock stage. I will even admit to having had an unhealthy dependance on Rachel Zoe Project and Project Runway (before it moved to Lifetime, obviously).
These days, I can be spotted perusing the installation art in the shotgun shacks at Project Row Houses. So when I heard cocktail party whispers about New Hope's latest project, I knew I had to be the first to see it.
Architect Val Glitsch gave me the 411 on a tour of the 166-unit building. "The first element I selected was the lower level's exterior terra cotta," she says. "I chose a large, flat brick to express the building's simplicity. I also feel so drawn to the material's warmth."
Glitsch carries this sentiment indoors, where muted terra cotta, cobalt and avocado vinyl floors and green painted walls greet the visitor in a joyful embrace. The hallways become active by setting the units' restrooms inwards by six inches, creating a visually varied experience in what could otherwise be a seemingly institutional corridor.
The color pastiche meets its match with the introduction of galvanized steel in the structure's stairwells, providing an industrial-chic cleanliness to an ascension to the second story's den, the donated John McGovern meeting room. Drenched in southern light, the multipurpose room will cultivate mingling among residents along with inspired programing.
The social culture really comes into its own in 2424 Sakowitz's outdoor courtyards, where interaction with new besties awaits around every corner. Unlike the expected community pool of such trendy mega condo complexes as Midtown's Ventana and Post Midtown Square, this development recalls the outdoor social activities of yore with a horseshoe pit and Glitish's prize feature, a prefab gazebo.
"I always wanted to do this: take a prefab kit and customize it with these awnings and benches to make something that's very weather durable and provides a shady spot, and would also be economical," Glitsch says.
New Hope has thoroughly embraced the trend of outdoor kitchens with its sleek, permanent barbecue pit and attached concrete countertop. What's more, three additional stand-alone barbecue's are slated to land at 2424 Sakowitz in the weeks to come.
The party doesn't stop there. Among the over 100 native trees that make up the landscaping by the Asakura Robinson Company are nascent pomegranate and lime varietals, which simply beg for impromptu cosmopolitan and margarita fêtes.
Despite the social milieu, the most dazzling aspect of 2424 Sakowitz is its sustainability.
"What makes this project so special," explains New Hope executive director Joy Horak-Brown, "is that it's the first LEED for Homes certified multifamily property in the city. It's very difficult to reach platinum when you don't have big bucks to spend on the metal roof or solar panels. To still be able to achieve that required a great deal of focus."
Touches of green can be found around every corner. All units feature double-glazed windows and have individual air conditioning units to save energy in unoccupied rooms. The units boast low-flow plumbing, fluorescent lighting and Energy Star appliances.
A south-facing façade has a trifold energy saving matrix: the top, third story is shaded by an overhang roof, the second level keeps cool with awnings, and young trees filter the sun's rays on the ground floor. One clever move: these trees are deciduous, meaning that more light can warm the rooms during the winter.
"It's just amazing how we ended up with LEED Platinum," Glitsch says. "We didn't do anything tricky; we just did a lot of smart things."
Among the tricks was installing tankless water heating, so there's no need for a boiler. Recycling 80 percent of construction waste also garnered green points.
"LEED will also help us keep our rents low in terms of our energy costs," Horak-Brown says. "It's a benefit to our residents. After all, that's why we're building these buildings. It's fun to build beautiful structures, but our real business here is to stabilize lives and to prevent homelessness."
The unveiling of 2424 Sakowitz could serve as a harbinger of change in the area, which straddles the convergence of the Fifth Ward and Denver Harbor. Originally a haven for immigrant Greeks, Italians and Poles, Denver Harbor sits on the eastern edge of the Inner Loop. Nestled between rail yards and a grid of historic cottages, the area is ripe for redevelopment.
Whereas the Brays Crossing project was marooned between I-45 and a cemetery, 2424 Sakowitz offers residents leafy streets, a Fiesta grocery store, Kress Lyons Park and Selena Quantanilla Perez Park (named after Tejano star Selena). The bustling Burt's Meat Market and Cajun Foods and a string of taquerias dot nearby Lyons Avenue — a future walkable corridor here is not difficult to imagine.
"When these things go in, it brings an impetus for other development in the area," Glitsh explains. "People see a nice project going in, and notice that it's nicely landscape and very well-maintained." (A quasi-militant janitorial crew was already patrolling the site before opening day).
New Hope essentially sparked the booming gentrified district dubbed EaDo after the organization constructed a sleekly designed project just east of the original Mama Ninfa's.
"Now, tons of development is happening right around it," Glitsch says. "When you see something like this, you think, 'I'm not alone. I don't have to be the only pioneer.' "