The Shops at Houston Center gets a revamp with more services & restaurants
There's a lot of new development on the east side of downtown — The Houston Pavilions, One Park Place, several new office buildings, an under-construction Embassy Suites and even Discovery Green.
In the middle of all the action, the five-building Houston Center complex seems positively antediluvian in comparison, having celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2008.
"We get overlooked because we aren't the shiny, new penny," says Houston Center marketing manager Karen Stewart.
But image isn't everything: Houston Center — particularly the retail-centric Shops at Houston Center — are quietly getting a revamp. It's also about to become the first LEED certified gold mall in Texas.
For the exteriors, the dated blue columns are being replaced with more sleek fixtures to add some modern interest to the distinctly '80s architecture. On the west and southwest sides, the signs reading HC for Houston Center are being jettisoned for a an LED screen that clearly labels the building and its vendors for those in the convention center and Embassy Suites to see.
Inside, The Shops (Stewart says they are rebranding and dropping the "at Houston Center") will be getting new tile and carpet after the holiday season.
Even more important, though, are the new businesses moving in. Though the retail sector is still flat, the urban mall is refocusing on its sectors of strength: services and restaurants.
The Kelsey-Seybold clinic has been a resident of Houston Center for years, but the move to the fourth floor of The Shops gives them a more accessible presence. The clinic will occupy half the retail space on the fourth floor, turning it into a services-focused area. The Kelsey-Seybold pharmacy opens in January: the new 24,000-square-foot clinic is scheduled to open in March.
"You know, I tried to go to to their clinic once in Houston Center One and I couldn't find it," says Stewart. "I've talked to people since the new lease was announced that never knew the clinic was here, even though they've been around for 30 years. This really makes them accessible in a whole new way."
Anyone who's dropped by at lunch knows that food has always been a point of strength for The Shops — between the 30 dine-in and fast service restaurants, 5,000 to 6,000 people eat there everyday. Recently there has been a flurry of new leases, including downtown fave Treebeards, opening in March; prepared meals to-go by Delish & Dash (an offspring of Delish Catering) and new salad and sandwich shop Freshii, both opening just after the new year, as well as Robek's and Thai Basil, both of which opened this year.
To respond to the demand for more eateries, the food court area is expanding to an ever larger portion of the third floor. "We're going to have competing lines from the dumpling nazi (Doozo) and from Treebeards," says Stewart. "It's going to require some logistics, but it's exciting."
With the Houston Pavilions and other competition taking up residence nearby, I asked Stewart if the Shops has planned to market itself differently or fulfill a separate niche. But as she sees it, making downtown work isn't a matter of competition.
"We all have to coexist — The Shops, the Pavilions, Macy's. In order to be a city we all need to band together to make downtown a destination. If the Pavilions failed, it would hurt us," she says, though she remains confident about the future. "The dynamics are changing. The center of downtown is moving east."