A (Dream) World of Possibilities For The Franklin St. Post Office

The Franklin Street Post Office was built in 1962 on what is now a prime piece of real estate.

The U.S. Postal Service put it on the market in 2009, but a sale never went through and the property is now off the market. It's still slated for closure, but for now it's a functioning post office and mail processing center.

It's also the chosen site for an urban design competition.

"That fence line is the back property line. You'll see the rail there, it's a very active heavy freight line."

Four teams of graduate students from around the country are here to tour the post office and decide what they would do with it if they were in charge of redeveloping the site. They could come up with anything from a park to a skyscraper, but the whole point is to develop a design that really fits here.

"The view is incredible, potential is incredible."

Chad Murphy is getting his MBA from the University of Colorado, with a specialty in real estate development. He's here on a joint team with Harvard University.

"Sounds like there's an increasing level opportunity on the West Side here and that's something that developers are picking up on. And certainly we can see that we've got that happening on the west and you've obviously got downtown and then you've got the historical district further east. Bringing all those together and this being a central location to connect all those pieces I think is pretty interesting."

One of the things that makes the site so interesting to the students is the limitations on the 16-acre property.

The post office faces Buffalo Bayou — in fact the plaza in front of the post office actually contains supporting beams that hold up the wall of the bayou.

Behind the post office, there's an active freight rail line. And to the west, there's a freeway — I-45 — that blocks off one whole side of the property.

Alex Atherton is also with the University of Colorado.

"I was actually surprised by the waterfront. We've looked at this site, mainly in Google maps, and it's a lot nicer than it looked on Google maps. So I was pretty surprised by that. This area is kind of an island in the sense that it's surrounded by the freeway and the bayou."

The students are charged with redesigning the entire site in keeping with the surrounding area.  The Urban Land Institute coordinates the competition, which is sponsored by Gerald D. Hines.

Last year the site chosen for redesign was in Seattle. The year before that it was San Diego. ULI Houston Executive Director Ann Taylor says it's a great opportunity to have young talent take a look at Houston and develop design ideas here.

"It's getting young professionals entering the industry to really work together, to break down those siloes between disciplines. Because in the real world, when you're looking at developing something, the architects are working with the financial people and they are working with the planners, they are working with the engineers."

The student designs won't necessarily be used in real life. They're allowed a lot of free reign that might not be feasible in the actual market. But the winning team gets $50,000 and the three remaining teams get $10,000 each. Not too shabby for coming up with a few dreams about how to transform a corner of Downtown Houston.

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