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Despite Slowdown, Downtown Houston Still Building

If you drive past downtown Houston, you might notice the half dozen or so high-rise cranes hovering over buildings under construction. What’s unusual is those large buildings are going up in what is still considered a down economy, when many similar projects have been sidelined. Unlike downtowns in many other large cities, downtown Houston is weathering the recession with cautious optimism.


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“At a time when other cities aren’t seeing a lot of development, there is still remarkably a large amount happening and quite frankly it is, to me, very typical of Houston.” 

In an empty conference room on the 16th floor of a downtown high-rise, Bob Eury is looking closely at an aerial map of the city’s central business district. Yellow areas show where projects are under construction.

“Hess Tower and garage are being built here.”

Eury is the  President of Central Houston, an organization that helps coordinate downtown growth. Most of the
projects on his map were already planned and financed before the recession hit at the end of 2008. Yet despite the downtown, Eury is confident the new projects will succeed.

“The fundamentals are there. It’s still the largest concentration of Class A offices in the region, so these office towers that are under construction, it’s a fundamentally strong office market. It’s a market that has continued to prove its headquarter location status.”

The vacancy rate in downtown office buildings is about 12-percent. Experts like Landon Ehlinger, the vice-president of
Sugar Land-based Burton Construction, say that’s nothing compared to other city’s like Dallas, Oklahoma City and Phoenix .

“There’s zero new construction going on in Phoenix. There’s some remodel space. There’s some people moving around a little bit, but as far as new buildings and new construction, ground up, it’s non-existent.”

“On the other end of the 8th floor, if you walk into the other end of the building…”

Downtown residential developer Marvy Finger didn’t wait for the downturn to be over. In his office near Memorial Park, he’s looking at pictures of his brand new residential high rise that overlooks Discovery Green Park. The 37-story One Park Place building is 63-percent leased. Finger says he took a gamble, but believed in the downtown economy.

“Greater Houston has 5 million people and I said, you know, I just know with 5 million people, I can find 340-odd people that would like to live here just for the heck of it for a year just to have that experience of the views out of this

In the shadow of One Park Place, local development blogger Tory Gattis says big corporations may be noticing what he calls a critical mass of downtown amenities. 

“I think they’re starting to look and say, if we set-up downtown, there are a few hassles to that, but our younger employees can live close in and take the light rail and get here easily and our more family-oriented maybe suburban employees can get on the HOV buses and get brought right downtown and so you can get both sets of employees in without a problem.”

Some experts warn that even with a half-dozen or so downtown projects nearing completion, there could actually be a shortage of office and residential space once the economy rebounds and more companies and people decide to make downtown Houston home.