Montrose District Holds Fourth Annual Real Estate Forum at Hotel ZaZa
Over 150 businesspeople and civic leaders filled Hotel ZaZa’s 11th floor Grapevine Room on November 16th to attend the Montrose Management District’s fourth annual real estate luncheon. Emceed by KHOU 11 news anchor Len Cannon, and featuring a keynote address by Andy Icken, chief development officer for the City of Houston, the theme of this year’s forum was “The Future of Lower Westheimer, TIRZ 27, and the Special Parking Area.”
Cannon opened the event by discussing the Montrose District’s history, mission, and accomplishments, including its widely praised public safety, graffiti abatement, streetlight replacement, and street sweeping programs. He explained the three major visual improvement initiatives currently underway in Montrose: the esplanade improvement program, the installation of street markers at 20 intersections, and the lighting of the seven bridges crossing the Southwest Freeway.
Noting that the district’s core purpose is economic development, Cannon listed a series of statistics illustrating Montrose’s recent growth. “Listen to these numbers—over 400 million in new development has taken place in the last five years. Retail sales in the district have increased from $401 million in 2010 to $590 million in the last 12 months. I told you it was getting hotter!”
Cannon then introduced keynote speaker Andy Icken, who gave a 30-minute presentation outlining three key areas in which the City of Houston has been collaborating with the district. Icken’s position as chief development officer was created by former mayor Annise Parker in 2010 to foster economic development across the city. From the beginning, Houston’s many management districts have played a vital role in that task.
“I will tell you that the ability of management districts to leverage their ideas and their concepts is absolutely critical to many things happening in the city,” he said. “It is our goal that each of our management districts create their own signature look for their areas.”
Icken began by talking about TIRZ 27, which was created last year and encompasses much of Montrose. Although there has been some controversy around these tax increment reinvestment zones, he emphasized that they are really just “homeowners associations with resources.” Each TIRZ has an all-volunteer board that formulates policy in conjunction with City Hall. Because they spend public money, each TIRZ project must be approved by the mayor and the City Council. As an example of a recent TIRZ success story, he cited the Uptown TIRZ, which was able to win federal funding for its new Bus Rapid Transit line.
Icken also discussed the Montrose District’s application for a Special Parking Area, which was formulated based on the results of several public hearings. “We’ve heard over and over that parking is short in Montrose. That there’s a need for a central parking facility, so that we don’t’ have to require every single business to provide its own parking,” he said. “At the same time, we need to preserve guest parking in residential areas.” The District’s application is currently under consideration by City Council, and a public meeting will be held to describe the plan on December 7th at the West Gray Multi Service Center.
Icken concluded by giving an update on the city’s plan to renovate Lower Westheimer. The city is currently engaged in a nine-month study to determine the best way to improve access and mobility on this busy commercial artery. Two public hearings have already been conducted, and more will be held before the city releases its proposal.
Following the luncheon, Montrose District executive director David Hawes said he thought the forum went “extremely well.” “Andy acquainted a lot of guests with some of the major developments that are underway in the district, and how things get done here, so I think it was very helpful to members of the Montrose business community.”
Councilmember Ellen Cohen also expressed her appreciation of Icken’s presentation. “Andy gave a very focused and clear description, blending aspects of policy, urban management, and the law,” she said. “And it gave a sense of just how much Montrose is growing—it’s not the village it used to be.”
Learn more about the Montrose Management District at montrosedistrict.org