GreenStreet, Frame by Frame: Previewing the Upcoming Houston Pavilions Remake

Houston Pavilions is to be renamed in honor of 2 urban features the troubled 5-year-old Downtown outdoor mall had so far shunned, its new owners announced yesterday: greenery and streets. The newly dubbed GreenStreet appears to be taking a few cues also from Discovery Green, the younger but far more successful urban attraction a few blocks to the east. Midway, which with Magic Johnson’s Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds bought the 3-block-long mixed-use center out of bankruptcy last August (and the adjacent parking garage on Clay St. between Main and Fannin a few months later), plans 6 to 9 months’ worth of renovations to the property as well, to turn it into a CityCentre-style event hub.

The new design, by Houston architects Muñoz + Albin and the Office of James Burnett, a local landscape firm, will try to soften and connect the 3 separated interior courtyards and make them come across as more park-like. Additional changes won’t exactly make the famously inward-looking mall turn itself inside-out, but they do appear to make a few stabs at poking through to Dallas St., adding signage, storefront windows in some places, and a few outdoor seating areas along its northern edge.


A few of those features are on display in the rendering above, taken from the corner of Dallas and Fannin. There’s some Dallas St. patio seating shown at the replacement for the departed Yao Restaurant, and new windows upstairs. The second-story rotunda that hovers over Fannin St. will somehow become a “public gathering space,” according to the developer. More dramatic changes are planned underneath it: The street will be raised to be level with the sidewalk, and stone-paved crossings will encourage pedestrians passing from one GreenStreet courtyard to the next to brave traffic in the middle of the block.

A similar treatment is planned at the San Jacinto crossing, including additional landscaping and outdoor patios under the bridge at Guadalajara del Centro and House of Blues. The Chronicle‘s David Kaplan reports that Midway hopes to convince city officials to give it permission to close San Jacinto St. (depicted above) during some of the bigger events it plans.

From Main St., visitors hopping off the rail line will find a new water fountain and B-Cycle bike rental station in front, new greenery-bedecking above the escalator, and a few totemic is-this-Houston palm trees astride the new paving. A new exterior skin will show up on the parking garage a block south.

Inside the courtyard, there’ll be more palm trees, pavers in place of the concrete, new wood cladding, more growies on the escalator canopy, and restaurant patio seating.

Midway plans to clear out some building areas from the central courtyard, to remake it into this plaza with a central lawn pinned at the corners by more palms and anchored by a wooden event stage. The elevator shaft behind it will be wrapped in wood; there’ll also be another fountain nearby and more restaurant patios.

The complex’s major signage is reserved for its Caroline St. end, angled toward Discovery Green and signaling a realigning of the Downtown compass. The building’s east end, waving to park-goers and sports fans, is now more likely to be seen as its front entrance. With a new eastern face looking onto 3 sports stadiums, the GRB, and Discovery Green, GreenStreet hopes to be recognized as an event space too.

Renderings: GreenStreet

48 Comment

  • This has been the bermuda triangle of retail for over 20 years, why do people keep throwing good money after bad?

  • Happy to see OJB and M+A on the project!

  • Free parking? If not, don’t care.

  • Perhaps the problem is not some mystery that is beyond the scope of human understanding, but rather the variety of businesses that have inhabited this location, that has created obstacles to its success. Maybe it’s just the same story as so many other businesses that have struggled to prosper in our urban core: Houstonians are taught to avoid downtown. It’s a part of the local culture. “Oh, parking is so terrible.” “Oh, the traffic is so bad.” “Oh, the crime! The panhandlers!” Aside from going straight to Minute Maid Park and out again, how many Houstonians have spent an afternoon/evening strolling our downtown? How many of them form these opinions in ignorance? (And of course, how many are bothering to watch the Astros these days?) Going downtown for a night out is absolutely no more troublesome than going to the Galleria or Rice Village or anywhere else in this city.

  • Please do yourself a favor and DON’T go to the comment section if you decide to read the Chron article. If I have to hear about how absolutely terrible downtown is, I think I’m going to have to end it all. I think there are just too many ppl in this city that believe that ALL of Houston needs to look and feel like Kingwood. I liked the idea of the pavilions. I think the steps being taken will make it A LOT better — only in Houston would you build an open air downtown mall w/out any real street facade or access.

  • Anse, perhaps you are correct, however as we all know, perception is 9/10th of reality. Also, there are some realities why Downtown sucks. Unless you’re a downtown regular, one way streets are confusing, parking is an Olympic sport, and walking more than 1 block to your destination from parking is a heresy for Houston. But the death knell for Downtown as a destination is the fact there are no special places to visit there that are not available all over town. Simply put, it’s not that special and is not worth the slight effort required to visit it.

  • You nailed it Anse.

  • The Pavilions look a lot like a place where the developers said: “Wow, look at those office towers up Fannin that are filled with law firms and other businesses! That’s who’s coming to the Pavilions!” Nobody seems to have surveyed the people in those businesses to determine how often they leave their desks for lunch and shopping — or how inclined they are to stay late and patronize the businesses in the Pavilions. I worked three blocks from this place when it was built and despite driving through it hundreds of times, haven’t stopped once.

  • “Unless you’re a competent human being, one way streets are confusing, parking is an Olympic sport, and walking more than 1 block to your destination from parking is a heresy for Houston. But the death knell for Downtown as a destination is the fact there are no special places to visit there that are not available all over town, except for three major league sports venues, the theatre district, the library, excellent parks like Discovery Green and Market Square, a free observation deck on Texas’ tallest building, historic buildings dating to before the Civil War, and more world class architecture than any downtown this side of Chicago.”

    Fixed it for you.

  • People who find one-way streets confusing must be absolutely terrified by having to merge onto freeways or making left turns.

  • Access has always been the Achilles heel of this particular grouping of shops and restaurants. I enjoy roaming downtown and I just don’t get why all the suburbanites that live outside the loop like to go downtown, complain about how everything looks and works and then quickly retreats to their masterplan communities. Stay there if you don’t like downtown, some of us really enjoy the lack of your presence.

  • We love downtown and we take the rail to go there. But since Macy’s is gone, there’s no incentive to shop downtown. We are well beyond the age of what Forever 21 has to offer. It was sad to see the bookstore go. Bring on more shops and why does downtown need more bars!

  • @Mike, The sport destinations are almost disconnected from Downtown, people will go in and out of the stadiums passing Downtown like a hot pile of rocks. There are plenty of parks, better parks all over town, and who still goes to a Library? One might go see the buildings once in a lifetime but downtown needs a constant reason to go there.

    @Anse, as I said, unless you’re a downtown regular (I am for business), it is hard to navigate and locate parking for a specific destination. If you ever had to give directions to an out of towner, you will see the problem. Granted, it is not Extremely difficult but the juice is not worth the squeeze.

    I lived within 1 mile of Downtown for 5 years and in all that time found absolutely no reason to go there on regular basis.

  • There’s just nothing there that is worth the drive downtown for. I worked in downtown for years, I can navigate the streets and I know where to park. I still don’t go to pavillions for anything other than concerts. I also don’t drive to Sugarland to go out to eat and it’s for the same reasons. No one in their right mind would drive from inside the loop to Sugarland to eat at Guadalajara so why should someone from outside the loop drive to downtown to eat at Guadalajara?

  • Nothing will ever be as funny as reading Houstonians’ many downtownphobia. Which is a shame, because like Mike points out, there are currently several nice features there, but the suburban downtownphobia ensures that Houston remains the only city of its size with such a dormant core.

  • I’ve been to a nice handful of the “great” urban centers around the world and here’s my 2 cents on what’s wrong with the pavilions: It’s Astroturf; an artificial, preplanned, overthought construct of what a developer thought an “urban experience” was suppose to look and feel like. A quality urban environment grows organically over time. Yes, it can be aided by well thought out ordinances and zoning that encourage growth, but ultimately, it’s not something that can be accomplished in a single project by a large scale developer.

    Take a step back and look at some of the areas of Houston that actually feel urban. Westheimer at Dunlavy often feels like Greenwich Village. Parts of midtown remind me a little of the Grammercy Park area of NYC. What do these areas have in common? They weren’t constructed by a developer with the intent of creating an urban experience. They grew organically. Even the Galleria area, which was created entirely by big money developers, and is starting to feel a little like Michigan Ave., came about organically without a stupid “urban environment feel” plan.

    The preplanned urban themed developments (ie Citycenter) fit in well in the suburbs where everyone wants things to be neat, convenient, and ultimately fake. But that’s not what people look for when they go to a genuine urban center. And that’s why the Pavilions is doomed to fail.

  • Make it a giant food court.

  • Here’s what gives me hope for GreenStreet: the restaurants in The Pavilions that faced the streets actually did pretty well. McCormick and Schmick’s and Guadalajara del Centro draw people for lunch and dinner. And House of Blues, facing onto Caroline, really is an attraction. It was that dead interior street that never worked. Opening things up to Dallas and creating more compelling faces on Main and Caroline will help, and so will those mid-block crossings.

  • This is a very good step for this development. They are basically doing most everything (absent free parking) that those of us in the swamplot peanut gallery have been saying should be done. Opening up the interior, making the exterior pedestrian friendly, more patio dining and windows.
    Most of the arguments against this redevelopment attempt are the Gertrude Stein argument: there is no “there” there. But, this assumes a completely static downtown, midtown and east end. Downtown and the very edge of midtown are getting over seven hundred additional apartment units between Mary Fingers development by the ball park and the “SkyHouse” midtown. Add to that a couple of midtown apartment projects that are currently under construction, more development to the east and the throngs of new multifamilies inside the loop and you are starting to get towards a critical mass needed to make downtown viable as an alternative to the increasingly unbearably crowded shopping and restaurant destinations inside the loop (Montrose, Highland Village, Washington Ave, RO Shopping Center). This may not be a matter of “build it and they will come”. It may be more an issue of “they are coming, will they want to come here?” I think the proposed rennovations are a big step in the right direction.

  • I don’t know how one cannot apply the logic on parking to, say, Rice Village; sure, you’ve got the parking garage, but if you want to just have a drink at Gingerman, that means–gasp!–walking, and preferably, finding street parking. And yet Rice Village is packed to the gills every weekend. And if you want to have dinner downtown, well, that bane of Houston drivers is everywhere: valet parking. Except downtown is perhaps the most suitable place in the whole city for valet parking. Honestly, the only reason people think there’s little to do downtown is that they don’t go down there and check it out for themselves. If you can rationalize driving anywhere that’s more than five miles from your house for entertainment, downtown should be on the list of reasonable options. If it’s not, it’s probably because you have no idea what’s down there anyway. I rarely go out anymore, but when I do, it’s almost always downtown (I live outside the Loop on the NW side, btw). The Sundance Cinema is awesome, miles better than most other theaters in this town, especially if you want to avoid chatty teenagers, and the other entertainment options are superior to almost all others in Houston. Yes, there should be more in the way of shopping, but it’s that old chicken/egg problem: that will change when it gets more foot traffic. More foot traffic will come when there are more options. How do you fix that? Stop bashing downtown all the danged time and encourage people to check it out.

  • Yes I am one of those who complain about downtown. Looking forward to a change in lifestyle (downsizing, etc.), we investigated living there. It sounded great to be able to walk to the Theater District or MMP or Toyota Center. The park and zoo would be a train ride away. The city has really put a lot into bayou beautification.

    But after renting (near Main/Texas) for a two-week stay two years ago, we learned that the bad issues are very real. Long-term parking arrangements are impossible for one who needs a handicap space. We were willing to address some changes (hardware store? grocery choices?), but there was no ‘neighborhood.’ The bars and restaurants weren’t a “Cheers” style place you would go regularly – they catered to the ‘visiting’ crowd with special occasion prices. Shopping closed at dusk. The streets were unfriendly – couldn’t be out for more than 10 minutes without being accosted by rude, aggressive panhandling. Talking with police revealed that they had no intention of addressing the panhandlers unless they personally witnessed one physically touching you.

    Asking around, Gray/Main – Pierce/Main Street area wasn’t any better.

  • Let’s face it, downtown Houston is boring. Hardly anywhere worth going currently. And yes, Anse, all of the bums don’t help the situation at all.

  • @commonsense, well you addressed a few of the things I mentioned. Who still goes to a library? Ever been to the library in San Antonio? Or Seattle, or Chicago, or New York, or Boston? People who read, that’s who.

    The “constant reason to go there” is the total conglomeration of everything, and right now retail and full-time residents (which are related) are the glue that is needed to hold that conglomeration together. When it does hold together, it will be one of the great downtowns in the U.S., the tourist attraction our city has always wanted.

  • @Mike, people “who read” generally buy their books, plus hard copy is going way of the dodo bird, the e-readers are replacing them all eventually. I’ve been to the Downtown library and it’s nothing but a public bathroom for the bums in the area.

    If you have to try very hard to sell people on downtown, and stretch the argument, then in itself that speaks volumes. People will always find places they WANT to go, no hard sale needed.

  • We’re in the 21st century, now. You should be able to find parking by internet first and everything else. It’s not about going places unknown, anymore, so everything should be easy to go to this place. It’s about being more efficient.

  • This rendering looks like an improvement but it’ll still be a risky venture. Until enough people live DT it’ll just be a business district with blips of relatively risky retail feeding off the non-residents working there or attending events.

  • I think the rub was beginning to get some attention in a recent survey that went out by the city. If we want downtown destinations to be successful, we need to create complete districts where you can park once and accomplish many things, including shopping, eating and entertainment. This development gives that a start. City Center is wildly popular for this reason. If the GreenStreet can do well for itself and get a few similar neighbors adjacent to expand the area’s appeal, we might be on to something.

  • @commonsense, then why are the new public libraries in San Antonio and Seattle so successful? Or the old ones in Chicago, New York, Boston, etc.?

    Saying that e-readers will replace all paper books is like someone in 1960 saying that plastic furniture will replace all wooden furniture, or polyester will replace cotton.

  • I would like to add that I acknowledge downtown’s shortcomings, especially for potential residents. The lack of grocery options is a real problem (Phoenicia is good but not enough). And you can’t make a community out of fancy boutiques and restaurants alone; you need auto repair, hardware, all that stuff. But walking is always going to be a key part of living downtown. For most people that should be one of the attractions–so long as your needs can be met in a reasonable distance from your apartment. But still, aside from visiting my favorite pub, downtown is always a destination for me and Mrs. Anse.

  • “Saying that e-readers will replace all paper books is like someone in 1960 saying that plastic furniture will replace all wooden furniture, or polyester will replace cotton”

    No, it’s more like saying that MP3s and the Cloud will replace CD’s…oops.

  • Validated parking for the full amount of the parking fee, like in the Rice village parking garage, is the way to go. All the businesses that will operate in the new ‘GreenStreet’ should validate parking for 3 hours for their customers. We still go to the GingerMan even though unfortunately the parking is not covered (GM is the center of the universe); however, I’d speculate that we’d go more often if parking was covered. Also, we’ve catered to many other businesses in the village because of the parking validation.

    BTW, we shop in DT, attend concerts, see movies at Sundance, etc. Lastly, as an FYI and speaking of DT destinations, there’s this there’s this great tapas place in the pavillion/GreenStreet that serves a good sangría and veggie paella, whilst you enjoy excellent Flamenco singing and dancing! I suggest you check it out this weekend.

  • Downtown library for the win. You can learn all sorts of neat stuff from books, and they let you take some home with you as well.
    I may be alone in my sentiment here, but I will never choose to read a book on an electronic device when a hard cover, or paper back edition of the same volume is available. If all I have room for in my house is bookshelves with books on them, I am happy with that.

  • Couldn’t agree more, toasty. What I keep finding is that it’s primarily the non-readers who have decreed the death of books. Readers keep seeming to prefer a paper book in their hands, even after (like me) they bought a Kindle and had high hopes for it.

  • From Anse:

    People who find one-way streets confusing must be absolutely terrified by having to merge onto freeways or making left turns.

    I have made an art form of everything you mention in your post. Luckily, I lived in Montrose and could avoid freeways and still enjoy downtown. I felt sorry for all the people I worked with there who didn’t have a ten minute commute. If it takes an hour or more to get home, the chances of me coming back downtown at night or on weekends would be pretty darn slim.

  • Service was atrocious from McCormick and Schmicks. Guadalajara’s food is average, expensive Mexican. Adding landscaping isn’t going to make either of these any better.

  • Old School: I think you meant to say Marvy Finger. Mary Finger is his ex wife.

  • Anothe r money pit.This project was ill-conceived in the first place.And no matter how much money is tgrown at it, people did not and will not make this a destination. It IS in downtown: where people do NOT want to go. Per prior comments, there is NO downtown “liveabilty” that attracts people to actually live downtown: NO grocery stores, corner shops/stores. And the homeless people situation is beyond ridiculious.The powers that be NEED to make HPD actually ENFORCE the vagrancy laws and DO something about the homeless panhandlers. But it’ll be years before people actually want to visit and stay in downtown.

  • the thing about interiors, they have to be welcoming for people to want to go in. Hopefully they can give it that soft and welcoming touch.

  • I love downtown Houston; it’s interesting to walk; I often go from the bayou to jones hall to soccer stadium, through discovery green, back over to the north end and market square. the occasional pandhandler does ask for money. But I’ve never felt unsafe. I partake of the food, bayou place including the movie theatre, sporting events (though not so often with the Astros down to AAA caliber),all of the music/entertainment venues, and sometimes kayak Buffalo Bayou. Great place. Look forward to the makeover.

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Downtown was the spot 1998-2004, but the the rail construction halted all that. Houstonians are fickle people, once they findca new spot good luck getting them back. Think the Richmond Strip.

    I love downtown, but live in the Montrose and walking distance to the Alabama rail stop. Still I don’t go very often. There is NO density. Westheimer between Shepherd and Taft is the most urban environment we have.

    My last trip to DT, the new rail line going up Capitol was out of sync with sidewalk improvements done during the Cotswold Project. Until the powers that be get the infrastructure coordinated and a stronger mounted patrol presence like it used to be. Downtown will never sustain a consistent urban/dense environment. Sorry all, that is just fact. And to all those developers with the showbiz multi storey courtyard horrors with half inch drywall so you hear all your neighbors and have 8′ ceilings. Those are all SPECULATIVE, I doubt they maintain 50% occupancy rates. Look at the block face to block face quadruple Decker near Kohn’s!

  • I’ve been downtown the past two nights. Thursday was for an event at the Wortham for UH’s Moores School of Music. The night ended with a pleasant stroll for a glass of wine at La Carafe. Tonight, we hit up the patio at the new Batanga on Market Square. Had awesome tapas, drank some sangrias and Spanish beer, and enjoyed people watching. After a few hours, we ventured over to OKRA Bar for a night cap. Personally, I wish folks would stop trying to convince people like “commonsense” that downtown is a neat place to visit. It’s better without his kind ruining it.

  • Well this is more like a laneway. Even our pseudo laneways are centrally planned, but I think I will take it. This is destined to make more money than the last shopping center.

  • @doofus, but until you convince me and many more people like me to frequent DT, it will remain an economically sputtering, bum infested fringe curiosity.

  • The name GreenStreet is stupid. Sounds like a developer thing-fake, fake and fake.
    Downtown is great for Sunday morning bike rides.

  • Downtown is a lot of things but economically sputtering is not one of them.

  • Downtown has a significant vagrancy problem. I am usually heckled by one or two in the middle of the work day on my way back to the car. One afternoon, I was actually grabbed and punched by one in the arm. I don’t think it was intended inflict serious harm (as it more stunned than hurt me) but as a female, I would absolutely NOT venture downtown after dark with out a large male companion.

    Parking is a huge pain (and expense) with surface lots having conflicting signage and instructions for payment, costing $10-15. Yes, navigating downtown is also an issue for those not familiar with streets. Highway access is poorly labeled, if at all, and sidewalks, when not blocked by sleeping homeless, are riddled with light poles, construction, and torn up curbs.

  • “This may not be a matter of “build it and they will come”. It may be more an issue of “they are coming, will they want to come here?” I think the proposed renovations are a big step in the right direction.”

    I think Old School #20 nailed it.

    I can’t believe no one really has gotten why the nightlife in downtown is not as good as it should be. The funny thing is that it is the same reason the daylife is so vibrant, unfortunately it is underground.