Mayor Parker’s Downtown Retail Task Force Suggests Developing Lots of Retail Downtown

That retail task force that Mayor Parker put together about the same time that Macy’s announced it was closing the Downtown store came through with its first report yesterday, recommending that Dallas St. between Milam and La Branch — or between the hotels on the west side of Downtown and the hotels, Discovery Green, and George R. Brown Convention Center on the east — be prettied up into a kind of retail promenade. And the task force recommends that it happen sooner rather than later, in time to capitalize on the disposable incomes of the hordes coming to town for the NCAA Final Four in 2016 and the Super Bowl in 2017.

The rendering above, included in the report, shows a Kardashian body double strolling through the intersection of Main St. and Dallas; the Sakowitz building, catty-corner across from the to-be-demolished-in-a-week Macy’s, would pair with GreenStreet to anchor the linear district and provide similar photo opportunities. It appears that the task force hopes to lure national retailers and rally existing tenants and landowers, like Hilcorp, to the cause with tax breaks and other incentives, including waiving the city ordinance requiring that signage Downtown be no taller than 42.5 ft.


That map shows the area in the task force has in mind.

Additionally, the report recommends widening redesigning one-way Dallas down to 3 lanes, widening the sidewalks and planting lots of greenery, creating bike lanes, increasing lighting and wayfinding signage, ramping up police presence, and reducing the presence of the homeless. (You can read the full 44-page report here.)

Here’s a view of what the 1100 block of Dallas might look like:

Images: Downtown District

67 Comment

  • What a colossal waste of money and city resources. Nobody!! wants to shop downtown! Every venture has failed, why would anyone expect this to change. Annise Parker has been a real disappointment as Mayor, I support her for re election simply because her opponent is worse, it’s simple chosibh the best of two evils. It’s a shame she can’t play well with others and ha alienated most of the council. The Houston Mayor has real power, they have power the mayor of Dallas and San Antonio can only dream of, but she’s squandered it like the pathetic Lee Brown …now she’s touting this Trojan Horse, geez what a waste of power

  • Adding another traffic lane is one of the worst things they can do to try to create a walkable retail mini-district. The more lanes you get, the faster the cars go, and the less safe people feel walking. They’ve done studies. Read a book.

  • Looks like an un-widening actually. A great improvement over the bleak appearance of Dallas street today.

  • The old Sakowitz building is directly across Main Street from the old Foley’s. Not catty-corner.

  • Didn’t Sam Houston propose in 1859 to convert the parking garage on Main and Dallas into a retail center? Seems like that idea has been around long enough to expect little from it. But, who knows. It would be a perfect second location in Houston for Bork.

  • Hopefully on the task force’s list of to-do items is redirecting all of that fried, nasty, 120-degree restaurant exhaust blasting onto pedestrians as they walk past Guadalajara, House of Blues and Three Forks. I wince as I see impressionable conference attendees walking along there between Courtyard Marriott and the GRB.

  • Finally… a serious plan for downtown retail. I’m glad for this, but we need to keep in mind who is most likely to benefit from this corridor. It needs to integrate tourism-centric retail. Convention visitors are still coming to Downtown Houston and saying “we love the park, but where are all the gift shops? Where can I find info about what’s going on?” We’ve got to develop more of that stuff for downtown, along with new retail of different varieties.

    It’s also important to let visitors know about other parts of Downtown. From Dallas street, they may not be aware of all the great restaurants that are a short train ride away by Market Square. Yet another reason why tourist info needs to be in this area.

  • Yeah, that would be my suggestion, too.

  • In two years new Swamplot readers are going to think “What the heck is Bork?” about twice a week.

  • Does this mean we’ll get a 150 foot tall Apple advertisement downtown, like our friends in Dallas have?

  • First, form a round-up-the-bums task force, if you really intend to make downtown pedestrian friendly.

  • @spoonman Not after Bork sweeps the Swampies this year for “Best new imaginary retail.”

  • This is a huge waste of money imo. I will go on record to say that I bet the city (we) will lose at least $50 mill on this 44 page idea!

  • How can they widen one-way Dallas to 3 lanes when it already has 4? Surely the plan is to narrow it to 3 lanes.

  • @aero I’d rather have a whale mural.


  • @WASP

    The following report shows that there are folks who currently shop downtown, and more who would shop there if provided options as this report shows:

    But, I hear you. Why use facts to make an argument. Hyperbolic opinions are much more convincing ;)

  • Looking at the map, there are still some problems with that stretch. Of the 7 blocks, 3 right in the middle have parking garages on one side (presumably with reduced street-interaction — I don’t recall how many of those have room for ground floor retail facing Dallas St), and the other side are the 3 blocks of GreenStreet, which unless it is majorly renovated does not have much street-level interaction with Dallas St either.

    Some of the renderings show ground-floor retail along one of the garages, though, and hopefully designs of existing garages can be altered to improve the street-level interaction.

    I suspect they meant Dallas St will be narrowed, not widened (I think it currently has 5 lanes including parking now, and this cuts it to 3).

    Contrary to some, I think shopping could make sense downtown. As Houston becomes more of a destination for tourism, we may well see more people wanting to shop downtown, especially if the convention center starts attracting more international conventions. I agree that you’re not going to have many people driving in from the suburbs to shop. The report did suggest making free parking to encourage such people (not that it matters much when they are likely spending more on gas than parking), but I don’t think they can rely on that.

  • Benny,
    I’ll take that bet. And, I’ll also bet that your attitude changes after you realize all the residents and hotel guest inhabiting downtown within just a couple years.

  • @Eric – that’s exactly right. The report actually does address all these concerns, but of course none of the complainers have bothered to read it. They probably haven’t even set foot in the area either since the 90’s, but you can trust that they’ll have an opinion on it.

  • Great idea. Now execute on it.

  • This will not work, downtown Houston is not New Orleans or San Antonio, it’s Dallas or Los Angeles. Do you see tons of retail in downtown Dallas? No!, just Neimans and Dallas has a more successful convention business as well as way more hotel rooms, yet their mayor is smart enough not to waste time with ideas for downtown that won’t float, even obtuse Houston developers will flee from this money pit

  • We shop downtown at this time and would welcome any new retail there so this is very convenient for us personally.

    I think this is a great idea but agree w/Mssr Texas_Leftist in that the city should place tourist/visitor information in this new retail area in downtown. The tourist or visitor would then learn that Hermann park, Rice Village, the Houston Zoo, etc. are a light rail ride away. Also, IMHO, a venue to illustrate the area’s history could become a tourist destination itself.

    Good work members of the Task Force!

    So, we’re very hopeful about this proposal. It

  • @JD, bill_b, and Eric: You’re right. The report says Dallas will undergo a “redesign” down to 3 lanes. The story has been updated.

  • @bill_b: And you’re right about the Sakowitz building. That’s been updated in the story as well.

  • Also, it appears that Bork is not imaginary, but a Russian high-end appliance retailer.

  • I think downtown Houston is cool. Very walkable. I would totally shop, hang out there if parking is addressed. How about free parking on Saturday as well as Sunday?

  • This will work. Young professionals with disposable incomes want a real downtown scene.

  • WASP wants to be somebody!

  • The “Bork” concept seems to have really caught on with some folks here. Personally, I like the “you will be assimilated” aspect!

    Alternatively, it sounds like an eastern european dog barking.

    Bork bork bork. Bork bork bork. Bork bork bork bork bork bork bork!

  • Well, that should be sung to the tune of El Chavo del Ocho, if anyone knows what that is.

  • I don’t understand why they wouldn’t include the empty parking lot blocks adjacent to Root Square in the shopping district. Market Square seems to be doing well these days, why not lend some support to this park as well? Empty lots seem like they would be exactly the blank slate needed for a developer wishing to put in new retail.
    What’s the deal with the full block substation directly next to the park? Talk about a potential prime retail location. Is there no better place for this?

  • How can anybody actually be against this? Houston is developing into a world class city and the only thing it lacks is a dense urban core with a vibrant downtown. Retail and shopping is what drives people to go places and without retail downtown will remain a ghost town after business hours. How about you people who are against this move out to Sugar Land or the Woodlands and let Houston move forward into a great urban world class city. Houston is going to transform from a sprawling, strip center, giant free way, car centrist, no character, suburban wasteland in to a urban world class city. If you are against that then stay in the burbs and leave us alone.

  • I predict this will be as successful as El Mercado del Sol.

  • I must have a Bork meat grinder. It looks awesome!

  • I _never_ go downtown for retail shopping, and never will, even though I live just 6 miles away along the 59, about a mile from the Galleria. It’s not that downtown is hard for me to get to on weekends (15 minutes tops), it’s just that there’s nothing there for me or my family.

    I don’t window shop – I go shopping for things I already know that I need. The last time I went downtown was maybe 15 months ago, to an animal adoption shelter in Pavilions.
    Why would I go downtown? For the bars (I’m too old), for the restaurants (sure, if a friend from out of town wants to go, twice in the last decade), for the sports (I don’t watch sports, don’t attend games), for the museums (aren’t any), for the convention center (went once for a toy train exhibit with my kids), theater or musicals (ditto, went once, would like to go more, but never do)? So why would I go if you spend $50 million tax dollars to put in a half-assed mall?
    The only thing that has brought me (us) downtown a dozen times in the last 3-4 years, has been Discovery Green. But we drive, park, play, then we leave.
    Your studies may be right. It might be that all the downtown workers and convention-goers need somewhere to shop, but I don’t. I’ll just grit my teeth and go to the Galleria (five minutes away) when I need something. If they don’t have what I need, downtown sure won’t!

  • Everything old is new again.

  • I find it hard to understand naysayers who dismiss downtown as a shopping/entertainment destination. The problem for me is that I’m not convinced that leaving downtown alone is a good way to foster continued business in that district. Maybe it makes sense for a big company to have office space in an area that offers nothing else in the way of quality of life, but what would compel them to stay if better options come along on the outskirts? It’s the same old argument from the same old naysayers who complain about parking and traffic etc nonstop. As another poster has pointed out often, we Houstonians will happily park 200 yards from a mall entrance and trek over the asphalt in the blazing heat, we’ll even do it for an outlet mall that isn’t enclosed and air conditioned, but dare suggest we make downtown a destination and people lose their minds. Encouraging this kind of development is not a waste of time. It’s a way to maximize the potential of an area of town whose main knock against it is the continued, ignorant prejudice, primarily from people who never go there anyway.

  • @etherist,

    You’re so vain, you probably thought that report was about you.

    That was a very long post you wrote simply to confirm that you don’t realize that you are not the target market for downtown retail. It’s OK. They concede that Galleria area residents aren’t coming downtown to shop.

  • I would love to live and shop downtown.

  • Great idea … except for Houston’s heat and humidity.

    Perhaps what should be done in addition to the dressed-up, widened sidewalks is to create a street wide (and air conditioned) tunnel paired with skylights and street access all along the sidewalk-widened and cleaned up Dallas St. This could possibly double the amount of retail, provide an all-weather pedestrian corridor and a street level opportunity for fair weather activities or sidewalk cafes.

  • @Dave

    I know I am not the target demo. No worries. But the city looks like it’s poises to drop a ton of money to develop a 20-square-block area and “… lure national retailers and rally existing tenants and landowers, like Hilcorp, to the cause with tax breaks and other incentives,”
    “tax breaks” = “paying commercial developers to do what’s in their own interest”
    If the city can do this without tax breaks, what do I care? I’ll continue staying away in droves. Do they have to subsidize developers to do something that supposedly makes business sense? What happened to free enterprise?

  • This is great! But, for all the naysayers, realize, you aren’t the demographic — I’m 25 yr old young professional living in the loop, so are my friends. We go downtown for theater and the occasional restaurant. Would we go downtown more often if there was a lively retail scene and a more walkable inviting atmosphere? … absolutely. I swear, some of you complainers are the most uncreative people; can’t even see past the current reality. But once something like this goes through and happens, the people will come, and downtown will grow. And not that anyone will care, but you’ll be wrong.

  • Pages 28 – 36 of that document I think are the greatest ideas for downtown Houston I can remember seeing on paper. But as for the rest of it…

    I really do not perceive downtown’s competitive advantage to be retail shopping at national retailers. Its advantage is events (and interestingly that document noted that retail sales can go down during events).

    So there are two types of events: spontaneous and staged. My guess is that the most consistent group to do spontaneous events downtown would be the people (such as UH students) destined to find their way downtown via LRT either in the name of looking for something fun to do or as a waystation to transfer trains to go somewhere else.

    For staged events, there are lots of conventioneers and events-attendees maybe needing touristy drinking-type things to do within walking distance of GRB.

    How national retailers would appeal to such groups is not clear, although at some point an urban Target or something like that may be necessary.

  • Also I don’t know how the task force can issue a “final report” when we still don’t know what might be going up on the Foley’s site.

  • I’m in my 30’s and me and all my friends have plenty of disposable incomes, we are all highly educated and socially active and none of us would shop downtown and I live 2.5 miles away. I fit the demographic better then any one of what they’re trying to attract, 30somethings have significantly more buying power than 20 somethings and I can assure these stores will mostly cater to an over 25 crowd.

  • My apology for the typos, I’m no fan of iPhone auto correct and how the iPhone interacts with this particular website, it’s difficult to correct errors

  • Several residential towers are being planned for downtown. A new rail line will soon connect UH, which has an ever larger on campus population with nowhere to go in the immediate vicinity. Midtown already has a lot of people. I live in the Heights. It’s much faster for me to get into downtown than say the Galleria. There must be some scale. People are different. That’s why we have malls with lots of stores. Thinking small won’t cut it. Downtown is interesting to walk. Also, this isn’t just for the locals. It’s about bringing in conventions. Personally, having few tourists is nice. Getting into great local restraunts is usually doable. But I think Houston can tolerate a few more. I don’t ever want to be like NO. A great city, love the Garden District and the FQ, but would not want to live there. Build it for locals first and let the tourists such as they are enjoy our city.

  • El Mercado del Sol would have a much better chance of working now, as more people are moving in, than it did back when downtown was a ghost town after business hours.

  • I think that one of the biggest impediments to downtown retail is the tunnel system. What little retail there is in downtown is located within the tunnel system which caters to office workers. that is one reason the downtown always looks so dead, even at noon time. Everyone is underground.

    The bums are another problem that never seems to get addressed. The intersection the Lamar and Main is one of the worst spots, with a crappy convenience store and a major bus/train stop. I caught a bus there for years and saw all kinds of crap go down at that corner. A guy was even stabbed there last week.

  • Lmao, I can assure you, Houston will never be mistaken for New Orleans. It makes no sense to even compare the two cities. Downtown Houston does not have a 16th century city on the edge of it, and it certainly has no Garden District. There is a great article in the Chronicle on how Houston doesn’t have never the population downtown to support this and they were counting all the residential units in the pipeline. Attn Annise Parker, Houston isn’t Chicago nor New York.

  • The people bitching on here were probably the same people that bitched about the idea of a park on the east end of downtown as being a waste of money and nothing but a magnet for the homeless.

  • Is there a reason Greenstreet’s (Houston Pavilions) tenants don’t currently have entrances on Dallas?

    There are doors there – all it would take would be signs, awnings and unlocking the doors.

  • Sounds like a plan (except how do they plan to reduce the presence of the homeless?). Hurry up, I am tired of the eats on this side of town.

  • I’m trying to read the report now. What the hell is up with that font? Is it just me and my computer, or are all the lower case “L”s and upper case “I”‘s bold or super thick?

  • Maybe turn the district into a sampling of Houston’s food scene right there in the particular area in question, somewhat nearby the conventions and sports arenas.

    Houston chefs are lately receiving press for their food – and conventioneers might appreciate the convenience instead of having to drive all around town when they may be already tired from the convention.

    Maybe the city could incentivize that – instead of incentivizing national retail chains.

  • This needs to happen. Retail downtown is badly needed.

  • etherist, I’m not exactly sure why you go on and on about all the stuff you “can’t” do downtown.

    The fact that you never go to that side of town means that your opinion on the area means very little to me. How do you know what it’s like to walk around and shop and how the area is if you only go to a specific location every couple years?

    You’re right, you aren’t the tartget demographic. However, lots of people are. I live in the museum district, ma in in my early 30’s, ride the rail lots of places and have friends that are in the same category with more and more of my suburban friends moving into the area every year. These people DO WANT a vibrant downtown area with shops.

  • Well since WASP has declared that he will not shop Downtown and he is the center of the universe and every demographer’s dream, I guess it is a foregone conclusion for Annise to back off. After all, he was the same one who swore no gays would go to Neon Boots–it was too far, not in the gayborhood blah blah blah….and apparently it opened to droves of patrons. Let’s just forget that East Downtown is starting to develop and there is no shopping there. Let’s forget that Midtown is limited as well. Let’s forget the the Downtown workers and residents too. In order to lure some big box tenants, there has to be a plan.

  • 16th Century? The French Quarter wasn’t even laid out until the 1720’s. Most of the buildings date to the last two decades of the 18th century.

  • I think retail downtown would be great. I think tax dollars for sidewalks, trees, lighting and “wayfinding” signage might be a good idea.

    BUT I don’t think taxpayers should pay for developer’s build-outs, or offer incentives to developers/owners “based on the cost differential of an owner to lease competitive Class A retail space” (cost differential compared to what?).

    I also don’t think this will be as transparent as they would like us to think. Based on how the City has handled past incentives for retail, the actual agreement(s) won’t be available for inspection by the public or council members unless specifically requested, and then only days before Council votes. The Request for Council Action document (one-page summary for Council) will be so vague/inaccurate as to be worthless.

    It also looks like several of the members of the task force could personally reap great financial benefits from any government assistance for this shopping district.

  • People don’t go downtown because they’re too stupid to realize that going to the Galleria is just as much of a hassle as going downtown. Or, maybe it’s because downtown doesn’t have enough stuff, which this idea is intended to deal with. Whatever. They’re a bunch of whiners who think parking is a problem or who don’t want to walk anywhere and worse still, they’d prefer to just let downtown rot. Thankfully, the city has a growing population of people who think differently.

  • Here’s an idea that would make Houstonians want to shop downtown — set up an outlet mall, maybe in that half-dead mall. :-)

  • Books A Million didn’t exactly inspire confidence in national retailers.

    If conventioneers can’t be bothered to browse and buy books in an environment probably specifically designed for a national retailer and located in the best retail location in downtown, how can they be expected to walk the streets searching for things they can find at any old mall at home?

  • @ WASP. I’m also in the demographic. In my 30’s with money to spend and educated friends. We love downtown and would welcome more development. Maybe you’re not a visionary and just a follower …. The burbs mights suit you better.