The Heights is known for its hip hangouts, bustling businesses and residential buildings characterized by an eclectic mix of modern structures and historic haunts.
Take a much-traveled road that leads into the heart of the Heights, however, and the initial look and feel is much different. Those who exit I-10 and turn north on Shepherd Drive are greeted mostly by a cluster of beige-colored industrial structures – including auto shops, warehouses and oversized fitness centers.
“I think the fact that it’s sort of gritty and industrial seems very out of place and out of character,” said Heights-based developer Steve Radom of Radom Capital, LLC. “So we think that’s the opportunity there.”
Radom, in a joint venture with fellow Houston-area developer Triten Real Estate Partners, hopes to jumpstart an overhaul of the Heights entryway and make it more in line with the rest of the neighborhood. Their multimillion-dollar “M-K-T” project, which also is being funded by Boston-based Long Wharf Capital, LLC, will transform a 12-acre warehouse complex at the northeast corner of Shepherd and 6th Street.
Those buildings will be repurposed in the same vein as the year-old Heights Mercantile, which Radom developed at the intersection of Yale Street and 7th Street. He said the new project is about five times larger in scale, with 200,000 square feet of office space, restaurants, merchants and health centers.
Slated to open in 2020, M-K-T also will feature a 2,000-foot urban boardwalk and more than 4 acres of green space. It will sit just south of the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, which Radom envisions as a primary entry point for residents of the Heights and beyond.
“I like what they did right down here at Yale and 7th,” Heights resident Aaron Cormier said while jogging on the trail last week. “If they’re doing that over here, I’m down with that, too. I think that’s great.”
Not everyone near the upcoming development is a fan, namely those who will be displaced by it. The 20-plus tenants in the existing warehouses, constructed in the 1970s, were given about eight months’ notice to relocate after Warehouse Associates sold the property to Triten.
Scott Tichavsky, owner of an industrial controls automation company called Process Computer Technology, Inc., has been a Warehouse Associates tenant since 1992. He said it will cost him at least $50,000 to move his business to a new location and suggested the new developers should help defray that cost.
“Warehouse Associates is patting themselves on the back about all the money they made, and these guys are patting themselves on the back for all the money they’re going to make,” Tichavsky said. “But all the little guys and the guys that are in business here are all the ones paying the bills.”
Tichavsky said the upcoming development could experience traffic-flow problems since Shepherd is a one-way street, as did nearby resident Earl Horne. But Radom and Triten managing partner Scott Arnoldy, who acquired the property and shared the same vision for it, have plans to address those concerns.
Arnoldy said some of the warehouse buildings will be converted into parking garages. Radom said the site will include ample parking for bikes as well. A new apartment complex also is being built at the northwest corner of Waverly Street and 6th, which will enhance the walkability aspect of the project.
Phil Bryant, who owns a townhome in the Park Place in the Heights complex at the corner of Shepherd and 7th, said he is looking forward to the new marketplace and expects it to increase his property value.
“I certainly don’t mind the gentrification of that,” Bryant said. “Would you rather look at some cool restaurants and retail shops or some ancient warehouses?”
Arnoldy said the M-K-T development follows an industry trend in which historic buildings with a modern look and purpose are more favorable than new construction. It also fits with the culture and character of the Heights.
Bill Baldwin, owner of Boulevard Realty and president of the Houston Heights Association, said the development should enhance the area and provide even more exposure to the rest of the city.
“A lot of people in the Heights haven’t been to that sector of the Heights,” Baldwin said. “With more retail and offices, it will bring more people to that portion of that neighborhood.
“It’s mostly been industrial, and there’s very little interaction with a lot of customers, really,” he added. “It’s a natural evolution for it that‘s good to see.”