The Planning and Capital Projects (PCP) program concentrates on long range planning, short-term improvement projects and coordination with government agencies and private entities on projects affecting the future of Downtown. The PCP team has helped transform over 67% of all block faces in Downtown.
In 2017 the Downtown District, in partnership with Central Houston, published Plan Downtown: Converging Culture, Lifestyle & Commerce. Once an underutilized, work-driven central core that had seen its better days, Downtown has again become the heartbeat of the Bayou City and the region. Buzzing with development of all kinds— new hotels, restaurant rows, luxury residential projects and convenient public transportation options — the city center didn’t get to where it is today by happenstance.
So what's next for Downtown Houston? This 20-year vision plan outlines recommendations for both short-term and long-term planning, development and design that will improve the visitor appeal, business climate, livability and connectivity within and around Downtown leading up to the city’s bicentennial in 2036.
Plan Downtown is broken down into four pillars: Downtown is Houston’s greatest place to be; Downtown is the premier business and government location; Downtown is the standard for urban livability; and Downtown is the innovative leader in connectivity. The Plan considers these interdependent goals in over 150 individual suggestions, ranging from big-picture ideas to small, localized upgrades that would subtly improve the quality of urban life.
The Plan’s strategies include:
- Creating a Green Loop, a 5-mile transportation and recreation circuit that connects Downtown to adjacent neighborhoods.
- Enhancing walkability of Downtown through the development of Downtown Design Guidelines and the addition of new destinations.
- Establishing an Innovation District as the center for technology and entrepreneurship in the Houston region by strengthening connections between businesses/funders and entrepreneurs and pursuing partnerships with area universities.
- Building 12,000 additional Downtown residential units to support population growth from 7,500 to 30,000 over the next 20 years and enhance the area amenities available to current and future residents.
- Adapting to autonomous vehicles by positioning Downtown to benefit from new technologies.
Ground broke for Downtown's newest green space on March 12, 2021 and completion is estimated to be spring of next year.
“We aim for Trebly Park to become a destination that reflects the character of this emerging Downtown neighborhood,” said Curtis Flowers, DRA board chair. “The genesis for the name was inspired in parts by location, shape and the fun factor. Trebly Park is located on Block 333 of Downtown Houston, on a site defined by three city block corners. Trebly, meaning ‘three times as much,’ is fresh in spirit, rolls off the tongue and is not moored in convention. By its definition, Trebly Park implies that the park has much to offer those who visit it in terms of experience with ‘three times as much’ fun, play, interaction, relaxation and deliciousness. We also hope the grounds will serve as a ‘third space,’ or communal space, for area residents, students, workers and visitors.”
Public art will be a defining feature of the new park: Visitors will be greeted by a dynamic gateway installation at the northern entrance near Fannin and Bell that will rotate every two years. German artist Tomislav Topic of Quintessenz, known for site-specific works that distill the essence of art to color and form, has been selected to create the inaugural installation. Featuring layers of PVC mesh painted in different color gradients and suspended at canopy height over a square frame, Porta Pigmenta will visually and functionally draw visitors into the park.
The L-shaped property will serve as a “backyard” for neighborhood residents and employees, with a central lawn framed by lush garden zones with seating and water features on the north (bordering Bell Street) and the south (bordering Leeland Street). Its design focuses on accessibility for cyclists and safe pedestrian connections: the park will feature a BCycle station, bike racks and a bike repair station and distinctive zones will be connected by a broad, curved, Live Oak-lined walkway stretching from the southeast corner to the northwest corner.
Tout Suite, the park's all-day cafe will offer counter service for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks daily, along with weekend brunch. Tout Suite will also serve coffee, juice, craft beer, wine and bubbly along with its signature pastries and baked goods prepared fresh daily. The 2,400-square-foot cafe will feature indoor seating for approximately 70 guests and outdoor seating for approximately 48 guests under a canopy of trees.
Just beyond the outdoor seating area, a whimsical playscape by Chiaozza will provide entertainment for children. Whale Bone Dinner Party, a multi-piece sculpture made from hand-painted fiberglass, features a series of “curious fragments” that are meant to evoke the feeling of discovering oneself on a remote island after being lost at sea.
Programming at Trebly Park will take a cue from the changing demographics of Southern Downtown, which has seen an increase of more than 1,700 new residential units since 2012. A schedule of events such as live music, movies and art will attract the area’s prominently young-professional residents.
Trebly Park is funded by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, and once open, will be managed and programmed by the Downtown District.
The Downtown Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ #3, has recently completed the Bagby Street Improvement Project on the western side of Downtown.
Bagby Street is the first street encountered when entering Downtown from the west and one of few two-way streets in the central district— a key gateway that connects the Theater District and multiple civic institutions such as City Hall, Central Library and Sam Houston Park. In total, Bagby Street connects nine parks and cultural attractions, requiring careful consideration and attention to how the street, buildings and park spaces all interact.
Several studies, including the Theater District Master Plan and Plan Downtown, have identified Bagby as a key pedestrian and vehicular corridor. The street has also been highlighted in the City of Houston Bike Plan as a future bikeway location, to serve as a north-south corridor west of Main Street in Downtown. The corridor provides connections to Buffalo Bayou in several locations, linking Downtown to the broader greenways network.
Due to the multiple plan recommendations, the DRA prioritized the Bagby Street Improvement Project as it will greatly improve and expand mobility and infrastructure throughout western Downtown. Currently between four and six lanes wide, the project has reduced Bagby Street to between three and four vehicular lanes to allow for wider pedestrian walkways, a bicycle lane, beautification elements, signature lighting and 79 new trees. The corridor’s storm sewer system has also been updated to meet current requirements, including additional inlets to reduce ponding and considerably improve drainage.
The Warehouse District dynamics are evolving as large infrastructure planned projects are projected to start within a span of 5-30 years. This creates an urgency for examining planning scenarios that secure a thriving district and support Downtown’s future success. The project will conduct a series of planning studies associated with the assessment and upgrade of urban design, transportation, and infrastructural systems within the Warehouse District.
Public Workshop #1
The Downtown District initiated a vision planning process for the Warehouse District. The first public workshop in this process was held on August 19, 2020. The workshop was supplemented with an online survey to assist in gathering critical feedback from public and private stakeholders. The responses gathered will be used to guide different planning scenarios, to be presented at a subsequent public workshop in the Fall of 2020.
Public Workshop #2
The Downtown District conducted a public workshop on March 1, 2021 (presentation below). As a follow up to the presentation, we ask stakeholders to take a few minutes to complete this online survey. Your comments on the three frameworks below will help the team refine the recommendations for the final Warehouse District Vision Plan.
The North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) is a $7 billion, 24-mile, 3-segment TxDOT project to rebuild IH-45 from Beltway 8 through Downtown. The project includes rebuilding IH-10 across northern Downtown and IH-69 from the Montrose bridge to the IH-10 interchange. NHHIP is a priority infrastructure and transportation planning initiative for Central Houston, Downtown District and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority. These organizations are collaborating with TxDOT, the City of Houston, and other entities on project implementation, including opportunities for public space and private redevelopment in proximity to the highway project.
The District’s involvement with TXDOT is as a governmental “participating agency,” which dates to the project’s first round of public meetings in October 2012. The District has been instrumental in convening adjacent Management Districts and major stakeholders as bold concepts for highway alignment are under consideration, with the reconnection of adjacent neighborhoods and the restoration of the urban street grid the end-goal of Downtown.
The largest modification is the re-alignment of IH-45 from the current west and south edges of Downtown to a shared right-of-way with IH-10 on the north side and then turning to a shared right-of-way with IH-69 on the east side. This eastern segment where IH-45 and IH-69 are combined is proposed to be a trenched highway section with east-west connecting bridges over the highways and a potential 10-block civic space or “cap park” at grade from Commerce Street to at least Lamar Street, and possibly Polk Street. This realignment also results in the removal of the infamous Pierce Elevated which has long been a barrier between Downtown and Midtown. On the western edge of Downtown, the existing IH-45 will be dismantled, and a consolidated set of highway connectors is proposed, functioning as a new Downtown Spur. On the northern side of Downtown, IH-45 and IH-10 are proposed to shift northward to consolidate highway and freight rail in adjacent rights-of-way, thereby providing opportunity to restore grid connectivity and unify development that has long been bifurcated by rail, highway and bayou infrastructure.
The highway project will be years in the making, but the opportunities to consolidate and straighten infrastructure while maintaining or improving access to Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods is the promise of this bold plan. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on the leading edge of infrastructure of this magnitude. It is an attainable goal that Downtown can be better served by the future highway system and establish a new reputation for integrating visionary urban design with transportation planning.
Project Architect and Urban Planner, Marie Fish Hoke, gives updates on TXDOT’s roll-out of the North Houston Highway Improvement Project.