Abandoned building lights up with messages, new future for property
HOUSTON — Just east of downtown, Houston‚Äôs concrete jungle is blossoming into a real one.
‚ÄúThere is a lot of nature,‚ÄĚ says David Hightower, executive president of the investment development group for Midway Companies. ‚ÄúWe have coyotes up here. We have deer on here.‚ÄĚ
The parking lot now split by weeds served the KBR and Halliburton compound until about 10 years ago. Since then, it‚Äôs been empty, abandoned and overgrown.
‚ÄúI think it has huge potential,‚ÄĚ Hightower says.
That potential is opening up a single window at a time, thanks to Midway. The company partnered with an investor to buy the property in 2016, not long before Super Bowl LI.
‚ÄúThere was a tremendous amount of energy and activity and a lot of national media at Discovery Green,‚ÄĚ Hightower says. ‚ÄúI said, ‚ÄėWouldn‚Äôt it be cool if we could light the building up in some way?‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Jake Nolan, an associate in the investment development group, thought it was definitely possible. He looked at an old photo of the building, counted the windows and drew up a quick diagram in Microsoft Excel.
‚ÄúYou just have to think of it as a big sheet of grid paper. You‚Äôre just coloring in squares to make letters,‚ÄĚ explains Nolan.
When he brought his design into Hightower‚Äôs office a few hours later, Hightower says he was impressed, but doubtful it could be done. As Nolan explains, the execution is simple, though a little tedious.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just going floor by floor, north to south end, counting out windows and opening and closing blinds,‚ÄĚ he says.
Two days later, Nolan presented Hightower a photo of the building all lit up with ‚ÄúHTX.‚ÄĚ Since then, Nolan‚Äôs also spelled out ‚ÄúAMZN,‚ÄĚ for Amazon, and ‚ÄúSTROS,‚ÄĚ celebrating the Astros World Series victory.
‚ÄúI had no idea what they were going to do there,‚ÄĚ says Paul Redmond, owner of The New Potato, a bar located just across the street from the property.
He‚Äôs kept an eye on the 150-acre parcel, knowing what happens there has a big impact on his business.
‚ÄúAnybody and everybody who lives in this neighborhood all wonder what‚Äôs going on there,‚ÄĚ Redmond says.
Just like the windows, a project like this, called East River, takes time to plan.
‚ÄúThis is a rare piece of property,‚ÄĚ Hightower stresses. ‚ÄúThere are other large parcels, but nothing of this size within this proximity to downtown.‚ÄĚ
For some perspective, the 65-block chunk that encompasses East River is more than four times larger than what might be Midway‚Äôs best-known development: CityCentre.
‚ÄúIt basically is going to be a town, but it‚Äôs going to be a town that was conceived and developed and executed intentionally to be a pedestrian-oriented walkable community,‚ÄĚ says Hightower.
Even as Midway beats back the jungle, it‚Äôs planting a forest. The property is now home to roughly 300 trees, which were uprooted by construction along Post Oak Blvd.
‚ÄúThese are trees that we will then transplant throughout the project as we develop,‚ÄĚ Hightower explains. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll use them for street trees and park trees.‚ÄĚ
They‚Äôre now taking root in a new part of HTX, just like Midway is.
‚ÄúWe think we‚Äôve got a tremendous opportunity here,‚ÄĚ smiles Hightower.