The flurry of development on the former Texas Instruments site means the 192-acre development called Grid is well under way and should deliver such restaurants as In-N-Out Burger, Whiskey Cake, Outback Steakhouse, and Pluckers Wing Bar to Stafford by the end of this year.
The leasing office of the new high-end apartments being built onsite just opened, meaning it won’t be long before people are calling Grid home.
That was part of the news shared by Brian Murphy, managing principal for StreetLevel Investments, the developers of the project, during a breakfast meeting at the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce last Thursday.
“We’ve got 192 acres. It’s bigger than Disneyland,” he said.
(Actually, it’s more than twice the size of Disneyland’s 85 acres and is 50 acres bigger than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.)
Murphy said the project is being developed with an eye on the past and future. He said they intend to preserve and honor the history of the site but also anticipate the needs of future generations. That means incorporating a lifestyle attractive to millennials who want to live, work, and play close to home.
“The millennials, their deal is, they’re looking for a lifestyle,” he said. “They want to be able to walk to restaurants, they want to be able to live close to where they work, they want to be able to lock-and-leave… So that’s what we’re trying to create; create something that’s authentic, it doesn’t feel like a staged set architecture. We’re trying to find something people enjoy where they can go around and discover things as they go through, or as the young people call it, Instagramable moments.”
Parking is downplayed in anticipation of self-driving cars and ride shares like Uber and Lyft.
“Cars are going to change too, right; there’ll be self-driving cars so garages will be less important. The designs we have for all these areas have to provide for drop-off areas,” he said.
Presenting a PowerPoint slideshow with maps, graphics, photos, and videos of the project, Murphy emphasized the importance of making Grid the gateway to Fort Bend County from Houston. Located off Highway 59 between Airport and Kirkwood, it’s being viewed as a destination point.
“We’re going to create an environment where people want to work and were employers want to locate at,” Murphy said.
Although some of the old Texas Instruments buildings have been torn down, others are being repurposed into retail stores, offices, and restaurants in the mixed-use development.
“What we wanted to do here was something that’s authentic,” Murphy said.
One of the features they’ve kept are the old chillers from the power plant.
“They’ll be pop-up shops, they’ll be temporary areas, Christmas shops, spice markets, you’ll have things like that,” he said.
Grid is being designed to make good use of outdoor spaces.
“We’ll have public spaces, jogging trails, dog parks, all of those things will be a part of it,” Murphy said. “We’re saving all the heritage trees throughout the area because that’s the differentiator that we have in Stafford.”
In addition to various chain restaurants and retailers, Murphy said there will be a focus on unique, local eateries and shops.
“The restaurant that you put in there, it’s not Starbucks, it’s not a chain, it’s one-of-a-kind areas that people can enjoy being entertained,” he said.
“This is the building, it’s about 18,000-square-feet that we’re going to repurpose into a food hall. And, as you can see, it has green on the top. We’re going to have gardens on the top that provide spices and fresh produce,” he said, pointing to a slide in his presentation.
One thing Grid isn’t doing is courting traditional big box retailers.
“They (millennials) have to have a face-to-face experience where you can buy their jewelry and you know that’s quality that you like, and then you re-order it on the Internet,” he said. “So we understand what’s going on with retail. We’re not pretending that retail’s what it’s been the last 10 years. I mean it’s changed more in the last two years than the last 10 years and it continues to change. We’re all the same way, I mean we’re in the retail development business and we’ve got Amazon boxes stacked in our offices.”
Among the amenities planned for Grid are hotels, a cinema, and a 12-acre, $20-plus million Drive Shack, a golfing entertainment facility along the lines of Top Golf.
Even though Grid is being developed within a few short years, the developers want it to look organically grown over a period of decades.
“We want this to be like it developed over a period of time, like it’s a city that you’re walking through,” he said.
In some ways, it’s a new twist for old city.
“This kind of project, its gritty, it’s not institutional, it’s a place that’s really interesting that I think will appeal to that millennial customer. I think we can call it Stafford 2.0,” Murphy said.
When Texas Instruments left Stafford in 2012 for a new facility five miles away in Sugar Land, it left a void in the community and caused a lot of hand-wringing at City Hall. When StreetLevel negotiated to develop the site, one of the things they made clear is they wanted to respect the history.
“The people of Fort Bend County, they grew up with TI; their family grew up with TI, their dad worked there, their mom worked there, a cousin worked there, or they played on the softball fields. There’s a lot of history, there’s a lot of memories that are important to people and as part of that we want to celebrate that,” Murphy said.
Another thing they wanted was to make Grid the high-end centerpiece of Houston’s Innovation Corridor.
“Other places in the city talk about being the innovation corridor but if you look in this area there’s 14,000 patents in this area; 970 are granted to Texas Instruments,” Murphy said. “We have the education, we have the people who are the innovators who can change and come up with new ideas and we want to provide that.”
He said StreetLevel is committed to making Grid the best high-end development in the Greater Houston area. He said the target consumer makes more than $75,000 a year, has a lot of disposable income, and appreciates quality products and a good quality of life.
“It’s the highest quality product that we think that’s been developed in Fort Bend County, and certainly the newest. What we wanted was people on top and the people who live there are people who can spend money. When they spend money, they produce sales tax and they support the city and the services of Stafford, Texas. They also create an environment that employers like today,” Murphy said.
Even though the development is well under way, there is still some hand-wringing going on at City Hall, or at least in the mayor’s office. Following Murphy’s presentation, Mayor Leonard Scarcella stood up and went on a five-minute rant belittling the project and the developers.
“I want to say unequivocally, we want it to be a success, but I will tell you we have reservations,” he said, alleging that StreetLevel wanted to back out of its contract and have the city issue bonds to speed the project along.
“The simple fact of it is we have a 10-year contract with Street Level that took a long time to negotiate. It was signed on April 11 of last year. The problem with it is it simply has a schedule in it that is unobtainable,” he said. “It basically said they would develop basically all of this you’ve seen up there within three years and be completed by the end of 2021. In order to meet the requirements of their schedule, their projections, and to in effect bring about $150 million in sales in that area. It won’t work and I’ve tried to tell everyone that it won’t work and now it’s coming clear that it won’t. It’s a 10-year contract. It’s not something that’s going to be done in three years It’s going to take the full 10 years but the thing that’s so alarming to us is there is the concern, or at least referenced that we’ve got to expedite things.”
Scarcella complained that adding 5,000 more people to the city of 18,000 would shift political power at the polls. He also questioned calling it a point of destination, saying resort cities like Branson, Mo., Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Cooperstown, NY, are points of destination.
Murphy politely rebuffed Scarcella, admitting that he was right in that the project is behind schedule, but pointed some of the blame right back at City Hall. He said Hurricane Harvey and the wet winter that just passed have slowed the project.
“The city … did a good job in their negotiations … it took a little longer than we all wanted it to, we couldn’t start some of the work until that was done so are we behind, yeah,” he said. “Our agreement with the city is such that there’s really two major parts of it. One they reimburse us for roads that will be owned by the city. They’re reimbursing us $3.5 million for roads that are probably $6 million to build.”
Even behind schedule, Murphy said the $500 million project will soon be generating a significant sales tax for the city.
“It’s still going to produce a lot of sales tax and the way it’s structured the city gets the first $250,000 and then after that there’s a sharing of it to help cover the services that they provide,” he said.
Representatives from Windstream commented that the company has made a $1 million investment in fiberoptic infrastructure in Grid.
“I thank the people who had a vision not what Stafford is today but what Stafford can be in the future,” Murphy said.