Mar 23

Houston traffic is back, and that’s a good sign for the economy

(Cover Photo: Carl Carlock, left, goes through the order line at Cleburne Cafeteria on Thursday, March 18, 2021 in Houston. The Restaurant has seen an increase in business by about 20 percent over the last month.)

The accelerating rollout of vaccines, the lifting of social distancing restrictions, and the sense that the coronavirus pandemic is nearing its end has Houstonians packing restaurants, shops and salons, and leading an upswing in the consumer-driven economy.

Despite warning from public health officials that the pandemic has yet to be brought under control, customers are returning to local businesses in numbers not seen in more than a year. Traffic moving through the city’s major intersections returned to pre-pandemic levels earlier this month, according to data from the Greater Houston Partnership, while reservation at Houston restaurants rose above pre-pandemic levels last week, according to the online reservation service Open Table.

“It’s spring break, it’s cabin fever, it’s vaccinated folks,” said Melissa Stewart, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. “We’ll definitely take it.”

At the historic Cleburne Cafeteria on Bissonnet, March sales are up 20 percent from the previous month, said owner George Mickelis. The increase in diners is more than welcome after sales fell by as much as 80 percent last year and nearly sunk the 80-year-old institution.

“We’re just now starting to see some normalcy that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said, noting sales are just approaching pre-pandemic levels. “We’re seeing an end to a horrific time in history for our country and our small business and just for everybody.”

Around 6 million Texans had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of last week, according to state data, and 3 million were fully vaccinated. For nearly a month, there have been no areas of Texas where COVID-19 hospitalizations make up more than 15 percent of total hospital capacity.

Ariel Gurvey, who lives in the Westbury neighborhood, received her second vaccine at the end of February. Since then, she’s taken special joy in the simple task of going grocery shopping.

“Since I have some health issues, all my shopping was either curbside or delivery or Amazon,” she said. “Now, I feel comfortable in the store.”

For restaurants and retailers, the return of customers like Gurvey is bringing long-awaited relief. An estimated 11,000 restaurants closed across the state since the pandemic started, according to the Texas Restaurant Association, while the region lost more than 200,000 jobs, concentrated in consumer-facing industries, according to the Labor Department.

Medical professionals, however, fear people are letting their guards down too quickly. The nation is still months away from herd immunity and it remains uncertain how effective the vaccines are against new variants of the virus.

In Texas, more than 46,000 died from COVID-19, including nearly 7,800 in Greater Houston.

“Every time I’m driving by and see packed restaurants, packed bars and spring breakers, it gives me pause,” said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, infectious diseases director at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School. “It’s been a year, and we just need a couple more months.”

Alamo Drafthouse, the dine-in movie theater chain with a location in Katy, isn’t keen on waiting longer. The company, headquartered in Austin, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month after the pandemic hammered its sales, closing its theaters for five months and furloughing 100 employees in Katy alone.

He’s still down about 10 percent compared to March 2019, he said, “but there are a growing amount of people beginning to venture out.”

The increase in activity is spreading across sectors. Interest from prospecitve retail tenants has “increased notably in the past few weeks,” said Kenneth Katz, whose real estate firm owns 30 commercial properties in Houston, including PlazAmericas Mall in Sharpstown. “Things feel very active.”

The Purchasing Manager’s Index, a monthly survey used by supply chains to adjust production to demand, shows the local economy expanding, hitting highest reading in February in nearly two year, said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. The online hiring platform Snagajob reported a 34 percent increase in job postings over the last month in the Houston area, driven by hiring at warehouses and delivery services.

Posting for restaurant workings climbed 9 percent.

People are returning to work faster in Houston and in Texas, Jankowski said, citing data from Kastle Systems, which sells security services to office buildings. More than one third, or 37 percent of Houstonians, have returned to their desks, compared to about 15 percent of workers in New York and 27 percent in Los Angeles.

“Economic activity is picking up and we’re seeing it across the board,” he said. “It’s not back to pre-pandemic levels, but we’re a lot better off than we were even three months ago.”

The recovery, however, remains uneven. Overall sales at Dish Society, a Houston restaurant chain with five locations, have picked up significantly in recent weeks as more people began dining out, said Aaron Lyons, the restaurant chain’s chief executive. Revenues are running at or near pre-pandemic levels.

The chain’s Heights and Memorial locations are on track for strong comebacks, Lyons said, but the downtown location remains closed. People are starting to return to downtown offices, but at a trickle — not enough to sustain a restaurant, Lyons said.

“I don’t think the traffic is there downtown, yet,” he said. “It’s still really, really dead.”

By Amanda Drane
Houston Chronicle

Read the Original Article Here

Mar 23

Oil bust, and pandemic, leave Houston with nation’s highest office vacancy rate

HOUSTON – As oil prices inch back up from a terrible year, and Covid vaccines offer hope that the pandemic will be beaten, Houston’s commercial real estate business is far from recovered.

The city has more than 200 million square feet of office space, in all shapes and sizes. Now, after the oil busts of 2014, 2020, and the pandemic, a greater percentage of that office space is emptier than any other major city in the country.

From a distance, it’s tough to see inside Houston’s downtown towers. Get a little closer, though, and a visitor might be the only one there. Houston’s office-vacancy rate sits at about 25%, leaving some buildings completely empty.

Corporate interior architact Jeffrey Abel says, while business is picking up, the combination of plunging oil prices and pandemic shutdowns gave him a front-row seat to the city’s office-space retreat.

“We saw a lot of projects just come to a screeching halt,” he says. “Most of our clients decided to ‘pause’ and see what was going to happen.”

Between projects that were halted, and employers who consolidated space or closed-shop, in the face of Covid-restrictions, a Bloomberg study finds Houston tenants vacated more than 3 million square feet of existing office space, last year, while another 3 million square feet is under construction.

“I’m listening to people I really care about and respect, saying ‘Houston is going to do well, coming out of this’,” says commercial real estate broker Jason Baker of Baker Katz, “But I definitely think the slowest segment, in the real estate sector, is going to be office space.”

Still, there are those in the real estate industry who say, in a town where oil ‘busts’ turn to ‘booms’, demand for office space will return.

“The office is where the (work) culture, collaboration, creativity lives,” says JLL President Dan Bellow. “It’s where the mojo is, and there ain’t no mojo in your kitchen.”

Bellow says, at the current vacancy rate, there’s about three to four years worth of office demand, that may take that long to absorb.

Meantime, while it’s bad news for office landlords, the price for available space has tumbled, as well. That means a relative bargain for companies that ‘are’ looking for space.

by Tom Zizka
Fox 26 Houston

Read the Original Article (and Interview) Here

Mar 11

Retail wrap: Charming Charlie is making a comeback

Charming Charlie, a women’s apparel and fashion accessories chain retailer, announced plans to open 14 locations in March and April in Texas, California, New York and the Midwest. The openings include stores to open March 12 in First Colony and Willowbrook Mall. Additional stores will open over the summer and fall.

“We’re incredibly pleased to be bringing Charming Charlie back to its origin city of Houston and continuing to grow in all aspects of our business, especially in light of the challenges businesses have faced in the last year.” Steve Lovell, president of Charming Charlie, said in an announcement. “We also look forward to reopening in the communities who love the brand most.”

Charming Charlie is reviving its retail stores after liquidating more than 260 stores following its second bankruptcy filing in 2019. Company founder Charlie Chanaratsopon acquired the retailer’s trademarks, website domains, customer database and social media assets in fall 2019. The store roll out, which began in September, was delayed due to COVID-19.

The Signorelli Co., developer of the Valley Ranch master-planned community near U.S. 59 and the Grand Parkway northeast of Houston, launched a new brand for its 14-acre multi-purpose live event space. The Hill at Valley Ranch will be ramping up live music events in 2021 as part of a new partnership with Oak View Group Facilities. The Hill at Valley Ranch has hosted the annual Valley Ranch 4th Fest, an annual Independence Day festival and fireworks show.

Baker Katz, a Houston-based real estate brokerage and developer, is developing Brenham Crossing, a 50-acre retail project at U.S. 290 and Chappell Hill Road in Brenham in partnership with the city of Brenham. Slated to open in 2022, the project will initially have 163,518 square feet of retail space. Retailers committing to space so far are Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Five Below, Burke’s and Petsmart. Jeff Stein at Dallas-based CBRE Group arranged financing for the project.

Krazy Dollar Store #5 leased 10,000 square feet at 8404 Texas 6 South. Wil Logan represented the landlord, Harman Income REIT.

Sure Mercies Ministries renewed 2,742 square feet at 8404 Texas 6 South. Wil Logan represented the landlord, Harman Income REIT.

Cheaters Creamery leased 500 square feet at 5002 Washington Ave. Eric Broussard of Resolut RE represented the tenant.

Elite Dry Cleaners leased 1,500 square feet in the Kleinwood Shopping Center, at 7310 Louetta Road in Spring, Texas. Josh O’Toole of Phillips Edison & Co. represented the landlord. Wes Miller of Wulfe & Co. represented the tenant.

By Katherine Feser
Chron.com

Read the Original Article Here

Mar 11

Baker Katz Breaks Ground on 163,518 SF Retail Project in Brenham, Texas

BRENHAM, TEXAS — Houston-based development and leasing firm Baker Katz has broken ground on Brenham Crossing, a 163,518-square-foot retail project in Brenham, located about 75 miles northwest of Houston. Baker Katz is developing the property, which spans 50 acres at the intersection of U.S. Highway 290 and Chappell Hill Road, in partnership with the City of Brenham. Retailers including Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Five Below, PetSmart and Burkes Outlet have already signed leases at the center, which is scheduled to open in 2022.

By Taylor Williams
REBusiness Online

Read the Original Article Here

Mar 9

Baker Katz Breaks Ground on 50-Acre Retail Development in Brenham, Texas

Brenham, Texas — Baker Katz has broken ground on Brenham Crossing, a 50-acre retail development located at the southwest corners of Highway 290 and Chappell Hill Road in Brenham. Five retailers are sset to open within the 163,518-square-foot first phase of development, including Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Five Below, Burke’s and PetSmart. Jeff Stein of Dallas-based CBRE Group Inc. secured financing for the development, which is scheduled to open next year.

By Shopping Center Business
Read the Original Article Here

Mar 9

Upcoming Brenham Crossing retail development officially breaks ground

Baker Katz, a full-service commercial real estate brokerage firm specializing in retail tenant representation, investment sales, project development and leasing, partnered with the City of Brenham to host a groundbreaking ceremony today to celebrate the construction and leasing progress on Brenham Crossing, the new retail development on the southwest and southeast corners of Highway 290 and Chappell Hill Road in Brenham, Texas.

The event featured remarks from Brenham Mayor Milton Tate, Brenham City Manager James Fisher, Baker Katz Development Principal Kenneth Katz, and Washington County Judge John Durrenberger.

Brenham Crossing is a 50-acre project, initially featuring 163,518 square feet of retail space. Five retailers have signed leases, including Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Five Below, Burke’s and Petsmart. The project was developed by Houston-based Baker Katz, the project’s financing was brokered by Jeff Stein at Dallas-based CBRE Group, Inc. The project is slated to open next year.

By REJournals
Read the Original Article Here

Mar 8

Groundbreaking Held For Shopping Center Project, First Wave of Retailers Announced

A milestone years in the making was accomplished today (Monday) for the Baker Katz shopping center project in Brenham.

Representatives from the City of Brenham and Washington County met this morning with Baker Katz and Arch-Con Corporation, the contractor for the project, to break ground at the site. The first wave of retailers for the shopping center was also revealed.

Confirmed for the shopping center are Marshalls, Hobby Lobby, PetSmart, Burkes Outlet and Five Below. More retailers are expected to come, and as contracts are signed, Baker Katz and Arch-Con will notify the city as to who is coming.

Brenham Mayor Milton Tate said the project has been a long time coming, and is thrilled to see progress being made.

Washington County Judge John Durrenberger said it has been a collaborative effort between all parties involved to get this project off the ground, and expects the shopping center will add nicely to the city and county’s retail environment.

Work at the site, located on 35 acres of land at the intersection of Highway 290 and Chappell Hill Street, picked back up this winter after grinding to a halt for several months due to COVID-19 related delays.

The first stores in the shopping center are expected to open in the spring of 2022.

By Josh Blaschke
KWHI – 1280AM & 101.7FM

Read the Original Article Here

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