Across the vast expanse of Harris County, land development happens in every direction. The Bayou City is always reinventing itself.
Unapologetic urban sprawl has practically been a town trademark. But this is the 21st century and years of urban planning memes have filtrated through a maturing leadership.
Surprise, Houston does some “smart growth” development, like urban rail transit and high-density luxury residential. And sometimes it’s spectacular.
In the spring of 2015, Texas Medical Center started rolling out a vision for a 30-acre biological research campus it called TMC3 Innovation Campus. Because the architectural concept is structured on the DNA’s double helix, it’s often referred to as the Double Helix Campus.
The estimated cost is $2 billion and it would include retail, a hotel and possibly its own rail line.
Two years since the TMC3 Innovation Campus was first floated, it is still more concept than reality. Nothing has been built but plans are solidifying. Last December, Texas Medical Center CEO Dr. Robert Robbins announced plans for a hotel and convention center that would reach the construction phase by early 2018 and be completed in 2020.
A third-party developer that he declined to identify would finance and build the hotel/convention facility.
The core concept of the campus is achieve greater scientific advances by promoting scientific collaboration between the city’s four major medical institutions: the University of Texas M.C. Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Texas.
The challenge is to coordinate the relocation of the essential missions of each institution.
Gensler sparked the imagination of stakeholders and Houston officials when it unveiled a prototype campus that has as its centerpiece a 250,000-square-foot park shaped like a double helix. The park would function as the pedestrian connectivity element around which all other functions would be assembled.
There would be 350,000 square feet of research and office buildings, 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, underground parking for 5,700 vehicles.
The project site is south of the existing Texas Medical Center. Most of it is surface parking located between South Braeswood Boulevard and Old Spanish Trail (Business U.S. 90). The west boundary is Bertner Avenue and the east boundary is Staffordshire.
The vision promoted by TMC, Gensler and the Urban Land Institute is years from reaching maturity. However, other developers are being enticed to capitalize on what is to come.
This summer, construction will begin on a 16-story hotel that is to be located directly across Bertner Avenue from the future campus. Plans for the hotel were already in progress in 2015, but since it was first reviewed by the city Planning Commission, the project has undergone a dramatic change.
The Chinese-American developer, Zhejiang Blossom Tourism Group Houston LLC, originally designed a nine-story, $31 million budget hotel that would service the many hospitals around its location; it’s at the corner of Bertner and LeHall Street.
The developer’s manager, Xuefeng Shen, assembled enough contiguous parcels to begin the project in 2016, but the company wanted the corner lot at Bertner and LeHall and the homeowner was holding out. While Xuefeng Shen was waiting out the holdout—the property was eventually acquired—the time delay was put to good use and the company dreamed bigger.
The hotel went through an identity change, going from the more generic Blossom Hotel and Suite to the more market specific Blossom Hotel Medical Center.
The project budget grew to almost $95 million, the hotel tower rose to 16 stories and a total height of 203 feet. The parking garage design expanded from six levels to eight and will be able to hold 269 vehicles.
The hotel square footage is now 400,000 square feet. There will be 265 rooms, and the original commercial hotel style exterior was ditched for a stately residential look.
Blossom Hotel Medical Center is expected to reach completion by then end 2018, well ahead of TMC’s plans for its on-campus hotel/convention center. And conference space is being built into the Blossom Hotel.
The Blossom Hotel is just the opening act in what promises to be a major redevelopment of acres of land south of the Texas Medical Center. In April 2016, Shell Oil Company revealed its intention to sell 21 acres of real estate it owns that is a few blocks southwest of the planned site for TMC3 Innovation Campus.
Warehouse structures, an office building and parking garage occupy the Shell site. The real property can all be demolished for whatever grand plans one or more developers would like to see cozy up to the TMC campus.
Cushman & Wakefield obtained the listing, 1500 Old Spanish Trail, and touts the Shell property as the largest contiguous redevelopment site near Texas Medical Center. The Urban Land Institute has already labeled the Shell site as a potential incubator space for TMC3 spin-off projects.