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Camden puts planned deals back on front burner

Jennifer Dawson

Houston Business Journal

Camden Property Trust is poised to move ahead with several apartment developments that were put on hold last year because of a glut of multifamily units in the Houston market.

Ric Campo, Camden's chairman and CEO, expects much of the local rental units to be absorbed in 2005, creating a decent rental market in 2006 and 2007.

"You've had supply starting to abate, and job growth starting to pick up," says Campo. "We believe that 2005 will have twice as much absorption as completions."

Campo projects 14,600 apartment units will be completed this year in Houston, with 11,800 absorptions. He expects only 9,400 units will be completed in 2005, while 18,000 units will be in demand.

To be ready for that anticipated demand, the Houston-based real estate investment trust is planning to break ground on at least three apartment complexes next year, some of which have been in the works for years.

Camden will likely break ground in mid- to late 2005 on the superblock project in Midtown. The mixed-use development is in position to move forward after Camden recently purchased the last two acres it needed of the five-acre site. The Midtown Redevelopment Authority and Camden each own part of the site, which is bounded by Main, Anita, McGowen and Travis.

F. Charles Le Blanc, executive director of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, says it took seven years to acquire all of the superblock land, so this last purchase is significant.

"All the pieces are now together," he says.

Design work is in motion on a high-density, urban development on the site. Campo envisions the superblock having 400 to 500 apartments in a six- to eight-story midrise. The ground floor will likely have retail space or space where an artist could live and work, he says.

In another deal that took three years to piece together, Campo says Camden will probably break ground in early to mid-2005 on a multifamily complex in the Fourth Ward. The 9.1-acre site that encompasses seven blocks is roughly bounded by Valentine to the west, Ruthven to the north, the Interstate 45 feeder road to the east and St. Joseph Parkway and Baldwin to the south.

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(heres the rest of the story)

Camden plans to construct 618 apartments in two phases, the first containing 355 units. Total development cost for the four-story, urban complex will be north of $70 million, Campo says.

Also in the works, Campo says Camden may start phase two of Camden Oak Crest in west Houston in 2005.

Camden Oak Crest is located at the corner of Richmond and Kirkwood. The 300 new apartment units would be built on part of the 60 acres Camden owns in the area.

The REIT holds land bounded by Kirkwood, Old Westheimer Road, Westpark and Richmond. In addition, it owns property roughly bounded by Kirkwood, Richmond, Meadow Glen and Royal Oaks Boulevard.

Camden's Greenway Plaza property might be in the mix soon as well. The company owns the green space between the old Compaq Center and the Mercedes dealership on Highway 59.

Campo foresees building a four-story urban infill project with roughly 266 units on the back of the site. A retail site on the front part of the property will likely go under construction in 2005, but details are not yet available on that project.

As of June, Camden owned and managed 145 properties containing 51,882 apartments in Sunbelt and Midwestern markets. The REIT has 4,400 apartment units in its development pipeline.

"We have a lot of activity in Houston," Campo says. "Clearly there's still a big market for rental when we look at Houston going forward."

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Wow, they are adding retail to the Greenway one! Too bad the area isnt "urban" enough. It is essentially an office park. oh well. Hopefully other stuff pops up.

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I wish Ric Campo and Charles Le Blanc would go to the newly re-developed and urban planned Pearl District in downtown Portland and take a look around. This was a blighted and run-down area of Portland for years. Sound familiar? Today it is a model for urban planning and redevelopment. There is light rail, pocket parks, regional parks, boardwalks, huge sidewalks, farmers markets, 6 to 8 story residential with ground floor retail, and people everywhere. I saw all of this during a trip to Portland two weeks ago. I was blown away. I was only in the Pearl District for about one hour and as I walked around taking it all in, all I could think about was Midtown Houston.

I hope and dream that Midtown Houston will one day be like the Pearl District or the NY neighborhood around Washington Square Park in the Village. This is my Dream for Midtown.

The Super Block is ground zero, this is where the battle for Midtown is going to be won or lost. I hope they get it right! The future of Midtown and our quality of life depends on it. I liked the idea of the McGowen Green proposal but I understand why it never happened. Hopefully local Houston boy, Ric Campo, does his hometown proud and makes Houston re-development history in Midtown for the right reasons.

Dream

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Article in today's Chronicle:

Aug. 31, 2004, 12:08AM

Ideas filling vacant block

Some see park, others see urban oasis in Midtown

By MIKE SNYDER

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Like a blank canvas, a long strip of prime real estate lies vacant in the heart of Midtown while planners, developers and community leaders debate its future.

The company that owns most of the property has unspecified plans to build a mixed-use project combining shops, apartments and other components.

A few self-described dreamers, however, cling to hopes of using at least part of the site for a park they say would enhance life for Midtown's growing population.

Despite the competing visions for the property, there is broad agreement that decisions about its use and design will have enormous influence over the shape of development throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

"It's the centerpiece of the overall Midtown development," said Charles LeBlanc, the executive director of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority.

Interest in what happens in Midtown extends beyond the people who live and work there.

Because of its location near downtown, proximity to Metro's light rail line and extensive vacant property, architects and planners say the neighborhood represents Houston's best opportunity for urban-style development where people can walk among homes, offices, restaurants and shops.

The 270,000-square-foot site, known in Midtown as the "superblock," is uninterrupted by cross streets and is vacant except for a small strip center on one corner. A Metro rail stop at McGowen, on the northern end of the property, would provide transit riders with convenient access to whatever is built on the site.

Last year, David Crossley, the president of the nonprofit Gulf Coast Institute, proposed that the superblock be used for a park, possibly with a parking garage beneath it.

Crossley and others who embraced his idea said the park would be an enormous long-term asset to the neighborhood.

"The area would double in value," said Dan Barnum, an architect and board member of the Midtown Management District.

Supporters drew up a preliminary design for the park and gave it a name: McGowen Green. They estimated costs of $12 million for the land and $65 million to build the park and underground garage.

High costs may shrink park

Leaders of the city-chartered Midtown Redevelopment Authority, which owned most of the superblock when the park proposal surfaced, said using the entire site for a park was impractical because of the high cost.

The authority began conveying the land to Camden Property Trust through sales and land swaps several years ago after choosing the firm's submission from several proposals for development of the property.

"I think everyone would agree it would be wonderful to have a park with urban, high-rise development surrounding it," said Robert Sellingsloh, the authority's board chairman.

But he said the most likely use of the property is a mixed-use development surrounding a park of undetermined size on land that the authority would retain.

Funding up against time

Ed Wulfe, chair of the Main Street Coalition, which is overseeing redevelopment along the Main Street corridor, said he is looking for money from foundations or other sources to help develop a park on the site.

Wulfe said Houston's apartment market is "moderately soft," giving park backers six to nine months to try to raise money before the developer starts construction.

Ric Campo, the chief executive officer of Camden Property Trust, which owns about 60 percent of the property, said the company does not expect to begin work on its project until next year.

The redevelopment authority owns most of the rest of the property, but Sellingsloh said he expects Camden ultimately to acquire all but a small part of the site.

Vision not becoming reality

Campo said he envisions a six- or seven-story project, perhaps with apartments over shops. The project also might include a public facility such as a library or museum, Campo said.

"We're working on a conceptual design and working on costs," Campo said.

The debate over the best use of the superblock underscores an ongoing discussion about the form of new development in Midtown.

A number of architects and planners say recent projects have been designed in suburban styles inconsistent with the vision of an urban, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood promoted on the redevelopment authority's Web site.

The most prominent example, they say, is a store at Gray and Bagby designed with a large parking lot in front. Midtown leaders' efforts to persuade the company to change the design were mostly unsuccessful.

"So far, much of the redevelopment of Midtown has been a great disappointment," said Houston architect Larry Albert, who recently helped organize a design competition for a hypothetical mixed-use project in Midtown.

Building for 'creative class'

Guy Hagstette, Mayor Bill White's special assistant for urban design, said plenty of opportunities still exist to create an urban environment in Midtown.

Supporters say such designs

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The fact that people are already talking about "hanging [their] head in shame" is verrrrrrrrry telling. Notice this article mentions nothing about the much-ballyhooed "Area Plan Ordinance," which the Chronicle devoted several articles to last year and which would have all but guaranteed urban development along Main Street. When will Houston get something right?

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  • 2 months later...

I guess this would be the "McGowen Green" Property? Apparently dreams of a midtown super park/new central library on the Sperblock have given way to drumroll please, yet another giant apartment complex. YeeHaw! Maybe it's old news, but it's news to me that construction is iminent.

From http://www.nreionline.com/mag/real_estate_...ouston_ignites/

"Houston-based Camden Property Trust, a multifamily real estate investment trust (REIT), is planning a 500-unit development on a 5.5-acre parcel in the center of the neighborhood. Developer Yancey Hausman, in partnership with Point Center Partners, has announced plans for a 100,000 sq. ft. mixed-use development that will include 27,000 sq. ft. of first-floor retail and 75,000 sq. ft. of commercial office space. Occupancy of Point Center Midtown is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2005."

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Wow the thing that the developers were cooing about to be a catalyst for midtowns urban renewal is going to be apartments? Geez I am having a love-hate relationship with this city.

welcome to the club. If you never leave Houston and never read about anything happening anywhere else, Houston seems like a great place. I was born and raised here, but I travel extensively and the reality can be a bit harsh. There are lots of good intentions here, but the populace never demands excellence. Mediocrity in the development of public spaces is not only the norm, but considered good enough - as long as something happens, people seem to be satisfied. Note: It's not about money. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Houston on public infrastructure, but I would argue that it's money not very well spent. Minute Maid, the Toyota Center, Reliant 'world", the expansion of I-10 West, the Montrose bridge over US59 etc. etc. all come to mind as missed opportunities to do great things. Likewise the private developers simply follow suit and do just enough to get by and make a few bucks.

Not since Jesse Jones, Roy Hofheinz, or the expat Gerald Hines has this city had a visionary developer. You'll excuse me for not including Tilman Fertitta, but the jury is still out on whether his legacy will be one of greatness or not.

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it already has.  notice "c" quality apartment complexes offering up to three months free rent?  it's a blood bath with no end in sight.

if the lenders continue to lend, the builders will continue to build....

Builders keep building at a furious pace for the same reason that individuals keep buying single-family homes at a furious pace - low interest rates. Most of the big apt. developments are flipped to apt. management corps. or REITs within a year of their completion. These projects are still considered to be good long-term investments because they are being financed at incredibly low interest rates which allow the owners to weather low occupancy and to afford the "free months" promotions in the short-term.

When interest rates do rise, single-family home sales will drop and these apartments will benefit from an increase in non-home buying renters.

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The rendering doesn't exactly look like a potential crack-selling environment at least. I can't see utilizing prime land in Midtown for a library since, I'm thinking, 90+% of the residents in Midtown are childless, so they're appealing to the apparent market, childless apartment dwellers. I too would love to see that area developed as a master-plan. We all know the results could be stunning, such a great location. Not much chance of that, I suppose.

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Last I saw, the "superblock" still had no trace of development, while a large block -- or series of them -- along Heiner Street on the east side of Freedmen's Town sported several Camden signs. I'll bet that's where this is going to be.

And anyone who wants to live right on 45, well ... that's their problem.

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Last I saw, the "superblock" still had no trace of development, while a large block -- or series of them -- along Heiner Street on the east side of Freedmen's Town sported several Camden signs. I'll bet that's where this is going to be.

And anyone who wants to live right on 45, well ... that's their problem.

The superblock on Main at McGowen has Camden signs on it as well advertising a mixed use development coming soon. And the rendering above clearly shows the median on Main St. and the light rail tracks.

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Putting in the proper amenities plus the great location between downtown, the Museum District and the Med Center not to mention the high number of townhomes that are going up (and still going up) in other areas of Midtown suggest that apartment complexes in Midtown aren't necessarily fated to be run-down, lower income dwellings. The neighborhood, overall, would need to deteriorate before that, and if that happens, it means that your townhome owners, businesses and so forth have left as well.

If you look at the Gulfton "ghetto", for example, what's really there in terms of amenities that would keep your upward professional there? Transit options? Great restaurants?

None of that.

Meanwhile, Uptown has a pretty good mix of townhomes and apartments that have been there for a couple of decades now because there are amenities in place and its all near a major business center (where people work).

Not saying that Otis's concern isn't valid but when I think about the other factors that are in play for Midtown, I think having chic, eye-catching apartments in a burgeoning area such as Midtown is also an advantage. Not everyone with an urban conscience can afford townhomes, otherwise New York City wouldn't be able to retain its population base in Manhattan and the Near South Side of Chicago may not be seeing the uptick in development and occupation that it's seen over the last six or seven years.

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I live in Midtown . . . just a few blocks East of the "Super Block", and am dismayed by the possibility of yet another large apartment complex going up in the area. Yes, the Ventana & Calais apartments are better alternatives to the vacant lots, but only slightly better! . . .they still have a long, long ways to go. Post Midtown was a step in the right direction, but if I have to live next to an apartment complex, it should be like the one I saw while visiting Pasdadena, CA.

http://www.paseocoloradopasadena.com/

Paseo is also managed by the Post company, but was built above a fantastic outdoor shopping mall.

I've sent e-mail to Camden and the Midtown Management District expressing my concerns. If we don't speak up, developers will continue to build CR*P.

BTW danax, adults enjoy libraries too. In fact, I see more adults than children in libraries.

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I don't think anyone is arguing that there should be no apartments in Midtown, but any neighborhood that is totally dominated by rental units, especially in large blocks like the newer developments, is at risk. The Gulfton Ghetto, which I think was the chic area for young professionals in the 1960s, is the classic Houston example. In any event, Midtown west of San Jacinto may not be not well-suited for heavy townhome or condo development since every north-south street is a major thoroughfare. East of San Jacinto there is less traffic and consequently more townhome development. Maybe over time we will see Midtown east and west of San Jacinto become considered as two distinct neighborhoods.

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Then again people y'all putting houston with other cities. New york has their own style, chicago has their on style, and houston has their own style. Houston is different toward those cities. Houston is in their own world. I don;t see no problems, cause theu building these apartments for a reason. People don't care where they built it at, people still going to spend their money for a place to live. I would. So who cares, be happy midtown getting something. geez. I hate to start a reality estate with y'all.

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There's also the possibility that these rental units might eventually be converted to condos, which would stabilize the turnover problem. This has happened here before -- the Renaissance at River Oaks (I think that's the name) on Shepherd just south of San Felipe were rentals owned by Gables when I moved to Houston in 2000. A year or so later they converted to condos. The same thing is happening downtown right now with the St. Germain.

I'm not totally opposed to apartment development, as long as they're well built, which many of the newer properties are, and the management keeps the property up well enough that rents don't start a downward trend. That's when problems start. And I think KinkaidAlum is right. If the rest of the neighborhood around stays stable and people don't perceive a problem with living near one of these complexes, it shouldn't be an issue. I know in my neighborhood, which is situated between Old Braeswood and Braeswood Place, the introduction of apartment complexes to the area ago hasn't been a major problem. There are a couple of complexes here that were built in the 1960s and they are not like what's in the Gulfton Ghetto -- they are still well maintained and occupied by professional people with good jobs. The neighborhood is much more than a few apartment complexes, and I think the comparisons to the Gulfton area are wrong. That neighborhood had nothing but apartments... thousands and thousands and thousands of them. Each of those complexes was much larger in the number of units than any of the ones being built in Midtown. And what was nearby? Not much except for Sharpstown, which never was an expensive, upper end neighborhood, even when it was new. Take a look at the original houses in Sharpstown and around Gulfton versus those in other neighborhoods built at the same time and they are much smaller, with more wood and less brick. I have a hard time seeing townhomes selling in the upper 200s to low 300s turning into a ghetto in the next 20 years. And, maybe apartments priced in a range where young professionals who aren't ready to purchase a home but want to live near downtown it's what's necessary to achieve the kind of critical mass in the area that will spur more high end retail and restaurant development. And keep in mind that not everyone in an apartment is there because they can't afford a house. Some of us don't want a large house and yard to take care of and may be just fine with apartment or condo life for many years to come.

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BTW danax, adults enjoy libraries too. In fact, I see more adults than children in libraries.

I go to the Central Library all the time, it's just that I don't see the City or County building one mainly for adults, especially when the Central one is pretty close. A Barnes & Noble is more likely.

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Sullivan,

EXACTLY! Great Post. I live in midtown, in one of the nicer complexes, and I could easily afford a nice house or condo. But I'm not ready to buy. I'm not a crackhead, and I don't plan on living in a crack den. Most of the people in my complex aren't crackheads, and are, instead, professionals.

Sure, some of the nicer complexes are offering rent specials. But so what? There's STILL extensive INCOME, EMPLOYMENT and CRINMINAL background checks.

I don't get it. Camden is creating an UPSCALE apt complex which will benefit midtown (bringing in the much-talked-about critical mass) and people on here are bitching and moaning. I could see if they announced that the rents would be $400 a month. THEN that's time to panic. But we're talking about a complex that's probably going to have units at $800 and up.

I like parks. I do. But in order to make a park viable, you have to have people LIVING NEAR IT. The idea for a block at McGowen was dumb. All it would have turned into was a drug-infested crack park.

I have a question I'd like to toss out to the entire board: where does everyone currently live?

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Sullivan,

EXACTLY! Great Post. I live in midtown, in one of the nicer complexes, and I could easily afford a nice house or condo. But I'm not ready to buy. I'm not a crackhead, and I don't plan on living in a crack den. Most of the people in my complex aren't crackheads, and are, instead, professionals.

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I'm out west towards Westchase. I think you have a perfect mix of different incomes in that area and the housing displays it. And, again, you have it all centered near a heavy commercial activity point. That's important if you want to sustain the viability of the area.

From what I've seen over my four years there, people who make $100,000 a year live within a three mile radius of people who earn 1/5 of that, a third of that, 1/2 of that and so on. You have a good mix of Anglo, Latino, Asian and African-American. They may not all interact with each other routinely but they coexist pretty much without a lot of hassle or inconvenience (outside of the traffic), and the area is pretty much well kept.

Now south of the West Park Tollway of course is a bit of a different story, but I digress.

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Location: Midtown, East of San Jacinto.

My objections to large apartment complexes (in Midtown) have nothing to do with crackheads, crack dens, transient population etc. I'm very well aware that these are nice, clean, and up-scale projects that attract nice, clean, and civil tenants. I doubt that these complexes will evolve into the "Gufton Ghetto."

My objections are rooted in POOR URBAN DESIGN. My earlier post complimented the Post Midtown complex. They sorta did it right . . . ground level retail, wide sidewalks, apartment units that actually open onto the sidewalk, good landscaping, decent architecture, Farrago's actually have people dining al fresco. I'm afraid that Camden's proposed project for the superblock will turn out to be like the Ventana, Calais, et al . . . as nice looking as they are, they are horrible from an urban design viewpoint. These apartments turn their backs to the neighborhood and the street. I'm sure they have fantastic amenities, nice party rooms etc. but they do not integrate into the urban fabric at all.

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Location: Midtown, East of San Jacinto.

My objections to large apartment complexes (in Midtown) have nothing to do with crackheads, crack dens, transient population etc. I'm very well aware that these are nice, clean, and up-scale projects that attract nice, clean, and civil tenants. I doubt that these complexes will evolve into the "Gufton Ghetto."

My objections are rooted in POOR URBAN DESIGN. My earlier post complimented the Post Midtown complex. They sorta did it right . . . ground level retail, wide sidewalks, apartment units that actually open onto the sidewalk, good landscaping, decent architecture, Farrago's actually have people dining al fresco. I'm afraid that Camden's proposed project for the superblock will turn out to be like the Ventana, Calais, et al . . . as nice looking as they are, they are horrible from an urban design viewpoint. These apartments turn their backs to the neighborhood and the street. I'm sure they have fantastic amenities, nice party rooms etc. but they do not integrate into the urban fabric at all.

I could be wrong, but I thought his complex had groundlevel retail as a component?

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According to the article, it will have both ground level retail and office space. With the residents, offices, and rail stop I would think it would be able to support some sidewalk cafes etc. Despite misgivings about too many apartments, this seems to be a reasonable project for this section of Midtown. It could very well be a very successful.

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I have a question I'd like to toss out to the entire board: where does everyone currently live?

Kirby & North Braeswood. I will be very interested in this new Camden property. Although I just moved and love where I am, in a couple of years it may be a place I seriously consider, given its location. Since moving into town from Westchase, I've become less and less car-dependent, and if I end up working downtown or in the medical center, housing on directly on the rail line would be extremely attractive to me. Not that it takes that long to take the bus to the rail line for me now, but being that much closer would be great.

I really do think this project will be highly successful. This is the first new residential/retail/office development being built directly at a MetroRail stop. I hope it will be a catalyst for further development on the many vacant lots surrounding it.

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Ralph Bivins wrote that article didn't he use to work for the Houston Chronicle? What happened?

He was. He's been gone for a while and Nancy Sarnoff replaced him. She used to be over at the HBJ. I don't know what the story was on this but since the Chronicle changed editors there's been some turnover of reporters the last couple of years.

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The project is actually going to be really nice. It will have some ground floor retail, plaza and park space, and will hide the parking garage. I fought for the park and still would love if the land were made into a park, but Camden will do a great job on this project. We might even see parks popping up around the superblock...

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