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Touting the strongest office market in Houston and an influx of residents and amenities, West Houston leaders seem pleased with economic development in the area.
Business and community leaders agree that the city's commercial and residential populations are shifting in their direction. But opinions vary -- depending on the home or business market -- as to whether upcoming challenges, such as the Clean Air Act's mandatory trip reduction, will affect that progression.
These and other topics of economic development were discussed March 10 when the Houston Business Journal held a forum on West Houston's growth. Forum participants included:
* Peggy Haden-Evans, marketing manager of Texas operations for American General Land Development Inc.
* Andrew R. Lear, president of Westchase Management Co.
* Marsi Liddell, director of resource and community development for Houston Community College.
* Patricia A. Maddox, executive director of the West Houston Association.
* Tim Relyea, executive vice president with Cushman Realty Corp.
Participants discussed such topics as commercial and residential real estate, education, as well as what will change the face of West Houston in the months to come. The following is a synopsis of the discussion.
HBJ: What is being done to spur economic development in the West Houston area?
Maddox: The West Houston Association works as a catalyst between all of the private sector corporations and developers in West Houston and all government agencies. We work primarily on infrastructure and regulatory issues and how they impact business growth and development in West Houston.
So I would say that all of the work that the West Houston Association does -- transportation, education, surface water supply, flood control, wetlands, the Clean Air Act -- all impact economic development.
Lear: I represent the Westchase Business Council. We're a complement, not competition for West Houston. We realize that Westchase actually is 40,000 people that live and work in the area. We're effectively a small city, or Edge City, according to definition. We have a voluntary group that pays dues to promote the economic, political nature of our community to try and increase profits to the bottom line. We've been very active since 1986 in that same area. Interestingly enough, we started the Westchase Business Council at the depth of Houston's recession primarily for that reason, to spur economic development. It has now been in business about eight years.
Liddell: The colleges are doing some things along those same lines in terms of economic development. We're implementing a new program on environmental issues. It's going to be either a credit or a non-credit course.
We are also doing all the racetrack teller training for the Sam Houston Racetrack Park, and that has been very, very interesting.
Within the next month, we're going to bring the small business development center satellite office to our Westchester campus. So there will be a big push to help small businesses comply with lots of different things, like the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act. All of those kinds of things are going to be focused at our Westchester campus.
HBJ: How is the commercial real estate market doing in West Houston? Where are the net absorptions and net losses in office space? What types of new developments should we expect to see in the next year or so?
Relyea: West Houston continues to be the strongest office market in the city. It has been that way for probably the last eight to nine years as far as the occupancy level of Class A space. Many of the benefits of that area and the fact that it will continue to stay strong is primarily based on the fact that a lot of the main facilities are owned vs. leased buildings.
In the downtown and Galleria areas, most major facilities are on a lease basis, which allows for a lot more tenant flight from the areas. But in the West Houston market, especially in the Energy Corridor area, probably 80 percent of the Class A facilities are owned by their occupants.
West Houston continues to get major relocations from other parts of the city. British Petroleum is moving there. BMC Software just finished its building a few months ago, moving from a southwest section of the city. These are two major companies that …