First, we simply must have a return to solid economic growth. New and expanding businesses are the foundation which provides not only jobs and benefits for our residents, but additional revenue for city services through higher sales tax collections and rising property values. We already have an impressive base. From Memorial Hermann SW and Houston Baptist University, the Hilton Southwest and Crown Plaza, to Best Buy, Staples, and Academy, and the thousands of small businesses where our neighbors put their own capital at risk, our neighborhood is home to many vibrant businesses. But the community needs strong leadership, new direction and an overall vision and plan for the future.
Don’t get me wrong. We have hard working, sincere, thoughtful people working at the neighborhood, association, and management district level. But they need the focused support of everyone in the community to make the big changes we need.
Image & Perception
It begins with working to change the image and perception of Southwest Houston. We wonder why business leaders are reluctant to invest serious capital in the district when our neighbors in Meyerland, The Galleria, Fort Bend County, and Memorial think we are a crime ridden, decaying, crumbling section of town. That view couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure we have challenges like many metropolitan areas, but we’re home to top tier schools like Strake Jesuit and St. Agnes Academy, St. Francis and Sugar Branch, and the new International High School. We enjoy three beautiful golf courses minutes apart, a world class Hospital and University, and hundreds of unique specialty restaurants. It’s a wonderful place and we should let people know! This is where it starts.
A national retail grocery operator. Who else is tired of driving to westheimer or inside the loop, or past the beltway to shop at a large conventional store? As a community we must reach out to executives in the food industry and develop a plan to recruit a chain operator to re-establish a store inside the district. Sure we have many nice small, clean, ethnic grocery stores. We should continue to support them. But we should also realize the tremendous economic impact that a traditional grocer brings to the community. Smaller retailers follow, other large chains begin to evaluate the opportunity, It changes the entire perception of an area. As my wife and I drove the district, precinct by precinct, we were disappointed to see empty box after empty box. This has to be at the top of the list. I worked in that industry for 15 years, I know how things get done, and we will work hard together to make it happen.
Next, I call for the creation of a shopping, dining, and entertainment destination, with open public space for events like concerts, festivals, and fairs. The property adjacent to PlazAmericas, the class D strip centers between Fondren & Marinette, Clarewood and Bellaire are ready for redevelopment. We should work with property owners, the management district, and the community to develop a plan for an off-campus, university style district like the Rice Village, or a public-private venue like Sugar Land Town center. HBU is within a half mile of this location, with thousands of students, faculty, and staff already in our community. It’s time we give our neighbors a reason to visit our part of town and business leaders a reason to invest in our future.
We can and should create an overall economic plan for the community by calling for the first annual Greater Southwest Houston Economic Summit. This event will recruit developers, business & community leaders, and elected officials for a working program. The summit will seek to evaluate the current economic situation, create a vision for the future, and develop specific plans for making that vision a reality. It will also improve the view of our community among those business leaders that vote with their corporate checkbooks, choosing to invest in Greater Sharpstown or looking at other areas. We should strive to hold that event as soon as possible, perhaps by mid 2012.
In addition, infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, and drainage are critical pieces of the puzzle. And of course there are plans by the City, TIRZ#20, and the Mgmt District to address this. But it’s time for action not just dialogue. As an example, even in the face of the inability of our leadership to address key intersections like Beechnut & Gessner, private industry has spent their own capital to both redevelop existing businesses as well as launch new ones. Staples, Best Buy, and the newest neighbor McDonalds both sustain and bring new life to our community. It’s time to help them by adding turn lanes, and expanding that crumbling intersection. This project alone will speak volumes about the commitment of our district to ongoing economic development.
These ideas are viable and will be effective as the key to a renewed Southwest Houston.