I have three things to say about this.
Despite public and private attempts to revive a shopping scene downtown, the retail market has struggled.
Some stores like Forever 21 and Books-A-Million have opened, but most of the activity in recent years has come from restaurants and bars.
Turnover has been high.
Last year, 16 street-level restaurants and bars closed, including three that had been open less than a year, according to the Houston Downtown Management District. At least one relocated and a couple of others lost their leases.
“A lot of nighttime traffic has moved over to different parts of town,” said Sherman Lewis, one of the owners of Cabo, a shuttered Mexican restaurant that helped popularize the fish-taco craze.
But even as the market for downtown retail and restaurants remains shaky, and sometimes unsustainable, new businesses continue to open.
Owners now pin their hopes on new residential and office towers, public investment in parks, transportation and the area around the George R. Brown Convention Center, and an overall economic rebound.
The downtown district counted 24 establishments that opened last year, and at least a couple more have opened or will do so early this year. Most are in the food and bar business. One was a large grocer.
The number of residents has been slow to grow. About 12 years ago, some 3,000 people lived downtown and officials were projecting that number to triple by 2010.
Today it’s around 4,400.
“Everyone has a vision of what they want downtown,” Bob Eury, the district’s executive director, said at a recent business event about the future of downtown. “We’re not quite there yet.”
1. Given the state of the economy, having more businesses open than close in the past year sounds like a win to me. All things considered, it could be a whole lot worse.
2. Having nearly fifty percent population growth over the past decade isn’t too shabby, either, even if it’s well below the rather optimistic projection. As one of the commenters on the story says, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem – people don’t want to move in until there are more amenities, but until the population increases sufficiently there isn’t enough support for those amenities. Part of the issue is getting residential construction off the ground. Discovery Green was a boon for that, and the proposed Convention Center district includes some further residential possibilities. I’d still like to see a focus on making something happen with the derelict properties downtown, as they seem to offer the greatest potential for residential growth.
3. These things do take time. As noted previously, Midtown took the better part of 20 years to get where it is. I don’t know when exactly downtown’s renaissance is supposed to have begun, but by my measure it started after Midtown’s. It’s not there yet, but it’s come a long way.