Published Jan 04, 2022 by A.J. Mistretta
The last year brought significant victories and a couple of setbacks to Houston. The region gained two new Fortune 500 companies for a total of 24, the third largest concentration in the nation. Several major innovation developments such as The Ion and East End Maker Hub opened, further solidifying Houston’s place as a tech and startup hub. Meanwhile, a number of the projects we were excited about at the start of 2021 debuted, including Texas Tower, Post Houston and Montrose Collective, while other significant developments such as TMC3 and the new Axiom Space headquarters broke ground. The vaccine rollout helped the region’s economy begin to recover, but multiple new waves of COVID-19 variants played havoc with our community and dampened economic gains.
As Houston and the world adjust to a new normal where the coronavirus is an ongoing menace, we can look forward to job growth and major projects in 2022 that will enhance the local economy and the quality of life for Houstonians. Here are just a few of the things we’ve got our eye on for the year ahead.
Houston had recovered roughly 70% of the jobs lost in the pandemic by fall 2021. In its annual economic forecast released in December, the Partnership estimated the region will create another 75,500 net new jobs in 2022, putting metro Houston extremely close to a full economic recovery. Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski said five factors will support job growth in the region next year: the ongoing U.S. expansion, robust global trade, energy consumption returning to pre-crisis levels, pent-up consumer demand and local population growth. All sectors are expected to see gains in the year ahead, with the greatest increases anticipated in administrative support and waste management; government; health care and social assistance; and professional, scientific and technical services. Houston’s unemployment rate sat at 5.1% in December, down from 7.9% a year earlier. Continued job creation and lower unemployment should lead to more opportunities for Houston workers in 2022.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise New HQ
Construction is nearing completion on Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) new global headquarters in Spring. Work started nearly two years ago on the 440,000-square-foot project that encompasses two, five-story buildings within the Springwoods Village development. HPE announced in December 2020 that it would relocate its corporate headquarters to Houston, adding another Fortune 500 company to the metro region. “As we look to the future, our business needs, opportunities for cost savings and team members’ preferences about the future of work, we are excited to relocate HPE’s headquarters to the Houston region,” HPE CEO Antonio Neri said at the time. “Houston is an attractive market to recruit and retain future diverse talent and where we are currently constructing a state-of-the-art new campus. We look forward to continuing to expand our strong presence in the market.”
Hines broke ground in October on Levit Green, a new 53-acre life sciences development rising near the intersection of Highway 288 and Holcombe Boulevard. The first phase of the project is a five-story, 270,000-square-foot building dubbed Levit Green 1 and it’s slated for completion by the end of the year. Levit Green 1 is the first of nine buildings that Hines will eventually develop around a series of manmade lakes on the 53-acre site. The company said Levit Green will help further establish Houston as a life sciences research and development hub.
University of Houston College of Medicine
The University of Houston College of Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of medical students in fall 2020, but soon the future physicians will be training inside a new, state-of-the-art building. Construction began in mid-2020 on the $80 million medical school building that’s rising above Brays Bayou on the edge of the UH campus. The three-story, 180,000-square-foot building will eventually anchor a broader, 43-acre health sciences complex. The facility slated for completion this summer will include classroom and meeting spaces as well as modern anatomy and simulation suites. A primary focus of the new UH College of Medicine is to address the shortage in primary care for low-income and minority communities in greater Houston.
Houston Zoo Centennial
This year, the Houston Zoo celebrates its centennial year with the debut of an immersive exhibit highlighting the Galapagos Islands. Lauded as the first major zoo exhibit to highlight the wildlife of the Pacific archipelago, the project will transport guests to an environment reminiscent of the islands with unique landscapes and oceanic habitats. When it opens near the zoo’s entrance in fall 2022, Galapagos Islands will feature sea lions, giant tortoises, sharks and a first for the Houston Zoo, Humboldt penguins. The zoo says nearly half of its total 55 acres has now been redeveloped as “immersive habitats” designed to give animals more space and allow visitors to experience them in more realistic environments.
Memorial Park Land Bridge
The tunnels are in place and soon cars will begin running through them. The much-anticipated Memorial Park Land Bridge is taking shape along Memorial Drive, which bisects the 1,500-acre park. Within a few months, the giant concrete tunnels that have been installed on the roadway will open to traffic, freeing up the land around them. Before the end of 2022, a 25-acre native prairie will cover the tunnels, creating a connection between the north and south sides of the park for visitors and wildlife to use. “It occurs to us, what if the landscape could become triumphant over the gray infrastructure of an urban city? What if we could lift people, plants, prairie and wildlife up and over this tear through the public park?” Thomas Woltz, owner and principal at Nelson Byrd Woltz landscape architecture firm told the Houston Chronicle in September. “We basically are generating new acreage of parkland above the highway. It’s the park triumphing over the highway.” The land bridge is part of the multi-phased master plan for Memorial Park that saw the opening of the Eastern Glades in July 2020 with more transformational projects still on the horizon.
New Home for Houston Endowment
The Houston Endowment will soon move into its new $20 million headquarters on the north side of Buffalo Bayou overlooking Spotts Park. The nonprofit, one of the largest private foundations in Texas, focuses on improving education, the arts and quality of life initiatives in the region. The new 40,000-square-foot headquarters will give the foundation a more accessible and welcoming home base where it can continue to bring together individuals and organizations from the public and private sector to help its mission. The light, open design is intended to meld with the natural landscape of the surrounding park and nearby bayou.
Lynn Wyatt Square
The block at the center of Houston’s Theater District long known as Jones Plaza is being redeveloped as the Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts. When the square reopens this summer, it will feature dramatic landscaping, an open lawn, an outdoor theater and a two-story restaurant space. Houston First Corp. is leading the project to turn the underutilized space into a true amenity for the theater district and the west end of downtown. Lynn Wyatt Square will be the latest in a series of new and revamped green spaces around downtown, including Discovery Green, Market Square Park, Buffalo Bayou Park and the soon-to-open Trebly Park on the southern edge of the central business district.
Katy Boardwalk District
With annual population growth of roughly 10% on average, few suburbs in the region have experienced the kind of explosive expansion Katy has in recent years. That’s one of the reasons the new Katy Boardwalk District is so exciting for residents in the area. The mixed-use district will include abundant restaurant and retail space, a four-star hotel and conference center as well as multifamily residential and entertainment concepts. It’s all centered around a 90-acre lake designed to showcase the natural landscape of the Texas coastal region. The 169-acre project going up Kingsland Boulevard just south of I-10 is a public and private partnership between developers and the City of Katy.
Reimagined Allen Parkway
A 590-unit apartment project dubbed The Sterling opened in December. Not far away, Alta River Oaks began inviting new residents to its 360+ units last July. These are a few of the first new projects to come online amid a mixed-use building boom happening along Allen Parkway between downtown and Shepherd Drive. With names like Regent Square, Autry Park and The Allen, these developments are rising fast over Buffalo Bayou, bringing thousands of residential units, hotels, tons of high-end retail and restaurant space and some office space along with a surplus of amenities such as mini parks and entertainment concepts. By the end of 2022, many of the projects will be open and welcoming guests to a brand-new urban playground.
Empire West Business Park
Developers at Stream Realty Partners have begun construction on the next phase of the 300-acre Empire West Business Park in Brookshire. Stream is calling the 2.3 million-square-foot, six-building development the area’s “largest single-phase industrial project.” It follows on the heels of the 1 million-square-foot first phase which was completed in spring 2021 and is now fully occupied. The developer says industrial demand in the region is up considerably thanks to the trend toward supply chain optimization and speed to market. Stream is counting on retailers’ need to reach metro Houston’s seven million residents and the rest of Southeast and Central Texas. The latest phase, set just off of I-10, is slated for completion in July.