When you’re changing the city, every beginning matters. The East River mega development — almost a city within the city that will essentially give Houston a new riverfront — is celebrating a big one with its official groundbreaking.
The festive affair brings out a large crowd of dignitaries (the mayor, city council members, community leaders), Midway development officials, architects, designers and even a beekeeper on this scorching Thursday morning. There is a mammoth tent, a shipping container transformed into a glass sided and cooled respite from the August heat and one giant CAT excavator out in an open field.
What many first timers visitors to this site (49 Bayou Street if you’re looking to Google Maps it) are most struck by though are the sweeping view of downtown and. . . well, the sheer vastness of the area.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the Fifth Ward,” Reverend Harry Clemons Jr., the founder of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, enthusiastically says into the microphone. “Some of you people have never been in the Fifth Ward.”
The 150-acre East River mixed-use development is located in the often overlooked (or driven right past on the freeway) Fifth Ward, right near its intersection with The Second Ward. This part of Houston has never seen a development like this (one from the mixed-use pioneers behind CITYCENTRE).
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner notes that these communities always “have been in the shadow of development” before. Now they’re getting the equivalent of 60 city blocks of new stores, restaurants, apartment buildings, office centers, outdoor recreation areas (think kayaking on the Buffalo Bayou) and green spaces.
East River is being built for the long haul — with a projected overall 20 year build. In truth, this is a vision that already has been in the works for years and years in the planning stages. (To read PaperCity’s exclusive from December 2020, the first story to reveal the complete East River plan, click here). The new East River 9 par 3, stadium lighted golf course and its accompanying RiverHouse restaurant also already have been under construction.
Still, the official groundbreaking of phase one on this August day is more than symbolic. Even if there is the obligatory photo op and the moving of dirt with snazzy Midway branded shovels.
“It’s pretty surreal just because it’s the culmination of years of hard work,” Anna Deans, Midway Vice President of Investment and Development, tells PaperCity. “Yet at the same time it’s really just the beginning.
“We like to celebrate these big milestones. But we still have a lot of fun and important things ahead of us.”
That includes the new stores, restaurants and offices in phase one that will help set the tone for the entire East River development. The group behind The Astorian events venue will be opening up a new events venue and rooftop bar in East River. With the lease actually getting finalized during the groundbreaking ceremony.
As for office tenants, Method Architecture — the designers of the new M-K-T Heights mixed-use center and TEAL, mechanical systems innovators who are moving their headquarters to East River — are the first two to sign on.
“That’s the hardest thing really — is finding those partners who see the vision (early) the same way that you do and believe in it,” Deans says. “And believe that through working together, you can actually make it reality. Without partners and early adopters like that, none of this happens.”