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Houston’s Mixed-Use Mix Throws A Curve With $200M Kirby Collection

An oculus over the entry plaza serving office, retail and parking, and an elliptical residential tower are shapely signatures at Kirby Collection in Houston’s Upper Kirby District.CALpix

The $200 million mixed-use Kirby Collection by New York-based Thor Equities throws a real curve into the mix of new development under way in Houston’s Upper Kirby corridor, where significant infrastructure improvements a decade ago laid the literal groundwork for higher density redevelopment now.

With its massive oculus above the office and retail entry plaza and an elliptical-shaped residential high-rise —  like something out of The Jetsons — the now-completed project of 1.25 million square feet stands in shapely contrast to the built environment’s more prevalent squared off silhouettes.

The shape and slightly skewed orientation of the tower holding The Residences at Kirby Collection gives each of the 199 units a view of the city through floor-to-ceiling windows; it also delivers a few other urban design components. Ground-level town homes with direct access to a neighborhood street and a mid-level flank of two-story garden lofts with deep terraces are among the 21 floor plans.

David Rendon, VP of Design and Construction at Thor Equities, said on a property tour that the town homes, which are entered via gated patios rather than the opulent lobby, have a more neighborhood feel in their scale, placement and role. They soften the transition between the tower and an adjacent established subdivision, where a mature tree canopy enhances tower views.

Interestingly, among the tower’s early tenants are some who chose units that peer over their homes while they’re being renovated.

As designed, the high-end high-rise targeted the luxury market, Rendon said. However, the oversized units have attracted commute-weary suburbanites, downsizing empty nesters and families eyeing nearby schools.

About half the fully-loaded units have two or more bedrooms and range in size from 1,500 to 2,900 square feet. Penthouses have double master suites. And in all the bathrooms, the oval tile work is a reference to the building’s signature shape.

Full-height windows are among the condo-grade features and finishes in all the units.CALpix

The big draw for residents is the one-acre amenity deck on the sixth floor, with oversized heated pool, cabanas, fire pits, fitness center, pet walkabout and room for humans to roam while taking in the vistas.

Rendon called the massive terrace “a yard” for those relocating from single-family homes. The tower’s sky lounge on floor 26, meanwhile, also has a panoramic view, plus a baby grand piano as part of the package.

The acre of amenities on the sixth level has areas designated for residents only and for tenants of the project’s office tower. (Pets also get their own place.)CALpix

Oculus Maximus

Kirby Collection’s other design signature is its enormous oculus above the grand entry plaza, also circular and serving office and retail functions, plus parking. The oculus focuses natural light from on high and frames back-lit views of the residential tower.

The developer had sought a place-making design element that would provide a sense of place and of arrival, Rendon said.

As a 13-story office tower, 3200 Kirby racks up 186,000 square feet of space, some of which is two-level. Tenants have access to a designated side of the amenity deck (including their side of the pool bar) and can schedule use of the sky lounge.

Linking the two towers is slightly cantilevered retail and restaurant space, on two levels and totaling 65,000 square feet. It faces outward, fronting the heavily traveled thoroughfare that is Kirby Drive rather than inward with an interior lane, an approach and strategy many other mixed-use projects in Houston — on larger sites – have followed, he said.

The street-facing retail has passing drivers and walkers in mind by enabling them “to see the activity” within, Rendon said. Also, the project’s setback is deeper than other new developments in the corridor to enable and encourage pedestrian access. It’s a bit of a New York feel, he suggested.

“We’re big believers in mixed use,” Rendon said. “Our site feeds itself.” And while there’s synergy of uses within the project, there’s also the potential to play off other nearby projects in the pipeline and pending.

Chrissy Wilson, an executive vice president with JLL’s office agency team, agrees. If you look at new and pending commercial projects in Houston sub-markets, she observed, most have a mixed-use component rather than a single office building. “People want a walkable, 18-plus hour environment with retail and restaurant options. I think for an employer that has a ton of value. You’ve seen tenants willing to pay for that as well as new construction across the board.”

Kirby Collection’s development team included Los Angeles design architect Richard Keating Architecture, with architect of record Houston-based Kirksey and interior design by Dianna Wong Architecture + Design, also of Los Angeles.

A peek at the pipeline

Three blocks north of Kirby Collection, a former garden-style apartment site has several unrelated developments under way. One is Giorgetti Houston’s boutique-style condo project, a seven-floor building housing 32 units and expected to be completed in 2019. Its development team includes Italian cabinetmaker Giorgetti in collaboration with Mirador Group; developer Stolz Partners of Atlanta; and Sudhoff Companies.

The other rising is by Hanover, a mixed-use project announced as a 39-story apartment tower for 397 luxury units and 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail space.

Both projects are adjacent to the Kirby area’s first mixed-use of the modern age, completed in 2008 when so many in Houston were shelved during the recession, and comprised of 390 luxury apartments and 193,000 square feet of two story retail: Gables turned West Ave. and recently rebranded Arrive by its new owner.

By any name, it was among several residential projects built when commercial construction was mostly at a standstill in Houston, recalled Travis Younkin, executive director of Upper Kirby Management District and Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority. The organizations have supported development and redevelopment on, along and near Kirby Drive through three-plus decades of infrastructure and branding efforts.

A decade ago, for example, Kirby Drive was rebuilt. Younkin called the renovation “an aggressive improvement project.” It installed new underground storm, sanitary and water infrastructure, pedestrian-friendly elements, lighting, trees and enhanced landscaping, and it buried overhead utility lines, which had affected higher-rising projects.

“The assurance that the infrastructure could handle additional density, had adequate storm drainage and would allow for well lit, beautified, highly maintained and regularly patrolled pedestrian access for businesses and residents has certainly played a part in the continued investment we have seen around Kirby since 2008,” he said. He includes in that mix the success of nearby Levy Park and related mixed-use development there by Midway Companies.

Kirby Drive was once a pass-through route between downtown and a freeway, with drive-by businesses and retail, he noted. While change in use for many years was slow, incremental and layered, there appears to be momentum with these larger scale redevelopment projects that offer various combinations of live-work-play environments. Also, improvements to the street grid to and through Kirby Drive has been critical in feeding its more dense future state.

As more of corridor properties assess their highest and best use, the drive is well on its way to being the destination instead of the journey.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said.

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