East River Comes Into View With New Restaurants, Stores and Office Tenants — Houston’s Next Big Development is Not Just a Concept Anymore
With Early Adopters Signing On, The Future of a Formerly Closed Off-Site Takes Shape
East River’s official groundbreaking turned into something of a celebration. Despite some typically oppressive heat, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and a host of City Council members attended. Reverend Harry Clemons Jr., the founder of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, enthusiastically delivered remarks. All playing out on a wide open field with a massive tent providing shade and a converted shipping container bringing a cool air respite.
“It’s pretty surreal just because it’s the culmination of years of hard work,” Anna Deans, Midway Vice President of Investment and Development, says. “Yet at the same time it’s really just the beginning.”
A number of Houstonians have already been to East River thanks to activations like the drive-in theater and the public art commissions organized by Midway, the developer behind the massive project. Midway continues to find ways to bring more and more people to the land — a 150-acre site previously closed to Houstonians for more than 20 years — with the upcoming additions of the public East River 9 par-3 golf course and the family-friendly Riverhouse Houston restaurant and patio bar.
The short course was designed for all skill sets – forgiving for beginners and kids while challenging around the greens for the more competitive players. The type of course Houston desperately needs more of. The atmosphere at East River 9 will be easy going and the golf course and driving range will feature stadium lights for evening play, making those summer rounds cooler and extending twilight rounds in the fall. East River 9 will be one of the closest golf experiences to downtown Houston and will be reasonably priced.
This is a true community amenity rather than a traditional stuffy country club. It’s golf — and more — for all.
“Coupled with Riverhouse, we are creating an inclusive place that will invite families, friends and working professionals to discover the East End and Historic Fifth Ward communities,” says Midway Vice President Clayton Freels.
With the prominent interior design architecture firm MaRS (Mayfield and Ragni Studio) on tap to design Riverhouse, this figures to be one of the more distinct spots in the city. East River’s first restaurant is going to be much more than just your usual golf course restaurant.
It will help set the tone for the entire development to come.
“It’s going to be a very unique place,” Mayfield says. “We’re really excited about it.”
Expect a sweeping outdoor patio with views of the river, the downtown skyline and the rest of the East River project — Phase One is under construction now — as it begins to rise.
“WE’RE SO EXCITED ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY. THE OPPORTUNITY TO HONOR THE PAST OF THIS SITE, THE PAST OF THIS COMMUNITY. BUT ALSO TO EMBRACE THE COMMUNITY.” — MIDWAY PRESIDENT AND COO JAMIE BRYANT
East River’s Early Adopters
Of course, part of the heartbeat of any mixed-use development comes from the businesses that choose to call it home. East River is off to an early start there as well with a number of early adopters already signing on. The group behind The Astorian events venue will be opening up a new events venue and rooftop bar in East River. As for office tenants, Method Architecture — the designers of the new East End Makers Hub — and TEAL Systems — mechanical systems innovators who are moving their headquarters to East River — were the first two to sign on.
Impact Networking, which specializes in outsourced IT solutions, is taking a full floor of office space — a 16,000 square foot canvas.
“We saw the East River development as an elegant blend of history, culture, innovation and modern community,” says Scott Copeland, the president of Impact Texas (Impact Networking’s Lone Star State’s division). “Midway’s visionary efforts in East River are incredibly exciting and we are thrilled to be a part of this monumental project.”
Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries, a self-sustainable boutique bodega, will take up 4,000 square feet, offering locally sourced seafoods and meats, produce, freshly baked bread, cheese and specialty condiments. A new restaurant from local James Beard Award nominated Chef Jonny Rhodes, who earned national acclaim for his “neo-soul food” tasting menu as owner/chef of the former Restaurant Indigo, is also coming.
Rhodes grew up down the street from the East River site. With this new restaurant, his goal is to provide farmers market quality foods at an accessible price. In a community where quality foods are scarce. Rhodes’ farm — Food Fight Farms in Cleveland, Texas — will be the store’s primary supplier, providing handmade, pre-packaged items for ultimate shopper convenience.
Lick Honest Ice Creams is also bringing its sweet Austin vibe to East River. URBN Dental is set to become East River’s first medical focused tenant.
“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.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner noted at the groundbreaking ceremony that these communities “have always been in the shadow of development” before. Not anymore. Over the next 15 to 20 years, East River will deliver 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.
“This is a project that can uplift The Fifth Ward, The Second Ward,” Turner says.
East River Looks to the Future
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. The new East River 9 par-3, stadium lit golf course and its accompanying Riverhouse restaurant are already under construction.
While East River 9 and Riverhouse will open in 2022, the full Phase One will be complete in 2023.
“We like to celebrate these big milestones,” Deans says. “But we still have a lot of fun and important things ahead of us.”
Everyday Houstonians will no doubt be drawn to things such as the early waterfront activities and the new golf course, the type of inviting par 3 course that the game desperately needs more of. This will be anything but a country club. It’s a course you can play with your kids or your grandma. A course you can play with two or three clubs (a putter and a pitching wedge or other short iron).
The type of course that should introduce more people to the game of golf while introducing them to East River. Not to mention that restaurant designed by Kelie Mayfield of MaRS, the fun artists behind such whimsical places as The George Hotel in College Station’s Century Square mixed-use center and The Victor high-rise in Dallas.
Houston’s New Playground
Having both MaRS and Munoz + Albin Architecture heavily involved in the East River mega development is another indicator of Midway’s commitment to doing something special. This should be a top of the line innovative mixed-use center, one that could change Houston much more than CITYCENTRE even has.
It’s already opening up a section of the city long completely closed off to everyday Houstonians. This was a fenced off industrial site originally owned by the old Brown & Root construction company that helped reshape Houston and grew into the largest construction firm in the United States.
This is the largest undeveloped site left within the 610 Loop, one that will impact two historic neighborhoods — and really the entire region. And Midway is very aware of that responsibility.
“We’re so excited about the opportunity,” Midway President and COO Jamie Bryant says. “The opportunity to honor the past of this site, the past of this community. But also to embrace the community.
The restaurants with patios that overlook the water, the giant lawns and the trails that will connect to the nearly 500 miles of existing trails and bike lanes in Houston, are coming. East River is full speed ahead from here on out.
“We’ve been working on this project for a long time,” Clayton Freels says. “It’s great to spin some dirt. . . Now it’s coming. It will really open up a new side of Houston.”
Midway has assembled a top Houston-based project team for the first phase of East River, including Page, commercial architect; EDI Interntional, multifamily architect of record; Munoz + Albin, multifamily design architect; Mayfield and Ragni Studio (MaRS), multifamily interior design; OJB Landscape Architecture, landscape architect; and BGE, Inc., civil engineer.
The building is underway. The anticipation is real now. East River is now a land that many will be able to experience, one big step at a time.