New Apartments in Houston’s Buzzy East River Development Embrace the Outdoors

Your Sneak Peek at The Laura

Clifford Pugh

February 2022

When designing the “front door” for the new East River mixed-use development currently under construction near downtown Houston, the last thing the developers of The Laura at East River wanted to do was erect a run-of-the-mill apartment building. So they looked to the city’s history, the new development’s easy access to lush green spaces and the spectacular sunset views to create a unique place to experience and enjoy a new type of Bayou City life.

It’s the ability to be in an urban environment but still be outdoors, with livable green spaces...

"It’s the ability to be in an urban environment but still be outdoors, with livable green spaces, a trail system and a lot of outdoor things that users in general appreciate now more than ever,” says Larry Sloan, executive vice president, Investment + Development for Houston-based Midway, which is developing the project. “Coming out of the backside of COVID, it’s that ability to get outside.”

Phase One of the East River project — on the largest undeveloped site left within the 610 Loop — is underway with construction of The Laura, a five-story, 360-unit apartment complex named for the steamboat that the Allen Brothers used to navigate Buffalo Bayou when founding Houston in 1836. When it opens in the second half of 2023, The Laura will be within easy walking distance to nearby offices, stores, restaurants, bars and a gigantic green space plaza that are also part of East River’s first phase.

“It’s going to be a great, very vibrant scene for our residents at The Laura,” Sloan says.

“With everything being walkable, in a day here you can go for a run in the morning early, walk to the office next door, have lunch and end up with a happy hour somewhere on the site and then back home. You can have a complete experience. That’s the beauty of mixed use. There’s always going to be something to do here.”

The Laura at East River is designed to take advantage of easy access to hike and bike trails along Buffalo Bayou and lots of green space.

With Midway committed to a longterm vision and a 15 to 20 year overall build, East River is expected to eventually cover the equivalent of 65 city blocks on 150 acres. That means new stores, restaurants, apartment buildings, single-family homes, hotels, office centers, additional outdoor recreation areas and green spaces.

Given the scale of the project and its potential impact on the city of Houston, Sloan says a lot of thought was given to making sure The Laura sets the tone for what’s to come.

“This is going to be the front door of East River in perpetuity, so we have a lot to accomplish here,” he says. “We are really focused from a design perspective on getting this first piece right and trying to make it timeless. Having it nested up to retail and facing the waterfront and green spaces are pretty unique nuances that are rare in the existing multi-family stock that is out there today in Houston.”

Midway is also taking the history of the site into consideration when developing The Laura, which is located near the intersection of Clinton and Jensen Drive. Sloan notes that the East River site, which was fenced-off and inaccessible to the public for more than 20 years, was originally the headquarters of the old Brown & Root construction company and served as a site for the early development of NASA’s Mission Control. While there were no old buildings on the property to repurpose, remnants of the site’s heritage are reflected in the apartment’s industrial-looking building materials.

"We’ve designed The Laura so that it looks like it could have already been here but in a more modern interpretation in relation to the use of brick and exterior metals on it,” Sloan says. “When you do these projects, you want it be authentic, but at the same time you want to be honest about what you’re doing here. We don’t want it to feel like the back lot of Disney.”

In another nod to the site’s history, the warehouse atmosphere extends to the apartment lobby where shipping containers will be repurposed for workspaces and social gathering lounges, with a coffee bar and seating areas created from culverts.

The two-story lobby at The Laura at East River is designed as a gathering space with a coffee bar.

The Laura is truly designed to be a unique Houston space for the ultimate in urban living.

Ground floor amenities will include a fitness center, dog park, pool, cabanas, grilling stations, an outdoor yoga space and a lawn for game playing, along with retail shops with an emphasis on businesses and pop-up tenants from the nearby Fifth Ward and East End.

The ground floor of The Laura will offer white-box, move-in ready small shop retail space...

“The ground floor of The Laura will offer white-box, move-in ready small shop retail space, with the goal of lowering the barrier to brick-and-mortar retail for local purveyors, makers and creatives. We are curating a collection of eclectic and unique tenants specifically for those spaces,” says Lacee Jacobs, senior vice president, Strategic Leasing + Advisory at Midway.

The interiors of the Laura will have an industrial loft-like feel, with 10-foot ceilings, lots of windows and an open kitchen/living area featuring a combination of light and dark cabinets, solid surface countertops and black matte fixtures. It all emphasizes the contrast of black and white often found in creative loft spaces. Many units will have balconies with steel detailing and metal mesh railings.

The lobby will contain shipping containers in a nod to the area's industrial history.

The Laura’s Unique Views

Unlike most mid-rises that are constructed with apartments facing an interior courtyard, The Laura has been designed to embrace the waterfront and take advantage of downtown skyline views across Buffalo Bayou and access to the Buffalo Bayou Trail System.

“We really opened up the courtyard and the amenities and pool area to see downtown,” Sloan says. “You’re sitting here looking at downtown and honestly some of the best sunsets possible because you have this unique perspective on the east side of town where the sun sets behind downtown.

The Laura's East River apartments likely will have something of a pool scene.

Residents will also have full access to a terrace level park fronting the bayou that will be programmed with music and other entertainment on a regular basis, much like what occurs at CITYCENTRE, another Midway mixed-use development that changed how people look at West Houston, but with a unique flair that reflects the area.

“We want to embrace the neighborhood between EaDo and the Fifth Ward and all that’s been here before,” Sloan says.

Access to downtown without living right in the heart of downtown will be a major  plus and point of difference for The Laura, Sloan believes.

“You can be adjacent to downtown but you don’t have to live in a high-rise,” he says. “You get the benefits of location but you have a scale where you’re connected to green spaces to have a more active lifestyle and a pedestrian experience.”

A Unique Houston Way of Living

With the unique location and all the amenities, The Laura is looking to attract a mix of young professionals and empty nesters who want to be part of a truly urban lifestyle. A very walkable one with plenty of outdoor opportunities. Including kayaking on this more wild part of the bayou.

Around 250 units at The Laura will be studio or one-bedroom apartments ranging from 600 to 800 square feet, while close to 110 units will include a two-bedroom configuration with more than 1,000 square feet. In a first for an apartment complex in Houston, 50 apartments will be rented at a reduced rate to firefighters, teachers and other workers under a provision as a part of a larger community benefits agreement East River negotiated with the city of Houston.

“Hopefully, it’s a template we can create for others to follow on how to accomplish this and offer a well-designed product to a wider swath of the general population,” Sloan says.

East River’s front door being a potential pioneer couldn’t be more fitting.