Master-planned communities abound throughout the Houston area and the country, but few have achieved more success than The Woodlands, Texas. If you’re married with 2.5 kids, The Woodlands is your community nirvana. But what if you’re not part of the stereotypical nuclear family? Up until now, “South Dallas” was a social desert. That’s all about to change – starting now.
Not resting on their international-award-winning laurels, The Woodlands Operating Company LP is gaining ground and gaining attention by fulfilling the dream that oilman and entrepeneur George P. Mitchell had 30 years ago. The Town Center is the next phase, and the evolution has already begun.
Spreading like a wildfire
“Things really kicked off in 1994 when The Woodlands Mall opened (in Town Center),” says Frank W. Robinson, CPP, president of The Woodlands Town Center Improvement District of Montgomery County, a local governmental entity that promotes, develops, encourages and maintains economic development for the public benefit of The Woodlands’ downtown area. “This is not just a residential area any more. There is actually a downtown coming to life,” he says. That’s right, a downtown is rising in the forest.
So, if you haven’t made the trip up north in a while, you just might not recognize the area. The Woodlands Waterway®, a linear park and transportation corridor that spans more than a mile, is reminiscent of San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Sparkling office buildings, bustling entertainment venues like the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and popular new dining spots are reflected in the new Town Center. A recently opened, indoor/outdoor expansion to The Woodlands Mall brings popular upscale shops like Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft, Mikasa, Urban Outfitters and White House/Black Market to this shopping paradise. All this is coupled with a myriad of housing options, signature golf courses and the exclusive Carlton Woods Country Club. The Woodlands gives many, many reasons to come out and have a look.
Driving through The Woodlands can be daunting. It’s easy to get distracted by wildflowers, foliage and deer. With more than 5,000 acres of green space, The Woodlands’ philosophy of designing with nature has carved out room for forest preserve, recreation, pastures and parks. And, oh yeah, some homes, shopping and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.
Set up camp
Assume that you’re on your way to a performance at the pavilion. Thomas J. D’Alesandro IV, president and CEO of The Woodlands Operating Company LP, invites you to extend your visit. “Now, you’ll have dozens of restaurants in Town Center, and you’ll have the opportunity to experience something more upscale than San Antonio,” he says. “You can even go for a minicruise on a water taxi around Town Center and the waterway.” The Woodlands has taken the influx of visitors for pavilion events and multiplied the reasons for coming and staying. “This idea of a Town Center is not a new one,” says Tommy Miller, chief investment officer with Trademark Property Company, part of the joint venture developing the Market Street retail area in Town Center. “You find great street retail in Georgetown, D.C., Boston, Seattle and New York. We’re creating an incredible urban district in the suburbs. It’s going to turn people’s heads.” Market Street, a 493,509-square-foot shopping, dining and retail area, has a list of stores that is really exciting. Here, you?ll find names like Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café & Emporium, Z Gallerie, Smith & Hawken, The Sharper Image and Borders Books & Music.
Market Street is a retail location whose time has come. The location is perfect. There will be paths from Market Street to the pavilion, the mall and the Marriott. Now, both residents and visitors can make it a true evening with dining and shopping.
As this downtown area takes shape, an urban lifestyle is developing. “Urban living in the middle of The Woodlands?” you ask. That’s right. The demand was there. As the urban market evolved in The Woodlands, many were drawn to the cool, inner-loop, trendy lofts but wanted to remain close to their suburban security. Currently, there are more than 50 people living in the new lofts and brownstones that line The Waterway, and that number is growing daily. “They are crazy about it – it’s like a dorm. Someone is always having a party, and neighbors go from loft to loft enjoying each other’s company,” D’Alesandro says.
Living in luxury
Sixteen percent of new homes sold in the Houston metropolitan area valued at more than $2 million are in the neighborhood of Carlton Woods in The Woodlands. “The Woodlands has evolved as one of the premier upscale addresses in Houston,” D’Alesandro says. “We’re now competing with tear downs and new construction in River Oaks and West University. In terms of outside the Beltway, nothing comes close to The Woodlands.”
As if lofts, brownstones and $2 million homes weren’t enough, the East Shore will be open this fall. “The East Shore is an in-town, upscale neighborhood, based on such streets as North and South Boulevard in the Museum District,” D’Alesandro says. The houses will be designed as revival classic American styles, mostly from the 1920s.
City on the move
Now that the cool housing has been taken care of, these people want to be entertained. “The Waterway will be tremendous, providing boat traffic and land traffic,” Robinson says. “There will also be a trolley system that will loop down The Waterway and through the retail shops.” And the future of The Woodlands holds nightclubs, jazz and dance clubs. “When TGI Fridays came to town, they were the first to have a bar stay open till 2:00 a.m. They’re packed,” he adds.
As major corporations choose The Woodlands for their headquarters, the level of social activities is rising. “There is a culture that is evolving here,” D’Alesandro says. “When the CEO is headquartered here, that begins to have ramifications for fund raising, for nonprofits, for social activities; and we’re beginning to see that happening with Anadarko and others being here.” Similar to inside the loop, you could attend a gala almost every night.
The emerging character of The Woodlands is still consistent with its history and, in fact, is far richer than it was 10 years ago. Adult centers are close to schools so that senior citizens can interact with children. Churches are close to schools to share parking. It’s natural, it’s sustainable, and it’s still ahead of its time. So, with all this upward movement and finally offering something for singles and a younger generation, it’s no wonder more and more people are moving out to The Woodlands.H