he fact that the West Houston Association refers to its bi-county area as "Greater West Houston" tells you all you need to know about the development momentum of the larger Greater Houston metro area.
That momentum is getting a life sciences shot in the arm in the form of the new Texas Medical Center – West Campus, situated on 170 acres (69 hectares) at I-10 and Barker-Cypress Road, not far from George Bush Park.
The project, a joint effort of Wolff Companies, Texas Medical Center, Texas Children's Hospital and The Methodist Hospital, is the first expansion beyond Texas Medical Center's central Houston campus in its 65-year history. Texas Children's Hospital West Campus, with a US$220-million phase-one investment, and Methodist West Houston Hospital, with a $337-million initial investment, will serve as its anchor institutions. The new campus represents 1.2 million sq. ft. (111,480 sq. m.) of healthcare space developed by those two entities. While all available space in Methodist's medical office buildings is committed, the hospital is already planning its next building.
But more could take place soon on an adjacent 23-acre (9.3-hectare) parcel, which developer Wolff has said is open to medical office buildings, hospitals, financial institutions, mid-rise residential or hospitality. The property is open to "commercial development by third parties, or inclusion in the Texas Medical Center – West Campus for a non-profit medical entity," said Wolff.
The service area of the new campus extends all the way to Bryan-College Station to the northwest (home to Texas A&M University) and Victoria to the southwest, the location of a new manufacturing project from Caterpillar announced in 2010.
"Wolff Companies has been involved in the development of The Texas Medical Center – West Campus from the beginning as well as impacting greater West Houston for over four decades," said a press release from the new complex's inauguration in late November. "Park Row, extending over 11 miles (17.7 km.) from State Highway 6 to the city of Katy, was extended through the campus under a public/private venture organized by Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack. Wolff Companies and The Methodist Hospital provided the right-of-way and a portion of the construction cost to the project. Texas Children's Hospital also provided part of the drainage system that services the thoroughfare."
The hospitals and Wolff also participated in the planning and implementation of an electrical service plan with CenterPoint to keep power lines underground along all public streets in the campus.
Coming Into Its Own
Greater West Houston spreads across portions of three counties with 50 percent in Harris County and the balance in adjacent Fort Bend and Waller Counties. Approximately 40 percent is inside the limits of the City of Houston. Sixty percent of Greater West Houston is within the City of Houston extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ). There are 10 additional municipalities; 15 school districts; 11 special purpose districts and over 200 utility districts in Greater West Houston.
Currently, West Houston, reaching from Beltway 8 to West of Katy, has more than 1 million residents and more than 400,000 employees. Research conducted by the West Houston Association predicts continued growth for the Greater West Houston area through 2025, with an almost 50-percent increase in residents for a total of more than 1.4 million, as well as a 40-percent increase in employees to 600,000. By 2035, population is projected to reach 1.83 million and employment will reach 770,000.
A major Houston flood control/roads infrastructure measure called Proposition 1 passed in November 2010 by the slimmest of margins: 2,000 votes out of nearly 329,000 ballots cast. Expected to cost $5 per month per household on average, the pay-as-you-go fund, which goes into effect in July, could generate as much as $12 billion in funds over 20 years.
A major proponent of that measure was David W. Hightower, executive vice president of Wolff Companies, who was just elected by the West Houston Association board of directors to serve as Chairman of the Board in 2011. It's his third one-year term. Prior to the vote, he said the new fund, supported by a new development fee and existing revenue sources as well as the new user fee, "will replace up to 80 percent of the city's streets and drainage systems over the next 30 years," or approximately 4,600 miles (7,401 km.) of streets and drainage.
All Tied Together
Wolff also has overseen development of Park 10 Regional Business Center, a master-planned mixed-use development that comprises a major portion of the West Houston Energy Corridor. The area is known for such master-planned developments: Cinco Ranch was the top-selling such community in the nation in 2009.
The more than 1,500 acres (607 hectares) included in the Energy Corridor are home to corporate headquarters for major corporations or corporate divisions such as Conoco/Phillips , Shell Oil E & P, Exxon/Mobil Chemicals U.S.A., Cabot Oil and Gas, Global Santa Fe, Transocean, Diamond Offshore Drilling and BP. All told, the companies in the Energy Corridor employ some 77,000.
Thus, as in Houston proper, the energy giants and the healthcare giants meet again. Economic developers can only hope sparks fly out west like they have downtown.
Texas Medical Center (TMC), dubbed by former First Lady Barbara Bush as "Houston's gift to the world," is home to 49 institutions, including the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center hospital where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been in recovery and rehab since Jan. 21, following her shooting in Tucson.
TMC is at the core of what has become the 12th largest business district in the United States with 30 million sq. ft. (2.8 million sq. m.) of built space. As of 2009, in addition to its 6 million annual patient visits, TMC represented $1.2 billion in annual research expenditures and had an overall regional economic impact of $14 billion. What's more, it has planned $7.1 billion in approved building and infrastructure investments between 2008 and 2012.
At a November breakfast hosted by Wolff Companies to celebrate its 40th anniversary, economic, demographic and social trend analyst Joel Kotkin, author of "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050," reasserted his belief in Houston as one of the next wave of "world cities," and, said a Wolff press release, pointed to such developments as the new TMC West Campus as "an example of an area growing to meet the needs of future residents."