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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

City

Firm dreams big of Third Ward improvements


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The proposed University Place would bring new facilities to the UH community, such as shops, restaurants, offices, apartments and a Hilton hotel, among others. | Courtesy of LAI Design Group

LAI Design Group, a landscape architectural firm, has created a $1.5 billion urban redevelopment plan that will encompass eight city blocks throughout the Third Ward area near UH.

The Third Ward Redevelopment Council, in collaboration with the ULI Urban Innovation Grant Partners and LAI Design Group, reflected on research about the Third Ward to incorporate it into their plan.

What the developers call University Place will bring new facilities, such as a civic library, an H-E-B grocery store, a Hilton hotel and apartment complexes, along with shops, restaurants, offices and fitness and community facilities. Such a combination of residential and commercial facilities is anticipated to lead to fewer lease turnovers.

“It will significantly improve the physical appearance of the neighborhood and boost its economic stability,” according to the Third Ward Redevelopment Council.

Similar projects have received criticism because of possible “gentrification” of the Third Ward, but other UH faculty, staff and students said that as long as the existing residents of the area are alright with the change, so are they.

“I always invite improvements, but as long as (LAI Design Group) is not abusing or misusing the people that are there to get rid of them,” said computer information systems senior Sam Davis. “If they properly transition them somewhere, great — maintain emphasis on the fact that the humans come first.”

The redevelopment of this area will connect it to the downtown Main Street corridor. This “Transit Oriented Development” will be easily accessible through the newly constructed southeast light rail line as well as regional access from Interstate Highway 45 and U.S. Route 59 for the 70,000 commuters who visit the area daily.

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The proposed project would not just provide new services to UH students, but would improve the aesthetics of Third Ward. | Courtesy of LAI Design Group

Additional profits are expected from the implementation of “green” building practices approved by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Green building practices or sustainable design can place additional dollars in your pocket (by) reducing the operating costs and maintenance,” said Kenneth Puncerelli, CEO of LAI Design Group. Energy Star appliances, compact florescent lighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency mechanical and electrical systems will be used to achieve their goals.

The planned initial phase will include work on a mixed-use complex consisting of 250 apartments and 45,000 square feet of commercial space, beginning along Scott Street across from UH.

The ULI Grant program includes a four-month research internship for a C.T. Bauer College of Business graduate student in its plans.

Currently, this project is in need of investors and lenders to proceed with phase one.

“Without financing, this project is a dream,” Puncerelli said.

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