Houston Stakes a Claim as the Cheapest High-Rise Living City in America
The Godfather of the Sky-High Revolution Loves that this isn’t New York
BY CHRIS BALDWIN // 05.24.17
Robert Bland declines the offer of a seat and elects to stand and talk. The legendary Houston developer may be 89 years old, but this former Navy man is still standing tall and charging straight ahead.
In many ways, Bland is the Godfather of high-rise living in Houston. And he’s not about to miss out on the exciting moment he’s been waiting on for… oh, a good 40 years. Living high in the sky is no longer a novelty or a trend that’s coming to the Bayou City. It’s an established way of life now. This is one revolution that is actually happening.
Still, standing in the sparkling sales center of his Wilshire high-rise with new luxury mecca River Oaks District right down the street, a short stroll away, Robert Bland sees a huge advantage for Houston that cities where palaces in the sky have long been the norm like New York and Chicago can never replicate.
“Houston still has the most affordable high-rise market in the country,” Bland says. “Living in this type of building in New York will cost you four times this.”
Sometimes, it’s good to be a little late to the party.
In the luxury high-rise world, most affordable does not mean cheap by any regular man’s measure. The smaller condo units at The Wilshire start in the $800,000 range and larger ones quickly soar past $3 million. Then again, Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is selling his Manhattan condo for $21.5 million.
In this stratosphere, Houston is cheap.
Which may be why 18 percent of The Wilshire’s sales (72 out of the 96 units are already sold for an 80 percent occupancy rate with the tower still not set to open till this summer) have gone to foreign buyers. Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela power players have already purchased units.
“The good news is these are second homes,” Bland says. “These aren’t investment properties or something they want to rent out. They want to spend some time in Houston.”
The Pioneer of Houston’s Palaces in the Sky
When Bland opened the pioneering Woodway high-rise in 1974, the idea that people would want to spend their time in the sky was treated as crazy talk. “When I did that building in 1974, I kept telling people, ‘It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, ” Bland laughs. “I’ve been saying it’s going to happen for years. Now, it’s happening.
“High-rises are now an accepted type of lifestyle in Houston.”
If that almost makes it seem like high-rise living once came across as some almost taboo, alternative lifestyle in Houston… well, it did. Not long ago, high-rise living in Houston was regarded as just as strange as anything David Lynch puts out on Twin Peaks. Bland fought that perception for decades.
Now, with the first model open in The Wilshire and the 17th-floor penthouses shaping up as two of the most impressive cloud-hugging retreats you’ll find anywhere, Bland finds himself staring at the very future he envisioned. The Wilshire’s first residents are scheduled to move in this July and by November, all 17 floors will be open.
“This is kind of the moment of truth,” Bland says.
"NOT LONG AGO, HIGH-RISE LIVING IN HOUSTON WAS REGARDED AS JUST AS STRANGE AS ANYTHING DAVID LYNCH PUTS OUT ON TWIN PEAKS."
Bland, the founder and principal of Pelican Builders, credits the relative ease of getting a building going in Houston with some of this high-rise success. “In New York City, it would take you two and half years just to get the building permits for something like this,” he says.
Robert Bland grins, still as excited as ever approaching 90. In a few minutes, he’ll take this visitor up to the rapidly-filling-in top floor of The Wilshire. From up here, sidestepping the construction materials, you can see even more. You can even see a new reality.
“This is real condominium living,” Bland says. “Look at Chicago or New York and we’re right there. This is a lifestyle that the world’s best cities have.”
In Houston that sky-high life just happens to be cheaper.
The Wilshire’s type of feel would be four times as expensive in New York City.