Weekends in the City
Part-time residents from the suburbs flock to luxury condos amid an urban renaissance
By Dylan Baddour
LUXURY high- rises in downtown and other premium locales inside the Loop are drawing more than empty nesters and overpaid millennials. A growing pied-à-terre community is making itself at home on the upper floors of apartment and condo towers around Houston, enjoying the city’s ascendant cultural and entertainment scene while maintaining a suburban idyll a few miles away.
As the region and its real estate market continue to recover from the extended oil slump, these part-timers are signing leases or buying pricey condos with killer views close to the city’s cultural and entertainment venues.
“It’s like getting away for the weekend,” said Allison Seder who with her husband, Mike, recently purchased a three- bedroom unit on the ninth floor of The Wilshire, a tower erected a few blocks from the 2-year-old River Oaks District.
The high-end retail, dining and entertainment complex on Westheimer has proved a special draw.
“You feel like you’re on Rodeo Drive,” Allison Seder said. “The people are beautiful, the stores, the restaurants, everything is just very hip. We just love the culture.”
The Seders and others are bringing the tradition of owning a secondary residence in the heart of a big city — more common in New York or European capitals — to a place where it has been virtually unheard of.
“You know what you do on a Sunday when you live in a high-rise? What you want to, not what you have to.” -Cory Roper, who owns a 26th floor unit in downtown’s One Park Place
The Wilshire, though not fully completed, already has at least 10 pied- à-terre buyers.
One Park Place, a luxe apartment tower overlooking Discovery Green, has more than 20 who pay four- or even five-figure monthly rents for their home away from home.
These residents, primarily from such affluent suburbs as The Woodlands, which the Seders call home most of the time, say they are are finding a new spirit here.
“We’ve never had walkable environments like we do today,” said Jacob Sudho , CEO of Sudho Cos., which markets for The Wilshire. “And we have more coming. That is attracting these people from the suburban markets.”
A street scene slowly began to take root in downtown around 2007, when Discovery Green replaced a parking lot and One Park Place opened across the street. Over the next decade, especially during Houston’s frenzied preparations ahead of Super Bowl LI, the area became relatively flush with street-side cafes and bars.
Among the newcomers are Cory and Cherie Roper. They rent a 24th-floor pad in One Park Place, where units range from $2,400 to $14,500 per month. They periodically make the 30- mile drive from their suburban house in Mont Belvieu to take advantage of the vibrant night life.
“It’s a fun area,” Cory Roper said. “You can relax or you can party until 3 a.m. on a Wednesday.”
The couple’s friends thought the Ropers had lost their mind signing such a lease, Roper said, but that all changed after they visited. Now one friend has an apartment leased in the same tower, and another is planning to sign. The tower now has more than 20 pied-á-terre residents, a representative said.
“More people are doing it than you think,” Cory Roper said recently from his apartment, where he keeps a cowhide rug as homage to his rustic roots.
In 2010, Roper left the hay fields of the Texas Panhandle for a trailer park outside Houston. He left nine months later, vowing never to live in Houston again. He hated the stoplights and missed the open country.
Six years later, after a bout of good fortune racing stock cars and overseeing industrial construction, the 39-year-old and his wife are back in Houston, and they don’t have to drive anywhere.
The Seders, too, are enjoying Houston’s maturity as a cosmopolitan hub. They had a downtown apartment a decade ago but seldom used it. The central business district had a nice theater district and a few bars, but it was generally empty after dark.
The Wilshire, a few blocks away from River Oaks District, has put them in the midst of a flourishing development with a concentration of high-end storefronts and restaurants closely connected on tree-lined streets.
Luxury apartment towers are under construction nearby.
The first Wilshire units, which go for between $800,000 and $3 million, will open in July. The Seders’ unit should be ready in September. Hundreds more similar units should come online in the next few years.
Sudhoff Cos. alone is marketing eight high-or mid-rise luxury condominium projects currently under construction in the River Oaks area.
Other high-end residential towers, such as The Marlowe, The Vantage, The Kirby Collection, Catalyst, Aris Market Square, Capitol Tower, The Post Oak and 609 Main at Texas, are slated for completion in 2017.
“We’ve not seen this type of activity since the late 1980s, and that was the only other time,” said Sandra Gunn, a veteran Houston real estate broker and president of Sandra Gunn Properties.
That burst, if demand for luxury living stays strong, could spur development of more pedestrian-friendly action hubs at the feet of tall towers, and those action hubs could in turn draw more residents in for the urban vibe.
Ed Laase came for convenience. He moved to Pearland for work in 2005 and retired from Boeing in 2013. As a Houston Rockets season- ticket holder, he traveled downtown frequently, and in 2015 bought a condominium in the Four Seasons to ease the commute.
But now he sees it as a retirement option. The concierge, town car and other amenities meet the needs he would have looked to fill in a retirement home, he said. But unlike a retirement home, he likes to note, he can order alcohol at the condominium.
“I wasn’t just looking for a high-rise. We wanted amenities,” he said. “You ever tried to get a drink in a nursing home? You can’t.”
In February, he and his wife looked down from their unit as ZZ Top played Discovery Green during Houston’s pre-Super Bowl festivities. Rockets games are a short walk away, and the couple are getting to know a few of the bars as they spend more nights downtown.
Laase said he looks forward to an action-packed retirement in his pied-à-terre.
“You feel like you’re coming home when you show up there,” he said. “We’re still kind of learning how to use it.” firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/DylanBaddour