Houston Chronicle : Developer Books Library for lower Westheimer project

The developer of Heights Mercantile is bringing its penchant for walkability, leafy landscaping and urban design to lower Westheimer, where it’s planning a multi-building complex with a mix of high-end shops, restaurants and office space.

The proposed project, called Montrose Collective, will have a unique twist. Developer Radom Capital has been working with the city to relocate the Montrose branch of the Houston Public Library to the development. An agreement with the city is still pending and would need to be approved by Houston City Council, but it would entail the Freed-Montrose Library relocating from its longtime home at 4100 Montrose Blvd.

As part of the move, the city would take an ownership stake in the new library space and would swap a small parcel it owns on Westheimer that would become part of the development site. That parcel, at 802 Westheimer, is now a Houston Police Department storefront, which would close.

Montrose Collective is planned as a 150,000-square-foot project of three buildings of three to six stories along the north side of Westheimer on either side of Grant Street.

Steve Radom, the development firm’s managing principal, said the design team thought careful about the placement of the buildings and their scale in relation to the neighborhood.

“We were like, how do we make it to where off the street we’re not overpowering, but we’re fitting into the community?” he said.

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, which designed Heights Mercantile — a collection of restored and new buildings along Heights Boulevard and a hike and bike trail — designed Montrose Collective. OJB Landscape Architecture is also involved in the design.

The project would be built around seven live oak trees that will be preserved on the site. The space between the buildings would include greenspace, combined with pavers, colorful tiles and acidized concrete. There will be a courtyard with a half-acre of public space.

Radom Capital assembled multiple parcels to form the 1.8-acre site east of Grant, along with another parcel of about 30,000 square feet in the block just to the west. The acquisition included the Uchi building, which will remain intact, and the property next door, which houses Rosemont Social and Hue Salon, each of which will stay in the project. Theo’s Restaurant on the block east of Grant would close when construction begins, Radom said.

The library would occupy 12,000 square feet on the second and third floors of a three-story building behind Uchi. The city would be responsible for the interior build-out and would have a so-called condominium interest in the building.

Parking will be in a garage at the back of the property. Though garages are not the favored way of parking among Houston shoppers, the building will be customer-friendly, Radom said, with 12-foot ceilings, an electronic system showing available spaces and colorful graphics marking the stairs and elevators.

“People don’t like parking in garages ever in Houston,” he said. “But as areas densify, that’s no longer a choice.”

Despite its abundance of space for cars, “we want this to be destination everyone walks to,” Radom said, adding that there will be ample bicycle parking as well.

The project will include 110,000 square feet of office space in two of the buildings’ upper floors. Retail space will cover 40,000 square feet.

Construction could start early next year on the new project, which is expected to take about 30 months to complete.

The city hosted a public meeting last week at the library, which is in need of repair, to discuss the possible relocation.

The public response was positive, said James Koski, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s deputy chief of staff, who attended the meeting. There were, however, questions about what closing the HPD storefront would mean for policing the area and how parking at the new building would be handled.

If the library relocates, its building could be sold. The University of St. Thomas, which is based in the neighborhood and owns the property that houses the Black Laborador restaurant adjacent to the library building, has approached the city about buying the property, Koski said, but there is no deal currently.

Koski said the parties involved expect to have a final agreement to bring to City Council by the end of the year.

Originally posted on Houston Chronicle