Home News Central Houston’s Kris Larson on reimaging downtown Houston.

Central Houston’s Kris Larson on reimaging downtown Houston.

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When Chris Larson took the job that became the new face of downtown Houston, he knew he had big shoes to fill. , since its inception nearly 40 years ago, has led the downtown economic development group, Central Houston, and played a key role in the opening up of downtown, leading the revival of the central business district from the 1980s oil crisis downturn. . From Minute Maid Park to Toyota Center.

rear Yuri retired In October 2021, Larson became the leader not only of downtown Houston, but also of its sister organizations, the Houston Downtown Management District (Downtown District) and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

Mr. Larson took over as downtown was just beginning to recover from the pandemic. The pandemic has shut down Office His Tower, forcing employees to work from home, which is spurring much of downtown’s economic activity. Now, as the recovery progresses, Larson is working to bring the three organizations together under a shared vision to spearhead the next phase of downtown’s growth.

Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, Larson came to Houston from Hollywood Partnership, one of the largest business improvement districts in the Los Angeles area. He previously led similar economic development downtown groups in Raleigh, North Carolina and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

After recently completing his first year on the job, Larson sat down with the Houston Chronicle to discuss what’s next for downtown Houston. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Improving perceptions of downtown safety is one of the major focuses of the new downtown strategic plan. why is that?

A: All district infrastructure is clean and safe, just like our district in the United States. Everything you want to do becomes difficult if you can’t keep it clean and safe. Our clean crew does a really great job. Where we struggle is perception of safety. It’s not real safety, it’s the perception of safety. The most important thing you can do is liven up the sidewalk.

Q: Downtown Houston sometimes feels a little lacking in sidewalk activity compared to other downtown areas. What’s stopping downtown sidewalks from coming to life right now?

A: Lots of office towers with self parking and no activities on the first floor. There aren’t many people coming in at pedestrian level because there are a lot of single-seater cars and a lot of commuter patterns going in and out of downtown. Tunnels absorb much of the otherwise sidewalk traffic.

Related: A rebound is underway in downtown Houston, but where are the full-time office workers?

We have historically placed much of what would be ground floor or active use in tunnels rather than ground floor buildings.

Costume sits on the patio of Finn Hall in Houston on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Downtown Houston is finally showing signs of recovery from the pandemic as more office workers return to their offices and people head out to concerts, restaurants and events.

Godofredo A. Vazquez, Houston Chronicle/Staff Photographer

Q: Companies in the tunnel are struggling to recover post-pandemic due to slow return-to-office patterns. What is the current state of the tunnel business? Are some days still crowded and some days slow?

A: You can predict what it might be just by looking at your commute pattern. It’s Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. [when most workers on hybrid schedules come into the office]At least as of October, we are still only recovering 59.7% on average.

Q: Does that mean that on average only 59.7% of office workers are in the office?

A: Yes, it’s the only community that actually has access to the tunnel. Very little access to street level tunnels. Mostly around 4pm or he 5pm on weekdays and closed on weekends. Tat tells us they are not intended to be part of the wider attraction or downtown ecosystem. These are primarily amenities for downtown her one type of user, day office her workers.

Related: New 43-story residential tower opens in downtown Houston

Q: Besides, the office workers in the daytime are not always there anymore. So what about the tunnels in the long term? Of course we want those businesses to survive, but assuming some don’t, what is the future of those empty spaces?

A: I don’t know what the future holds for those spaces. What I can tell you is what inspired me. See Oklahoma City and how they transformed the tunnels. About 10 years ago they moved all of his active first floor business that was in the tunnel to the street and turned the tunnel into a walking art exhibit. Our researchers have cataloged all cities with tunnels. Because one of the things I’d like to see is how the city transitioned from the tunnel and what drove that transition.

In February, we had an exercise with our Central Houston membership, offering four options for the tunnel. Many people prefer his life to the vibrant sidewalks and streets. Our strategic plan is to rethink the tunnel system and explore opportunities to prioritize sidewalks, but keep tunnels as a secondary option in bad weather.

Q: Speaking of activities on the ground, your commission is working to improve the pedestrian experience in a few blocks downtown, right? We talked about moving to a more comfortable and walkable street with floor retail stores and creating an interesting pedestrian experience..

A: We are evaluating the existing condition of all block faces downtown. That is 350 square blocks or 1,400 block faces. It then evaluates them through a series of 21 different considerations, ranging from the condition of the sidewalk itself to the canopy, lighting, comfort, or sense of protection from adjacent traffic. We then take all of these different considerations together to build an algorithm that essentially ranks all block faces downtown.

It is impossible to improve all 1,400 planes in a short period of time. You can do better. Togo.

Also,”More Space, Main Street Program Take it to the next level. Let’s talk about the (possible) permanent closure of Main Street to think about how to create a pedestrian walkway.

Q: You’re also opening Trevely Park about a block off Main Street, right?

The official opening should be in December.when Trevly Park opens That means everyone who lives downtown is within walking distance of the park.

Construction on Trebly Park is scheduled to wrap up downtown at 1515 Fannin in December. The sculpture

Construction on Trebly Park is scheduled to wrap up downtown at 1515 Fannin in December. The sculpture “Whale Bone Dinner Party” by Chao Za, his $6.5 million project for the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, one of his three bodies overseen by Chris Larson, is the centerpiece of the park’s art. becomes.

Rendering / Downtown Redevelopment Authority

Q: You mentioned the revival of the Downtown Living initiative, which was a program that provided incentives to developers. Build a residential project downtownWhy do you think it should be revived?

A: Another reason for the lack of vitality is the relatively low population density of residents in the district. With a population of just over 11,000, that’s an unprecedented number for this tiny corner of Houston. As such, we are considering reinstating the Downtown Living Initiative. Historically, building a home downtown was too risky. Land is too expensive. Residential projects compete with the opportunity cost of building office towers downtown.

Q: Most of the new residential projects offer luxury residential units. Will the new version of the Downtown Living Initiative promote affordable units?

a: I say in my crystal ball that it’s probably going to be part of the conversation.

Related: Houston employees don’t want a full return to the office. And the recession won’t force them.

Q: Any updates on how you’re tackling the homeless problem downtown?

A: We seek to understand where the shortfalls and disruptions lie in the process of accelerating the transition from homelessness to housing.

(November) We received permission to proceed with a pilot initiative to explore the provision of short-term rental subsidies so that individuals living without housing may have access to housing on the same day . We are still finalizing the scope of the coalition.

Q: So what is Downtown’s biggest goal in 2023?

A: My knee-jerk answer is for our organizations to become more actively involved in managing economic challenges, recognizing them as challenges and turning them into opportunities. I’m looking into how to convert it to a living unit. Another reason is that we lost over 50 storefront businesses to COVID and need to fill vacancies. There is also an opportunity to continue to explore Downtown’s role as a hub for the world’s energy transition.

My biggest goal is to really mature as an organization to fulfill those ambitions.

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