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Plan to increase downtown Houston's residential population underway

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Houston is the fourth largest city in the nation, but you probably wouldn't know it if you spent anytime downtown. It's where, despite the impressive skyline, things are pretty quiet and cars often outnumber the people. But the city is taking a big step to bring more people to the city's center for more than just work.

Downtown's residential population hasn't moved over the last decade or so, but a new project is hoping to jump start a plan to increase the population. In a few weeks, the Ben Milam Hotel will be imploded and in its place will be a new apartment building.

Compared to other major cities, downtown Houston, even during lunch, just isn't that busy.

"There's nobody here, nobody's ever downtown," Allsion Keogh said.

Keogh would be the ideal downtown resident, but like so many young professionals, they only work downtown.

"I work for the ballet. It would be nice not to commute from Cypress, but it's expensive, and there's not a whole lot around here," Keogh said.

Earlier this year, the city approved a 380 tax incentive project hoping to entice developers to downtown. And now, the first project is beginning. The Novare Group will build a residential tower on the on Main Street at Leeland. More than 300 units are planned, and its design will be similar to their projects in Austin and Georgia.

"That's why we're so excited about the first project, we're excited about the finger company project as well, because we want to get something going. We hope to see more," said Bob Eury with the Downtown District.

Houston-based Finger Properties got their own 380 agreement and will demolish the old Ben Milam Hotel. Their architects are planning a midrise apartment complex similar to these in already completed around the country.

"I think the goal is double residency here and hopefully the rooftops will lead to retail," Houston Councilman James Rodriguez said.

Both projects are designed to attract young professionals who say they're willing to give downtown a shot if there is somewhere nice and affordable to live.

"It's kind of surprising that us being the fourth largest city, not having a more vibrant downtown," downtown worker Josh Wallwork said.

Demolition for the Ben Milam is scheduled for December 9. It's one of two major new residential projects currently scheduled for downtown.

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