SPARC Growth Houston

Core redevelopment benefits our neighborhoods and the City as a whole!

SPARC Growth Houston

By Diane Schenke, President, Greater East End Management District

Stimulate – local tax base growth and job creation via

Projects – that have significant economic impact and

Accelerate – community development and economic sustainability to

Redevelop – struggling areas with existing underutilized infrastructure and

Catalyze – key investments to spur future development.

The East End was typical of many neighborhoods in Houston in 2008. It had good structural bones, but many years had passed since any major capital investments had been made. In 2008, the portion of the East End area closest to downtown (the Second Ward) conducted a community planning exercise called “Livable Centers.” This exercise was designed to revitalize communities by making them better for mass transit, walking and bicycles.  After 7 years and $29 million in improvement projects, this part of the East End is starting to see the effects of that planning and investment.

The East End community wanted what all communities want—good sidewalks, shaded by day and well-lit by night, streets, parks, trails and places for families and communities to gather.  These improvements coincide with the coming opening of the East End Light Rail Line.  The $29 million was funded through both local and federal dollars and have resulted in 34 miles of sidewalk, 9 miles of bikeways and trails, 700 trees, and 250 pedestrian oriented lights.  One result of these intensive efforts is new residential construction with residents starting to move in.

Much of the large-scale construction in the East End is occurring on land formerly occupied by heavy industry. While there are some residents with mixed feelings about the changes, most neighbors understand that increased housing density and higher incomes are required before we can see the types of retail that the East End would like—nice grocery stores, retailers, and service providers. An area retail spending report done in 2013 estimates that $630 million is spent annually by East End residents on goods and services outside of the area because their desired retail amenities are not available.

Since 1950, the 3 mile area around downtown has lost one-half of its population. This same pattern can be seen in underserved areas across Houston as lagging commercial investment has led to a gradual depopulation of formerly vital neighborhoods and local area employment declines as industry and retailers leave. This trend bottomed out in the 1990’s, and now the population has started to increase due to the growing interest of new homeowners in living closer to downtown.

Approximately one-third of the City of Houston’s budget comes from residential property taxes, but the property tax revenues generated to the Northeast, East and Southeast of downtown do not equal the City’s cost to provide basic services. Another 24% of all the properties in Houston just reach the break-even point for costs of service. The impacts of this “disinvestment” have had big impacts on the City’s budget. There is now an opportunity to make key investments that could form the basis for the revitalization of Houston’s urban core.

A small group of economic development entities in Houston’s urban core have come together to form SPARC Growth Houston to suggest a change in the City’s approach to assisting areas within 3 miles of downtown. The SPARC concept is focused on targeting areas with existing communities in order to spur growth through economic development tools and incentives for specific projects that can attract positive economic activity.

Ultimately, the goal is that the wealth of those existing families, businesses, churches and organizations increase as these neighborhoods become safer and attract the amenities that they desire and deserve. The benefits of a successful urban core revitalization accrue not just to the targeted neighborhoods, but to Houston as a whole.

SPARC is an initiative and collaborative partnership of:

Greater Northside Management District, 5th Ward Community Redevelopment Corp., East Downtown Management District, and the Greater East End Management District