ERiver’s official opening turned into a sort of celebration. Despite the generally oppressive heat, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and many city council members attended. Reverend Harry Clemons Jr., Founder of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, delivered an enthusiastic address. All taking place on a large open lot with a massive tent providing shade and a converted shipping container providing a respite from the fresh air.
âIt’s pretty surreal just because it’s the culmination of years of hard work,â says Anna Deans, vice president of investment and development at Midway. “But at the same time, it’s really just the beginning.”
A number of Houstonians have made it to East River before thanks to activations like the drive-in and public art commissions organized by Half-way, the developer behind the massive project. Midway continues to find ways to bring more and more people to the land – a 150-acre site previously closed to Houstonians for more than 20 years – with the upcoming additions of the East River 9 par-3 public golf course. and the family-run Riverhouse Houston Restaurant and Terrace Bar.
The short course has been designed for all skill sets – forgiving for beginners and children while challenging around the greens for the more competitive players. The kind of class that Houston desperately needs more of. The atmosphere at East River 9 will be easygoing and the golf course and driving range will be fitted with stadium lights for evening games, making those summer rounds cooler and extending the twilight rounds into the fall. East River 9 will be one of the closest golf experiences to downtown Houston and will be reasonably priced.
This is true community fixture rather than a traditional stuffy country club. It’s golf – and more – for everyone.
âTogether with Riverhouse, we are creating an inclusive place that will invite families, friends and professionals to explore the East End and Historic Fifth Ward communities,â said Midway Vice President Clayton Freels.
With prominent interior design architecture firm MaRS (Mayfield and Ragni Studio) set to design Riverhouse, this stands as one of the city’s most distinct places. East River’s first restaurant will be more than just a regular golf restaurant.
This will help set the tone for all the development to come.
“It will be a very unique place,” says Mayfield. “We’re really excited about this.”
Expect an expansive outdoor patio with views of the river, downtown skyline, and the rest of the East River Project – Phase 1 is under construction now – as it begins to rise.
âWe are so excited about this opportunity. The opportunity to honor the past of this site, the past of this community. But also to embrace the community. – Midway President and COO Jamie Bryant
The first users of East River
Of course, part of the heart of any mixed-use development comes from the companies that choose to locate there. East River also got an early start there with a number of early adopters already signing up. The group behind The astorian event venue will open a new event venue and rooftop bar in East River. As for office tenants, Method architecture – the designers of the new East End Makers Hub – and TEAL Systems – mechanical systems innovators moving their headquarters to East River – were the first two to sign up.
Impact Networking, which specializes in outsourced IT solutions, occupies a full floor of office space – a 16,000 square foot canvas.
âWe saw the development of East River as an elegant blend of history, culture, innovation and modern community,â said Scott Copeland, president of Impact Texas (the Lone Star State division of Impact Networking ). âMidway’s visionary efforts at East River are incredibly exciting and we are thrilled to be a part of this monumental project. “
Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries, a stand-alone bodega-boutique, will occupy 4,000 square feet, offering locally sourced seafood and meats, fresh produce, fresh bread, cheese and specialty condiments. A new restaurant from local chef Jonny Rhodes, nominated for the James Beard Award, who has been acclaimed nationally for his ‘neo-soul food’ tasting menu as owner / chef of the old restaurant Indigo, arrives also.
Rhodes grew up down the street from the East River site. With this new restaurant, his goal is to offer farmers quality food at an affordable price. In a community where quality food is scarce. Rhodes Farm – Food Fight Farms in Cleveland, Texas – will be the store’s primary supplier, providing pre-packaged, hand-made items for ultimate convenience for the buyer..
Lick Honest Ice Creams also brings its sweet Austin vibe to East River. URBN Dental is on its way to becoming East River’s first medicine-focused tenant.
âThis really is the hardest thing – it’s finding those partners who see the vision (early on) the same way you do and believe in it,â Deans says. âAnd believe that by working together you can really make it happen. Without partners and early adopters like this, none of this happens. “
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner noted at the groundbreaking ceremony that these communities “have always been in the shadow of development” before. No more. Over the next 15 to 20 years, East River will provide the equivalent of 60 city blocks of new stores, restaurants, apartment buildings, office centers, outdoor recreation areas (think kayaking on the Buffalo Bayou) and green spaces.
âIt’s a project that can uplift The Fifth Ward, The Second Ward,â Turner said.
East River looks to the future
East River is built for the long haul – with an overall planned construction of 20 years. In truth, this is a vision that has already been in preparation for years and years in the planning stages. The new stadium-lit East River 9 par-3 golf course and its accompanying Riverhouse restaurant are already under construction.
While East River 9 and Riverhouse will open in 2022, the full Phase 1 will be completed in 2023.
âWe love to celebrate these big milestones,â says Deans. “But we still have a lot of fun and important things ahead of us.”
Everyday Houstonians will no doubt be drawn to such things as the early waterfront activities and the new golf course, the type of inviting par 3 course that the game desperately needs. It will be anything but a country club. It is a class that you can play with your children or your grandmother. A course that you can play with two or three clubs (a putter and a pitching wedge or other short iron).
The type of course that should introduce more people to golf while also introducing them to East River. Not to mention this restaurant designed by Kelie Mayfield of MaRS, the fun artists behind places as whimsical as The George hotel in the Century Square mixed-use center of College Station and in the Victor skyscraper in Dallas.
Houston’s new playground
Have both MaRS and Munoz + Albin Architecture heavily involved in East River’s mega-development is another indicator of Midway’s commitment to doing something special. It should be an innovative, high-end mixed-use center, which could change Houston far more than CITYCENTRE even has.
It is already opening up a part of the city that has long been completely closed to everyday Houstonians. It was a fenced-in industrial site originally owned by the former construction company Brown & Root which helped reshape Houston and became the largest construction company in the United States.
This is the largest undeveloped site left in Loop 610, a site that will impact two historic neighborhoods – and indeed the entire region. And Midway is very aware of this responsibility.
âWe are thrilled with this opportunity,â said Midway President and COO Jamie Bryant. âThe opportunity to honor the past of this site, the past of this community. But also to embrace the community.
Restaurants with patios that overlook the water, giant lawns, and footpaths that will connect to Houston’s nearly 500 miles of existing trails and bike lanes, are coming. East River is full speed ahead from now on.
âWe’ve been working on this project for a long time,â says Clayton Freels. âIt’s great to run from the dirt. . . Now it’s coming. It will really open up a whole new side of Houston.
Midway assembled a Houston-based project team for the first phase of East River, including Page, commercial architect; EDI International, a benchmark multi-family architect; Munoz + Albin, architect of multi-family design; Mayfield and Ragni Studio (MaRS), multi-family interior design; OJB Landscape Architecture, landscape architect; and BGE, Inc., civil engineer.
The building is in progress. The wait is real now. East River is now a land that many will be able to explore, one big step at a time.
For more on East River as it continues to emerge, Midway and all of its developments, check out his new Neighborhood website.