Houston's last opportunity for another university campus?Recently the Chronicle ran an article exploring options for developing KBR's 136 acres of land in the east end. Peter Brown even put in his two cents. It's a pretty amazing piece of land in the core, right on Buffalo Bayou with a downtown skyline view.
Everybody seems to want this land to end up like CityCentre or the Sugar Land or Woodlands town centers, but the retail components of those places absolutely require the vast numbers of upper middle class residents in the many miles of neighborhoods around them to support them (the residents on-site are nowhere near enough support). Given that this site does not have those income levels surrounding it, I'm not sure what's feasible. It seems like there are a few options:
- Go for very high density so the on-site residents can support the retail. There will definitely be a chicken-and-egg problem for quite a while as it is built out. It seems unrealistic. If people are going to live in that kind of density, I think they'd prefer to be inside the Walled Garden.
- Focus mainly on residential space, and the residents will drive elsewhere for most retail. Possible, but not very interesting for such a prime parcel of land.
- Try to do something more tailored to the area demographics, like maybe a town center version of Gulfgate? (which I believe has been quite successful) The problem is that the key to Gulfgate is being at the intersection of two major freeways, which is not exactly the case here. Gulfgate is also mainly built around big box stores, which are hard to do in a town center format.
This parcel of land could be the last opportunity for Houston to add a major college campus to the city. We should consider something similar to what NYC just did with Roosevelt Island, where after a long evaluation process they awarded it to Cornell for a technology campus. That is likely to eventually be a huge economic development boon for New York. Of course the City of Houston doesn't own the land, but it could be a facilitator (along with the GHP) to open discussions with the landowner and various universities to explore interest.
There are a lot of potential options:
- A branch campus of UH, like my proposed Houston Institute of Technology, an elite Berkeley-level campus to go along with the Tier 1 main campus and the open-access UHD campus. Or the University of Minnesota is an example of a university with multiple campuses in the same metro area (Minneapolis-St. Paul).
- A branch of Texas A&M. I like this option a lot. We're close enough to the main campus it would be easy for faculty and students to travel back and forth, and it opens up a large pool of students for them that would prefer to save money by living at home in Houston instead of College Station.
- A branch of Texas Tech, like the way Atlanta has Georgia Tech.
- A branch of UT, since they have them in every Texas Triangle city except us (not counting UT Health in the TMC or UTMB Galveston), including two in the DFW metro.
- A branch of one of the more elite private or foreign universities. This is a stretch, but worth exploring.
- We have traditionally African-American universities like TSU and Prairie View A&M, but I can't think of anything similar on the Hispanic side. Would that make sense? It would certainly fit the demographics of east Houston.
- In a similar vein, maybe a University of the Americas, with a Latin American focus, including both partnerships and exchange programs with schools in those countries.
- A new private university from scratch, endowed by one or more of our local billionaires. A long shot, and of course Rice and UH would much prefer that money went to them.
- Something like what they've done with the Compaq campus, where multiple colleges share the site. This might even work for branches of foreign universities looking to bring their programs to the U.S.
I'm looking forward to your feedback in the comments. And if you know any of the right people that might initiate or facilitate something like this (or even just start the conversation at the right levels), please pass it along. Thanks.
Update: The Chronicle of Higher Education picks up on the idea.