Sunday, June 25, 2006

Charities, hot industrial dev, global trade, CBD rank, selling toll roads, police flying eyes, White for World Mayor, IAH growth

Time yet again to clear out the miscellaneous small items queue:
  • Houston ranked third in the nation for the financial performance of its charities. My impression is that we have a strong business community that supports and serves local charities and brings that financial discipline with them.
  • Houston hot for industrial development. Excerpts:
Industry experts say the Bayou City has become a hot spot for industrial construction because of a growing demand for space that's being fueled by the strong economy and increased capacity at the Port of Houston.

Houston is also being cast as more of a distribution hub following last year's opening of a 4 million-square-foot distribution complex in Baytown by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
"Everyone wants to be in Houston now," he says. "Houston is booming."
  • Profile of booming global trade in Houston.
  • Houston's downtown was recently ranked as the 8th-largest central business district in the nation with 153,400 jobs (about 9% of the metro total), behind NYC, Chicago, DC, SF, Boston, Philly, and Seattle, but ahead of LA, Atlanta, and Dallas (which actually came in behind Austin, if you can believe that). With the exception of Seattle, Houston is the largest of the car-based, post-WW2 cities - a development pattern that has typically not been kind to downtowns.
  • Kuff does a great job summarizing what's wrong with selling toll roads, which, fortunately, is no longer a risk in Harris County.
  • Interesting story on using unmanned aerial observation drones in LA for law enforcement. Definitely an idea worth considering for Houston's recent crime spike.
  • Don't forget to vote online for Mayor White for World Mayor 2006 (thanks to Metroblog for the story).
  • Finally, a Dallas Morning News story on Continental's booming operation at IAH, in marked contrast to pullbacks by most legacy carriers in their hubs. Excerpts:

Growth in passenger traffic soared 9 percent last year at Bush Intercontinental Airport, enough to make it the fourth-fastest growing airport in the world.

That surpasses hot Asian airports such as Singapore's.

What gives?

A big factor is Houston's surging oil-fired economy, which has stoked job growth and punched up travel demand.

Nearly 80,000 jobs will be added to the Houston region this year, according to the Greater Houston Partnership report in May. That's up two-thirds from a December estimate.

But much of the airport traffic hike lies with the strategy of its major carrier, Continental Airlines Inc. Houston's hometown airline has taken a markedly different approach from most of its peers by adding planes and beefing up international and domestic flying.


"It's fair to say that Houston's strong economy has helped us have confidence here," said Karen Zachary, who plans Continental's domestic system, from her office in the carrier's downtown headquarters.


"What Continental has done at Houston is just fantastic," said Alan Sbarra, an aviation consultant with Roach and Sbarra in San Francisco. "It's just a great hub for sending traffic to Latin America and, to a lesser extent, to South America."

Most of those planes have added flights on existing routes to add appeal to Continental's schedule, which is built to give business travelers lots of choices to visit a city and come back in the same day.


Continental has kept hot food on its flights both in business class and in coach, in part because it owns the food kitchens that cater the flights and also because it wants to differentiate its service from the competition.

We're a very, very lucky city to have such a strong, well-regarded airline growing its hub aggressively at a modern, uncongested airport. It's a huge asset to the city. We're threatening to pass American's hub at DFW for the title of second-largest hub in the country (after Delta/Atlanta) in terms of flights per day (currently 781). We already beat them on nonstop destinations (183 vs. 166), but they have about a 50% edge in total passenger traffic because they use more large aircraft vs. Continental Express' regional jets (plus the Wright restrictions on Love Field that drive traffic to DFW, vs. our unconstrained Hobby). Still, when it comes to overall service, we've got the edge.

Note to Continental: if I say more good things, can I get a first-class upgrade on my flight to Denver this weekend? ;-)


At 8:13 PM, June 26, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those CBD figures are strange. Houston's CBD ranks third after New York and Chicago in office space with around 40 million sq ft, LA is next with about 25 million. Our skyline dwarfs those of Boston and Philly. So why are we behind them in CBD employment?

I'm guessing these census tracts include a sizeable chunk of non-CBD land, and that these other cities have a lot more jobs near their CBD's than Houston does. This makes sense, considering that downtown Houston basically becomes a lunar landscape once you leave its tallest buildings, whereas most cities have a supporting urban fabric of smaller buildings and businesses that slowly blends into residential neighborhoods. Not the sea of parking lots that we have.

What's remarkable about Houston is its proportion of skyscrapers to CBD jobs. Boston has 250,000 jobs in a 1.5 sq mi area, the same space in which we have only 150,000. But we have at least three buildings taller than their tallest of 60 stories, and several more between that and their next tallest. What gives? Probably our mega energy companies, with their need for large contiguous blocks of space.

In Boston (or Philly, or Frisco) the whole city clusters towards its heart. If you're looking for an important business (or restaurant, or shopping district), chances are you'll find it there. In Houston, a half dozen energy companies and the banks and law firms that serve them principally make up the CBD; the rest of the city goes elsewhere. The result is that our downtown lacks the rich mixture of activity and the feeling of truly being at a crossroads in the world that some other cities have. But we do have a killer skyline.

At 7:50 AM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having just been to Boston a couple months ago, I would have to say it simply boils down to density. They have lots of 1 and 2 lane streets in their downtown with lots of buildings that butt up against each other. The buildings aren't as tall, just more packed together.

At 8:55 AM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, starting July 17, Southwest will start flying from Hobby to DIA. If Continental does not give the upgrade...

At 3:20 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I sent the first comment to Wendell Cox, the man behind the CBD numbers, and this was his response:

Agreed on your last point. With respect to the CBD office space numbers, recognize that there is no standard definition of a CBD, so those numbers are suspect. Boston's advantage is that it has all of the old buildings that were very substantial that were never built in Houston. Remember that skyscrapers are a phenomenon of the 1960s and later in Houston and that often yours have been built on bigger plots of land, rather than up to the sidewalk in all four directions. Think about what used to be the TX Commerce Tower, with its big plaza or the plazas around the Shell building and the big building to the south of it.

Because of how the census tracts are defined in downtown HOU and BOS, there really isnt much space that is not intensely developed. The surprise for me was that Dallas was so low... I suspect that Dallas has close to the office space of Houston, but that much of it is empty.

At 3:21 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

And this is my response to Wendell's surprise about Dallas:

I am not at all surprised Dallas is so low (although it did surprise me they're behind Austin). Dallas' downtown has been anemic for years. All of the job growth is in the suburban towns closer to DFW airport. The real "center" of the DFW metroplex is that airport, and downtown Dallas is on the southeast periphery. South Dallas has serious economic problems, and employers were comfortable moving to the northwestern suburbs because almost all of their employees live in that direction. Much of Houston's job growth has also been outside downtown, but downtown has stayed central to the growth of the metro in all directions. Many major employers in Houston might consider moving to suburban office space if it wouldn't totally piss off the half of their workers that live in the suburbs on the opposite side of town. They really have to stay in the core because they're literally surrounded by commuting employees 20-30 miles in all directions. I imagine it's the same reason many Manhattan employers can't realistically move to the other boroughs or NJ.

At 6:14 PM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but the Dallas number said "DFW". Does that mean that Dallas and Fort Worth CBDs combined are one half the size of Houston's CBD?

I know Dallas has been anemic, but critically so?

At 7:24 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Response to RedScare from Wendell:

Each urban area has only one CBD in the data... In the case of DFW it is Dallas.

At 7:28 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> I know Dallas has been anemic, but critically so?

There are many others who know much more than I do, but my understanding is that employers simply won't locate there. Going farther northwest just makes too much sense: better access to newer suburbs for their employees, better airport access, fewer commuting hassles, and cheaper, newer office space. Downtown Dallas is still building amenities like the Trinity River project, DART rail focused on it, and AA Arena - but I don't think it's really lured any substantial employers.

At 9:01 PM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Austin does not have more workers in its downtown than Dallas. Look at the area. The area they used for Dallas's CBD is only 0.69 sq. mi., compared to about 1.5 for Houston and something similar for Austin. I would bet that UT is getting lumped into Austin's CBD. And while Dallas has a lot of vacancy, I don't think it's over 30%.

As for Boston and Houston... I am living in Boston right now, and I can tell you, downtown Boston is not remotely as big as downtown Houston. The answer is in the CBD areas. Boston's downtown is tiny... there is no way they can get a 1.5 sq. mi. area without lumping in Back Bay and probably Boston University. Look at a map that has a mileage scale and you will see this.

Dallas's downtown is at least as big, landwise, as Houston's, so the fact that their CBD is only 0.69 sq. mi. tells me that the Houston census tracts must include a lot of Midtown and East End wasteland (superimpose a 1 mile by 1.5 mile square on a map of Houston and you will see what I mean). I think that's the reason for the disparity with cities like Philly and Boston, which don't have those wastelands around their downtowns.

Btw, the CBD office space figures I mentioned are legit; I've seen them in multiple places.


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