May 2, 2014
Luxury moves to River Oaks District
by Nancy Sarnoff
Some of Houston's top luxury retailers are trading their longtime locales for River Oaks District, one of Houston'snew mixed-use real estate development emphasizing flashy brands and high-end design.
Cartier, Dior, Hermès and Tom Ford have signed agreements to operate stores in the 15-acre complex along Westheimer just inside the 610 Loop that expected to open next spring, according to developer OliverMcMillan.
Cartier recently left the Galleria and will be in a temporary space before moving into River Oaks District in 2015, the developer said. And after about 15 years, Hermes will leave its Post Oak Boulevard location to move into a larger, two-story building in the new project. Dior used to be in the Galleria, but has closed its store there, and Tom Ford is new to Houston.
The commitment from these high-fashion brands helps to solidify River Oaks District's future as Houston's newest sought-after spot to splurge, Dene Oliver, CEO of Oliver-McMillan, the San Diego-based company developing the project, said in an interview
"It really puts the stake in the ground, and really defines this as the new place in Houston for luxury and for upscale shopping," Oliver said.
OliverMcMillan broke ground on the complex last summer after receiving financing as well as a financial incentive of as much as $19 million from the city.
The development will have 252,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, cafes and a cinema, along with 92,000 square feet of office space and 279 residential units when it opens.
Hermès and Dior will have large stores in two-story buildings, with 10,117 square feet and 9,056 square feet, respectively. Cartier's store will be 6,040 square feet, and Tom Ford will occupy 4,906 square feet.
With the new leases, the retail component of River Oaks District is about 75 percent spoken for, including an eight-screen, 560-seat iPic Entertainment movie theater and others.
The project at Westheimer and Kettering is being designed by a team, including Gensler, Papageorge Haymes of Chicago and the landscape architecture firm of Hoerr Schaudt.
The design involves a heavily landscaped urban-style street grid with wide sidewalks, curbside parking and tree-lined streets encouraging pedestrian activity.
"It's all about strolling," Oliver said.
Securing such global luxury brands takes tremendous marketing efforts, Oliver said.
The real estate company has been courting tenants for the Houston project from a penthouse unit in a brownstone in Midtown Manhattan where it has architecture models, renderings and other materials to pitch the development to prospective retailers.
"We bring them in there and tell them the story," Oliver said. "We're literally pulling out the Texas limestone that's going to be on the buildings. ... We get them excited about what we're doing. We go to a camera that shows the cranes moving and the construction workers."
Peter Malachai, a spokesman for Hermès, said the new store will give the store more space to hold its growing collection of high-priced handbags, scarves and high-fashion home goods.
"A lot of our clients reside in adjacent neighborhoods, and that's something that was very important in terms of our decision," Malachi added.
The existing Hermès store is in the upscale BLVD Place development on Post Oak Boulevard, where it has had an "enormously successful" run, said Ed Wulfe, chairman and CEO of Wulfe & Co., the retail development and brokerage firm and developer of the project.
Wulfe said BLVD Place is targeting upscale tenants, but not those at the very top of the luxury market
Houston's Galleria, he said, presents some of the strongest competition for the very high-end market.
The owner of the mall is in the middle of a redevelopment where it is adding a larger Saks Fifth Avenue store and space for more luxury retailers. Mall officials declined to comment.
Cartier, which had been in the same spot in the Galleria for about 18 years, is about to open a temporary location at 2031 Post Oak Blvd. between Westheimer and San Felipe.