October 1, 2015
River Oaks District Opens Fashionably on Time
Architects, city officials and designer-clad socialites buzzed under trees strung with white lights Thursday morning at the opening of River Oaks District, the luxury shopping, office and residential development on Westheimer just inside the West Loop.
OliverMcMillan, the California-based developer of the project, kept its promise of a fall opening. But even as champagne flowed and guests nibbled hors d'oeuvres Thursday morning, construction continued in a few stores and on the 270 residential units above the west side of the project.
More construction will follow. A project nine years in the making - postponed at one time by the 2008 financial crisis - River Oaks District transformed several acres into a nucleus of some of the world's top luxury retailers including Cartier, Dior, Hermès and Tom Ford.
About two dozen tenants opened their doors Thursday, and others are scheduled to open in coming weeks and months.
More than 85 percent of the retail space has been committed in the project, and about 95 percent of the retailers are new to Houston, OliverMcMillan CEO Dene Oliver said.
When complete, Oliver said, the project should attract an array of shoppers, diners and others wanting to see the luxury iPic movie theater.
Additional office space and a new hotel across Westcreek Lane, on the western edge of River Oaks District, are still under development.
Designers, landscape architects and developers were recognized during the grand opening. Houston philanthropist Lynn Wyatt spoke about OliverMcMillan's contribution to the arts - River Oaks District is sponsoring the Mark Rothko retrospective at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts - as well as the development's impact on Houston.
"Now there's even more reason to visit our cosmopolitan city," Wyatt said. "Do you hear me, world?"
Still, River Oaks District is opening at a time when Houston is beginning to feel the effects of what could be a prolonged energy slump.
Oliver said Houston continues to add jobs, suggesting the area is weathering the slowdown.
"So, if anything," he said, "what this really does, to have a little downturn in oil and a little correction - perhaps, you might say, a large correction - is to say to the world and Houstonians, 'Look, we go on with oil on the rise, we go on with oil being impacted, and this is a city of great resilience.'"
Oliver said tenants have not expressed misgivings or lost interest in moving in due to the decline in crude prices.
"I think that oftentimes, when you're in a city, you look at it through one lens, and you look at it through a different lens when you're outside the city," he said.
Additional office and retail space as well as a new hotel across Westcreek Lane, on the western edge of River Oaks District, are being planned.
Kelli Hollinger, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School, said the mixed-use nature of such development ensures something for well-heeled shoppers as well as those who aspire to be.
"Texas and Houstonians have experienced the boom and bust before," Hollinger said. "Nonetheless, Houston is one of America's most dynamic cities. Investments like the River Oaks District offer long-term perspective on the health, vitality and future growth of the city and the luxury customer."
The new development also creates new competition for the Galleria, a half-mile away.
"The Galleria is a stalwart of the Houston shopping landscape," Hollinger said. "It's not going away, but it will likely have to improve its offerings and service."
The Galleria, with 1.9 million square feet, is under renovation to enlarge its luxury wing. Saks Fifth Avenue will move to a renovated space, and a standalone building that will house luxury retailers is being built.
River Oaks District will complement the Galleria's offerings, said Shamika Johnson, attending Thursday's ceremony as a future store manager with Van Cleef & Arpels.
Johnson said the addition of global brands addresses a need she has heard from international clientele in her current position at the Galleria.
"I think it really does open up Houston as a destination for shopping," Johnson said. "It's the right time for Houston to have this."
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