More than 25% of all retail development in the Greater Houston market so far in 2019 has taken place in the Cy-Fair area, according to commercial real estate agency CBRE Houston.

The growth can be seen at mixed-use centers such as Fairfield Town Center, the Boardwalk at Towne Lake and Bridgeland’s Lakeland Village Center—all three of which are expanding to meet the needs of residents in the master-planned communities with which they are associated.

“There are so many communities out this way with all the improvements to [Hwy.] 290 and just major growth in the area, which traditionally follows great school districts, which we have in Cy-Fair,” said Jennifer Symons, the vice president of marketing at Caldwell Companies, the development firm behind TowneLake. “I think it’s not going to slow down. I think the growth of Cy-Fair is going to continue.”

Demographers at Population and Survey Analysts project more than 35,000 new housing units will be added to the Cy-Fair area in the next decade, and developers are planning major projects such as the 900-acre Bridgeland Central town center to accommodate the growth. While developers bring new retail and dining options to cater to Cy-Fair’s growing population, many said they have also been forced to adapt to changing demographics and technological advancements. “Shopping patterns and the way we do business has changed,” said Carl Esser, the general manager of the Fairfield Town Center.

Retail expands

Both the Boardwalk at Towne Lake and Fairfield Town Center have brought new tenants into their existing spaces and broken ground on expansion projects this year.

At the Boardwalk, The Union Kitchen replaced the former location of Jaxton’s Grill House & Bar, and Ambriza Social Mexican Kitchen opened this summer.

Construction is also wrapping up on a new building at the Boardwalk, which will soon house Houston Methodist medical offices along with more dining and retail businesses, Symons said.

“It’s important to have a healthy mix of your big national brands—like MOD [Pizza], like Torchy’s [Tacos]—along with the local boutique flavor,” she said. “Just having proven operators that know their market is really key for us moving forward at the Boardwalk and finding people who really are in touch with their local customer.”

Washington Prime Group, the developer of the Fairfield Town Center, announced this fall that Crumbl cookie delivery services, Which Wich sandwich shop and Sleek Chocolatier are slated to open by the end of 2019.

Additionally, Burlington, a Cut! by Cinemark movie theater and a new Mexican restaurant will break ground soon, Esser said, and should be open by the end of 2020.

At both mixed-use centers, officials said it is important to have a balance of different types of businesses in one place—including restaurants, retailers that offer a variety of products and services that are useful to residents.

Esser said he aims to bring in retailers and dining options that local families can benefit from in their day-to-day lives, such as existing tenants HomeGoods, Academy Sports & Outdoors and H-E-B. “If I went out here and asked the customer [what they wanted], they’d ask me for Nordstrom; they’d ask me for Saks. They’re never satisfied with what they have, and here’s the problem: We want them to go back shopping every day, every week, every month,” he said. “They may shop at Saks once a year, twice a year maybe. But they’re not going there like they do to Marshalls.”

Developers adapt

Esser said the nation’s retail landscape changed once stores selling a wide range of products and online retailers such as Amazon came on the scene. Families have also come to expect certain conveniences, he said.

Restaurants across Cy-Fair have partnered with online services that deliver food directly to consumers’ homes, such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. Major grocery retailers such as Kroger, H-E-B and Target have also begun offering delivery and pickup services so customers can place orders online at their convenience.

But businesses still must get creative to stay relevant and find ways to bring consumers to their brick-and-mortar sites, said Leslie Martone, president of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce. For instance, the Boardwalk at Towne Lake, Fairfield Town Center and Lakeland Village Center host regular events on-site, including live music performances and farmers markets. Martone said she has also seen local businesses offer exclusive specials and discounts to in-store shoppers. While it is more convenient to order products from Amazon or other online retailers, Martone said she believes it is important Cy-Fair residents support local businesses in their community.

“I loved the sign that someone shared: ‘Amazon doesn’t support your kids’ soccer teams, we do!’” she said.

Jim Carman, the senior vice president of commercial development for Bridgeland’s developer Howard Hughes Corp., said fitness services are frequently requested by residents and are another service that keeps consumers returning to the site.

Shaka Power Yoga, for instance, has hosted several events in the Bridgeland community since opening at Lakeland Village Center in late 2018.

Carman said Howard Hughes Corp. has also worked to create memorable experiences for Lakeland Village Center guests through the incorporation of walkable spaces, public artwork, park areas, and other gathering places for friends and families.

“It’s critical that we create projects that go beyond transactional relationships between customers and vendors,” he said. “That worked before, back in the day—you’d build a strip center, and you have your basic needs there, and somebody comes, they park, they do their business and they get in their car and leave. That won’t work long term.”

Future projects

Bridgeland is the top-selling master-planned community in the Houston region and the 11th-top-selling in the nation, according to RCLCO Real Estate Advisors. With about 12,000 residents and 65,000 projected at build-out, Howard Hughes Corp. is making long-term plans to accommodate growth.

While Lakeland Village Center has space to expand, Carman said developers are investing more time planning Parkland Village Center—the second of four village centers planned for Bridgeland. Slated to break ground in late 2020 or 2021, this center will be slightly larger than Lakeland Village Center but will offer similar options, such as restaurants and convenient services, he said.

Depending on market demand, Carman said work on a new urban town center called Bridgeland Central could also start in late 2020. The first phase of the project is slated to feature 80,000 square feet of retail space, 40,000 square feet of restaurant space, 250 hotel rooms and 650 multifamily units.

With 900 acres of space along the Grand Parkway, he said the concept is similar to The Woodlands Town Center.

“The Woodlands was initially a suburban community that served Houston, and the residents there commuted,” Carman said. “Today more people commute to The Woodlands than out of The Woodlands. It’s become a suburban-urban center that really has become an employment hub for people to live close to their office and enjoy the lifestyle ... through their whole day and whole week.” In Towne Lake, where PASA projects about 1,500 more housing units over the next decade, Symons said Caldwell Companies has more commercial real estate opportunities, including an office condo park coming in 2020.

Esser said as the market continues to change and retail competition increases, it is important to have both large anchor tenants, such as department stores, movie theaters and popular restaurants, as well as unique specialty shops to attract customers.

“As I see it, you’re going to have less and less of the regional malls,” he said. “If you look at regional malls throughout the country—and we own a lot of them—you’ll find that there aren’t enough anchors around and there aren’t [enough] new small stores that would cause you to come to the shopping center and walk down through the center.”