Although Humble only covers 10 square miles, economic development is picking up in city limits and on the periphery. Several mixed-use developments that include retail and industrial or real estate components are under construction in the area.
Proximity to an international airport and favorable business practices, such as low taxes and rapid approval of construction permits, is fueling growth, City Manager Darrell Boeske said.
“Most of the area is not in a [municipal utility district] so we have the lowest tax rate in Harris County at 20 cents [per $100 valuation],” Boeske said. “We’re very user-friendly on development. If you give us a plat, two weeks later it gets on a council agenda—if it’s correct obviously—and it’s approved and we give permits the next day.”
In addition to its pro-business policies, Humble has invested more than $22 million in infrastructure projects since 2013 and created a reimbursement program to help make the downtown area more aesthetically appealing to residents and developers, he said. The initiatives help the city combat the natural challenges of attracting developers to a small town and the historical challenges of reinventing a former oil town.
“We take it seriously that we want to be part of the solution to get it done as quickly as possible,” Boeske said. “And we’ve done our work to put in the infrastructure, especially roadways. We have great standards, and we have improved our flooding to almost nil.”
Ryko Development Inc. is planning as many as 7,000 homes on 5,000 acres on a development just north of Spring Creek that spans to Rayford Road in Spring, Boeske said.
The development is still in the planning stages and does not have a timeline, said Nour Barazi Abdeen, Ryko Development’s marketing and communications specialist.
While the large tract is just northwest of the Humble border at West Fork San Jacinto River, the city is planning to construct a road that connects the development to prominent retail components on Townsen Boulevard, such as Target, Kroger and Costco. The road will be designed to alleviate traffic with thousands of potential new cars on the road and provide fast access to Hwy. 59, he said.
It could also lead to an increase in sales tax revenue as more potential residents would shop in Humble.
“[This 5,000 acre tract] will be a huge development around Humble, probably the largest single development that we’ve had since Summerwood,” Boeske said. “They’re expecting 7,000 homes and businesses. It’s of that magnitude, and it’s at our door.”
Several other tracts larger than 100 acres are also under development, including Townsen Landing Village, a 750-acre site behind Target on Townsen Boulevard that will include more than 300 homes and a Main Event; three industrial parks near George Bush Intercontinental Airport; and Air 59 Commerce Center, a 111-acre mixed-use site at the intersection of Hwy. 59 and Will Clayton Parkway. Logistics and industrial development have become sources of growth near the airport in the past half decade, city officials said.
The Air 59 Commerce Center will serve retail and industrial purposes, and will feature retail outlet Rooms To Go and a gas station by the end of the year, said Eric Hawk, a partner at Archway Properties, which is developing the commerce center.
“Industrial and retail are very healthy right now on the market,” Hawk said. “We’re very bullish about that property and, quite frankly, just the proximity—being on Hwy. 59 and adjacent to the airport and in close proximity to Beltway 8 with easy access to the Port [of Houston]. It’s just a very good location logistically as well as for consumer retail demand.”
Although much of the development has occurred on the outskirts of Humble, the downtown area—a walkable town center—could become a more attractive area for potential business owners soon, Humble Assistant City Manager Jason Stuebe said.
Developers are shifting toward walkable mixed-use centers that combine retail, restaurants and entertainment options with a Main Street feel like downtown Humble, as opposed to big box stores, according to a study by the George Mason University for Real Estate Entrepreneurship.
“The thing that’s exciting about downtown is that’s where the niche market is moving,” Stuebe said. “I guess you could say the gentrification of the old downtowns—you see that everywhere. That’s happening all over the country right now. We’re just on the infancy of being able to tap into that.”
Last year, the city passed the Downtown Improvement Plan to improve the aesthetics of area homes and businesses. Applicants could be reimbursed by as much $10,000 for projects that are viewable from the curb. Places of worship are not eligible.
The city has awarded more than $80,000 in commercial and residential matching grants through the program. While some of the projects reach the $10,000 maximum, others are as small as a $500 paint job for a cash-strapped new business, Stuebe said.
In addition, the city has implemented pavement and infrastructure improvement projects that improved roadways, such as Wilson Road and Main and Higgins streets, that have totaled $22 million since 2013.
Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Transportation is resurfacing FM 1960 Business, which is also known as 1st Street, and constructing medians and sidewalks between Lee and Old Humble roads. The improvements are projected to be complete by the first quarter of 2017, according to TxDOT.
“If you really want that old downtown feel to come back and be revitalized, you’ve got to do the little things like the paved walkways and crosswalks and the turn of the century lighting that you’re seeing in the downtown area,” Stuebe said. “That’s important to the look and feel when revitalization is on your mind.”
Humble’s first economic boom happened after a big gusher was discovered in 1904, leading to a flood of residents seeking liquid gold, according to the book, “Images of America: Humble” by Robert Meaux and the Humble Museum. By 1905, the Humble oilfield was the largest producer in Texas, according to the city of Humble.
Many residents rushed to the area, purchased land and tried to drill for oil. The presence of so many oil drills in the area makes development today difficult because developers cannot build over old drill sites, said Charlie Dromgoole, senior vice president of economic development for the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. The Humble oilfield covered 2,250 acres with 331 producing wells by 1938, according to the Texas State Historical Association
Other portions of land in the Humble area are located in a flood plain near Spring Creek or the West Fork San Jacinto River, making development more expensive. These factors leave attractive land in Humble undeveloped, he said.
“We might look like we have all of this land, but we don’t have that much because only a certain amount of it is developable,” Dromgoole said. “It’s one of those things that people don’t ever think about because it’s, ‘Wow, that’s a good piece of land,’ but there’s a hole in it.”