The University of Houston System has moved forward on design plans for a Katy campus after it closed on a 46-acre tract on the northeast corner of I-10 and the Grand Parkway.
The $13.8 million transaction with Parkside Capital, a private equity fund, was signed Nov. 2. The 80,000-square-foot campus is expected to cost $32 million.
“[Katy officials] want their citizens to have immediate access to quality education,” said Paula Myrick Short, vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost. “That’s one of the reasons that we believe this will have such a tremendous impact. It offers the opportunity for many more people to be able to complete a degree.”
The Katy campus will sit within a 125-acre development called University Center along Grand Circle Boulevard in northeast Katy. The new facility is projected to open in time for the fall 2019 semester.
As part of its long-term plan to increase higher education opportunities in the Greater Houston area, the system began offering classes in Katy through the UH Main Campus and UH-Victoria in the fall 2016 semester. When the new Katy campus opens, students from both locations will move to the new facility, which is expected to host roughly 2,000 students, said David Oliver, associate vice chancellor for facilities and construction management.
The system’s master plan allows for an optional expansion of up to 500,000 square feet, which could accommodate up to 10,000 students. The system has 18 months from the day the contract was signed to exercise its option to purchase an additional 14.6 acres for future growth, Parkside Capital Vice President Dan T. Moody said.
“To have a user like a university come along and need that much land, to us, was a really nice thing to have happen,” Moody said.
Dave Ellis, spokesperson for the Williamsburg Settlement Maintenance Association, said the new campus will promote economic growth in the association’s neighborhood, which sits adjacent to the site.
“It is going to attract some people,” Ellis said. “Our residents, I think, would view that pretty positively.”
The campus is slated for an August ground breaking. The system is in the design phase and has shortlisted five undisclosed architectural firms that will submit renderings and compete for the job.
“We will ask [the firms] to come up with some architectural features, elements, colors [and] styles to make this campus unique,” Oliver said. “We want it to obviously look like a Tier One campus because that’s what it’s going to be and that’s going to be the goal. It will be something that will add to the Katy landscape.”
The Katy campus will fall under the UH Main Campus’ Tier One research university designation, according to system officials. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching designated the main campus as a Tier One institution in 2011 based on its level of research activity. Benchmarks include research expenditures, the quality of research faculty and the number of doctoral degrees awarded.
The Katy campus will be one of three satellite campuses to be built and owned by the system, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Jim McShan said. The system—which comprises UH Main Campus, UH-Clear Lake, UH-Downtown and UH-Victoria—offers classes at several additional locations, including two in Katy, where they may share or lease space from businesses or other educational institutions.
McShan said the system has received several offers on the former UH System at Cinco Ranch building, which last held classes in spring 2016. The names of the prospective buyers remain undisclosed, he said. The system will sell the Cinco Ranch campus and consolidate its Katy-area educational offerings at the new Katy campus.
While the system awaits construction of the new Katy campus, it currently hosts classes at two Katy-area locations, system officials said.
The UH Main Campus offers two graduate-level petroleum engineering courses at Houston Community College-Katy Campus, while UH-Victoria offers classes from its education, business and computer science programs in a leased space at 2002 W. Grand Parkway N.
System officials have worked with the Katy Area Economic Development Council and surveyed local businesses to determine how the university could support workforce needs in the area. The preliminary course catalog for fall 2019 includes engineering and nursing programs from UH Main Campus, and math, business and education from UH-Victoria.
“What’s driving the framing of what this Katy campus will look like is really the demands of the community,” Short said. “That’s what we’re putting foremost in our planning process.”
The system’s presence will be crucial to the area’s growth as Katy looks to become a leader for higher education offerings in the Greater Houston. The new Katy campus will be a critical part of the KAEDC’s five-year strategic plan, which is currently being drafted, President and CEO Lance LaCour said.
“It’s been part of our strategic plan since [the early 2000s] of enhancing higher education, and there’s so much opportunity with the new campus,” LaCour said.
The system considered 25-30 possibilities before purchasing land at the 125-acre University Center site, McShan said. While size and location were the most important factors, being part of a mixed-use development and being the namesake of the site were added advantages, he said.
Parkside will be responsible for infrastructure construction at the site, such as streets, utilities, lighting and landscaping. The company is in the design phase for the development and is awaiting Harris County’s approval of its traffic impact analysis and overall infrastructure plans. Approval is expected within the next two months and completion of Parkside’s portion of University Center is expected by the end of the year, Moody said.
“[Traffic] volumes are something we are required to take into consideration,” Moody said.
Ellis said traffic is a concern to residents in his community, which is one of the closest neighborhoods to University Center and is in a fast-growing area of Katy. However, he said his community looks forward to the benefits it will receive from being in close proximity to the mixed-use development and the Katy campus.
“I would expect [University Center] to have a positive effect on our property values,” Ellis said. “I’m hoping it will.”
This story is one update from The January Issue. View the full list of 10 things to look for in 2017 here.