Lower Kirby district continues to expand, attract employers


Approximately 10 years after Kirby Drive was extended south into Pearland, the area surrounding the thoroughfare has become a growing hub for a range of development.

The Lower Kirby Urban District—about 1,200 acres of land at the southwest intersection of Hwy. 288 and Beltway 8—will welcome two more facilities in 2017 to add to the office and industrial businesses the area has attracted.

Lonza Houston—which broke ground on its new plant March 29—and Tool-Flo Manufacturing will generate an estimated $72 million in taxable value and add more than 230 jobs once completed, according to the Pearland Economic Development Corporation.

Lower Kirby district continues to expand, attract employers
“You look at 10 years since [Kirby Drive] has been in, and there’s been quite a bit of development down there,” PEDC President Matt Buchanan said. “Residential [development]can absorb a lot of ground over a quick period of time, but when it comes to commercial and industrial [projects], your timelines are longer.”

Recent success

Lonza, an international viral and cell therapy manufacturer, expects to open its 100,000-square-foot biotech facility in the third quarter of 2017, according to officials.

“Lonza has a great history of success in Houston, and we are looking forward to having even more success here in Pearland,” Senior Vice President Stefan Troger said.

The state-of-the-art manufacturing center will allow Lonza to more than double its viral gene and virally modified therapeutics production capacity.

“[The city] is very proud because [Lonza] has such a revered name in the medical community,” Pearland City Manager Clay Pearson said. “They will bring those kind of research and production jobs to Pearland, and they will add to what is already in this very successful Lower Kirby district.”

Tool-Flo has not set a ground breaking date, but the company’s new headquarters is expected to open in 2017, Buchanan said. The Berkshire Hathaway company—which produces tools and products for the oil and gas, automotive, aerospace and medical industries—will relocate from Houston and employ more than 185 workers.

“The Lower Kirby district is really taking off,” Pearson said. “There’s just a lot going on. Lonza is ahead of the curve [by]getting here early. I know it’s going to pay off for them.”

The PEDC announced the two newest additions in 2015, which builds on a successful stretch of development in recent years. In 2014, Dover Energy and Merit Medical—the district’s largest employer—opened in Lower Kirby. Buchanan said development activity in the area is the result of a variety of elements coming together at the right time.

“[The PEDC and the city] have been working on [developing]this area for probably 20 years now,” he said. “These things obviously have a timeline that they follow that is based more on market conditions than what you probably want. I think it’s just the fruition of a lot of work over a number of years of developing infrastructure, marketing and planning that are paying off for us.”

Lower Kirby district continues to expand, attract employers

Development hurdles

The entire Lower Kirby district was undeveloped prior to the arrival of Bass Pro Shops in 2007. A lack of infrastructure, including thoroughfares and drainage systems, was the biggest problem facing development, officials said. The Lower Kirby Master Plan—which was adopted in November 2011—identified $45 million in infrastructure projects needed throughout the district.

New streets—including North Spectrum Road—and part of a regional detention system have since been installed to accommodate growth. Pearland City Council awarded the contract to reconstruct Hooper Road into a concrete thoroughfare Feb. 22.

Private developers financed the necessary infrastructure, and the Lower Kirby Management District—which operates as a municipal utility district—reimburses the companies through bonds, officials said.

The addition of two major west-east thoroughfares and at least one north-south road are included in the city’s thoroughfare plan as well.

“I think [Lower Kirby] has been making tremendous strides over the last five years, and I think it will continue in the coming years,” Buchanan said. “I would look at this [master]plan as probably a 20- to 30-year plan. This isn’t an area that’s going to develop overnight. This is a very long-term plan, but I think our progress to date has been quite remarkable.”

Lower Kirby district continues to expand, attract employers

Bass Pro Shops, 150,000 sr.ft., 170 employees (via Stephanie Workman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Beginning Stages of Development

Pearland annexed most of the land that makes up the Lower Kirby Urban District in 1999, said Matt Buchanan, Pearland Economic Development Corporation president. The PEDC recognized the district as a prime location for development because of its proximity to Hwy. 288 and Beltway 8.

“We identified it as an area [where]we can attract employers and have it become an employment center for the community because of its natural attributes of being at the intersection of two major freeways,” Buchanan said. “We felt it would be a logical place that could be a draw.”

Bass Pro Shops was the first business in Lower Kirby after opening in 2007. The outdoor recreation equipment store remains the only retailer in the district, which has since added three health care-related companies: Cardiovascular Systems, Pearland Surgery Center and Merit Medical.

Lonza Houston’s manufacturing facility will be another health care industry development, however, Buchanan said the plan for Lower Kirby is to attract a mix of business types. The east side of the district near Hwy. 288 lends itself more to commercial and residential development, while office and
industrial uses are more likely near the western boundary, he said.

“I don’t think we could’ve ever expected that we would’ve gotten this caliber of companies in the district,” Buchanan said. “I also think—if you look at the quality of their facilities—you’d find an area in all of Houston that has a better mix of quality office and industrial facilities.”

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