Located at the intersection of Hwy. 59 and Hwy. 6, the 1.4 million-square-foot district features shopping, restaurants and office space. Landscaping updates, storefront facade improvements and new restaurants and businesses are a few of the changes that have been underway since 2020 to transform the square into a regional shopping destination, said Matt Ragan, director of retail programming and operations for Rebees, the real estate company co-managing the development.
“If you drive down there right now, the entire western half of City Walk is under construction,” Ragan said.
Central to that transformation is the addition of the Department of Wonder, a new location-based entertainment concept that will combine interactive theater with emerging technologies opening April 23. The venue—located at 2180 Lone Star Drive in the former Z Gallerie space—will be the anchor tenant for the western end of City Walk.
The improvements and additions aim to draw in visitors from across the region, officials said. Directly benefiting from the improvements is Pat Houck, the owner of House of Blooms—a flower shop that has maintained a presence in the shopping district since 2007. Her store is located on City Walk on the same block as the future Department of Wonder’s space, which has been empty since 2019.
The feedback Houck has received from her customers who are seeing the changes taking place in the district has been positive, she said.
“Every day they are asking, ‘Oh, my God—what’s going on?’ The feedback we’re hearing here in the shop from some of the customers is, ‘It’s so exciting. I can’t wait to see what all is going to be put here,’” Houck said.
Improving the experience
According to Ragan, the Department of Wonder—an original concept unlike anything the property manager has overseen in the past—aims to bring in aligned local tenants. Rebees will also focus on improving the area around the Department of Wonder.
The experiential quality that the Department of Wonder is bringing to Sugar Land Town Square is what Rebees, along with investment company Lionstone Investments and developer Planned Community Developers, is looking to spread to the rest of the district, Ragan said.
Ragan described the venue as part interactive art exhibit, part “participate in your own movie or video game. ”By early April, Rebees plans to have landscape improvements completed in front of Yesyoga, Art Museum TX, Loft and others on City Walk that include almost doubling the number of trees, lowering the tree canopy for shade and doubling the size of the tree walls.
This joins several small green spaces called “parklets” that are in the works along the same stretch of City Walk where the landscaping improvements are going in, designed to connect to and expand upon the town square’s public gathering spaces, such as its plaza. The landscaping improvements, along with the parklets, are slated for a spring 2022 completion date.When the Department of Wonder opens, the district will also debut new festoon lighting, or strung lights, running across the western block of City Walk, which will tie into the entrance to the Department of Wonder.
“On the second floor, there are these faux windows,” Ragan said. “We’re replacing those with high-definition LED screens that we can do anything from fun colors to full animations. It’s tied into that festoon lighting and can choreograph that entire block.”
Progress and partnerships
Rebees did not originally plan to open the first Department of Wonder in Sugar Land Town Square.
“The reason we pivoted to Sugar Land Town Square for this massive, very strategic and important brand launch was because of the city of Sugar Land,” Ragan said. “It was because of their want to do new and ambitious things, their drive and desire to make this a tech hub and a city for the 21st century.”The city of Sugar Land’s office of economic development focuses primarily on office tenants, industrial users, manufacturers and distributors. However, the city does have a public-private partnership arm that is focused on reinvesting in Sugar Land Town Square and other developments, such as Imperial, Constellation Field and Smart Financial Centre, said Elizabeth Huff, the city’s director of economic development.
As of March 2, of the 80 rental units in Sugar Land Town Square, 90% of those were leased, according to Ragan. These updates are coming after the city of Sugar Land reassessed the process for regulating its more popular pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use spaces, including Sugar Land Town Square, to encourage redevelopment through a 2018 comprehensive land use plan.
“We are not going to dictate what comes, but we want to be here as a resource to help attract the right kind of destination retailers that will not only benefit our residents, but also attract people from outside of the region,” Huff said.
In addition to city support, the town square has also garnered investment from many of its tenants on the potential benefits of the ongoing improvements, Ragan said.
After holding conversations with Rebees on its vision for the town square, tenants are now adding to the improvements individually as they seek to align their facades with the rest of the district’s updates.
Some of these businesses include Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille, Flying Saucer, The Rouxpour Restaurant & Bar and Vivaldi Music Academy.
Perry’s, for example, completed earlier this year a $3.5 million storefront renovation, including new windows, a gutted interior, a new bar, a wood awning, and an expanded and modernized patio, Ragan said.
Houck is also one of those tenants, though she has not committed to specific updates at the House of Blooms.
“We are working on that now,” Houck said. “We need to work with an architect and just have to sit down with them, but we’ve got some ideas.”