John Mayner, the director of the Shenandoah Convention and Visitor Bureau, said traditional retail centers have had to evolve over time to provide experiences for customers rather than simply offering shops.
“There is a focus on a live, play and work model,” Mayner said. “For Metropark Square [in Shenandoah], there is a lot of residential nearby and coming in within walking distance.”
Trend data from Houston-area real estate firm Caldwell Cos. indicates retail growth in The Woodlands over the past five years, with the number of dedicated retail buildings in The Woodlands market increasing from 644 in early 2015 to 790 in January. The total inventoried square footage of retail space increased by nearly 3 million in the same time period as well, according to the data.
Entertainment-anchored retail centers opened in 2019 in Creekside Park West and in Shenandoah, with another project slated for Birnham Woods Marketplace near the Grand Parkway this summer.
As of the Community Impact Newspaper print deadline, a Star Cinema Grill was confirmed by township officials to be coming to the College Park area, although details were not available from the theater company before press time.
While most of the new centers are outside of The Woodlands Township, each developer said the decision to come to the area is because of northward development from downtown and a lack of entertainment centers in the suburbs.
The Woodlands area previously only had three movie theater locations—at Market Street, in The Woodlands Mall, and Xscape at 1488 on Old Conroe Road which opened in 2018.
“More and more residents want to live in a development where they can shop, eat and be entertained without having to get in their car or call an Uber,” said Daniel Moon, the vice president of Metropark Square developer Sam Moon Group.
A need to change
Among the new retail and entertainment centers is Creekside Park West—a Howard Hughes Corp. development anchored by a 42,000-square-foot Cinépolis movie theater. In the Spring area, Regal Benders Landing, a 14-acre development coming in next to Birnham Woods Marketplace this summer, will be anchored by a 105,000-square-foot Regal theater and 24,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space.
Meanwhile, Metropark Square, a 69-acre development by Sam Moon Group east of I-45 in Shenandoah, offers an AMC theater and a 40,000-square-foot Dave & Buster’s entertainment center. Moon said centers such as Metropark Square have had to adapt in order to survive.
“With traditional retail continuing to struggle, new developments are looking for tenants that are ‘Amazon-proof’ like entertainment tenants,” Moon said. “Tenants like AMC and Dave & Buster’s are the best way to ensure that retail centers and mixed-use developments stay relevant today and in the future.”
Along with the entertainment options, Moon said the development will tout between 20 and 25 businesses of varying types, including restaurants, dentists, salons and a hotel. Both single-family and multifamily living will be coming into the area as well.
“More and more tenants need to have additional foot traffic from residents and hotel guests to add as an additional demand driver to their business,” Moon said.
In Creekside Park West, Cinépolis was the first business announced when ground broke on the retail center Jan. 31, 2019. The theater opened to the public Nov. 29, and Cinépolis Account Manager Marcus Moreno said the idea was to make the retail center a destination.
“The Creekside Village Center is designed to provide reliable conveniences,” Moreno said. “The Woodlands cinema is perfect for friends, family, date night or a solo outing.”
Theaters such as Cinépolis have started adding features to draw guests, such as scratch kitchens, full-service bars, larger and higher-definition screens, leather seating, and servers to bring food and beverages.
As of press time, no other stores have been announced for the retail center, but Howard Hughes Corp. representatives previously stated announcements are forthcoming.
South of The Woodlands and east of I-45, Lindsey McKean, a representative of The J. Beard Real Estate Co. who is in charge of leasing for Regal Benders Landing, said the immediate area around Riley Fuzzel Road is currently lacking in a variety of amenities such as entertainment. The Regal Benders Landing is reportedly one of the largest Regal theater developments underway in the country, McKean said.
“From what [Regal] is telling me, the technology they are using in the new theater is state of the art,” McKean said. “They feel people will travel just to go see a movie with their technology.”
Mayner said most entertainment and cultural experiences are located close to a city’s downtown.
Once cities begin to build out, those sites push outward, which Mayner said he saw in Dallas and which is now happening in Houston.
McKean said the region south of The Woodlands is still considered a high-growth area despite The Woodlands beginning to near build-out. She also noted there is a lack of restaurants and entertainment in the area.
Businesses in the new retail centers are trying to have a reach as well. Andy Oreskovich, the manager of the Dave & Buster’s in Metropark Square, said the location north of Houston follows a trend of expansion.
“We’re close to The Woodlands. We can grab people from the Conroe area. It is a good metro that is growing,” Oreskovich said. “Houston cannot grow much more east [and] west is too west, so north seems to be the way the expansion is going.”
Moon said Metropark Square could have guests coming from Shenandoah, The Woodlands, Conroe and other surrounding areas, which would not be possible without having venues such as Dave & Buster’s and AMC.
“As the developer, we reached out to AMC [and] Dave & Buster’s and convinced them to come to Metropark Square,” Moon said. “Without these two major entertainment tenants, Metropark Square would not have the draw to become a mixed-use development that was built for today and the future.”
Once the Hyatt House hotel that is currently under construction is completed, Moon said he hopes the 148-room hotel will bring in and entertain guests from outside of Texas when it opens in February 2021.
Developers working on the retail centers are not the only ones expressing an interest in what they are bringing to the area. Eric Walker, the Capital Retail Properties manager who oversees leasing for Birnham Woods Marketplace, said the incoming theater is expected to have a positive effect for the businesses nearby.
Birnham Woods Marketplace primarily consists of retail and dining, as the retail center is anchored by a Kroger and marketplace-style storefronts, including 1,000 Degree Pizza.
“It will definitely bring more traffic to the retailers in our center, and it will give the community a better option for entertainment than having to drive to The Woodlands or Valley Ranch to see a movie,” Walker said.
McKean said for residents south of The Woodlands, the incoming Regal center will be one of the only locations that offers food, shopping and movies, and other nearby retail centers will benefit as well once the location is completed. Because of the size of the project, McKean said the theater is anticipating 1 million theatergoers on an annual basis.
Visit The Woodlands President Nick Wolda said along with tenants of the new retail centers that are opening, area residents will be able to benefit from the lifestyle components the entertainment centers bring.
Moon also previously said the development is bringing in regular property taxes, sales taxes and other monetary benefits to the city of Shenandoah from the guests it brings into the area.
According to Nancy Becker, president of the Creekside Park Village Association, residents of the neighborhood were initially concerned about Creekside Park West coming in due to the unknown effects of the new development.
Becker said her primary concern for the new retail center was that businesses might pull out of the area, leaving vacant buildings.
Since Cinépolis opened, however, Becker said she has heard positive feedback from residents, who mentioned the convenience factor of having a theater nearby.
“I do not think we have reached a saturation point yet,” Becker said of the new theaters coming in. “We hope they have done their due diligence in researching the area to see there is a market here.”