Renovations make room for more shopping

Sought-after retailers come to Willowbrook

The Willowbrook area near FM 1960 and Hwy. 249 has seen numerous renovation projects and a handful of new businesses move in as the completion of the Commons at Willowbrook shopping center nears.

With heavy-hitting retailers such as DSW, Dress Barn and H&M relocating or expanding in the area over the past year, Willowbrook is primed for the holidays and expecting unprecedented revenues, according to local developers and research organizations.

"The majority of retailers in the Willowbrook area have strong revenue sales," said Alex Makris, retail broker with CBRE. "I don't think it's a new phenomenon. People seem to prefer to shop along FM 1960 and in that Willowbrook corridor. When other retailers see this, [they] want to move to that area as well."

New retailers

Several retailers have opened new locations or relocated to the Willowbrook area, seeing it as an attractive place for consumers.

Opened in 1981 as part of the area's rapid growth period seen in the early 1980s, Willowbrook Mall has been called one of Houston's premier shopping centers by the Northwest Houston Chamber of Commerce. The 1.5 million square-foot, single-level shopping mall houses 160 stores along with four department store anchors—Dillard's, JCPenny, Macy's and Sears.

During the summer, Willowbrook Mall added several sought-after retailers from around the country. Versona Accessories, a women's fashion retailer—and Foreign Exchange—a clothing company based in California—opened their first locations in the city during the summer. High-end international jewelry retailer Pandora also opened a location, and H&M opened its largest clothing store in the state at Willowbrook Mall in June.

"One of the most important factors in keeping a shopping center relevant lies with a commitment to keeping our lineup of retailers fresh," said Brenda Crawford, general manager with General Growth Properties, a national real estate firm that purchased the property in 2001. "It is critical that we have the stores our customers want."

Lodging

Along with incoming retailers and continuing road projects, the Willowbrook area has seen the highest increase in hotel occupancy rates since 2006—all of which have contributed to an increase in consumer confidence. The average hotel occupancy rate throughout Willowbrook for 2012 is at 72.2 percent—more than 10 percent higher than last year, according to Smith Travel Research, an international research group.

There are nearly two dozen hotels, motels and extended stay options surrounding the Willowbrook area, which provide plenty of options for visiting relatives and vacationers. La Quinta, a national corporate and franchise hotel company, is constructing a location less than two miles from an existing inn to account for the area's growth.

"One [location] is an inn and the other is an inn and suites, which more often serve the business traveler," said Teresa Ferguson, director of communications and public relations for La Quinta Inc. "The additional location is being built to cater to the growing businesses that are coming to the area."

Although the number of available rooms in Willowbrook only increased by 1 percent over last year, the total revenue rose to nearly $350,000—an increase of 17.3 percent—according to Source Strategies Inc., a consulting firm for hotels in Texas.

Renovations

Since Willowbrook Mall's last renovation in the 1990s, additional ongoing improvements such as new furnishings and carpeting for seating areas, new palm trees and sleeker kiosks have been completed. There are several other projects such as landscaping, outdoor seating and lighting, and a remodeled western-themed play area for children.

"Since then, while we haven't undertaken a renovation of that scope, we are continually updating and upgrading, providing the best possible shopping experience to our customers," Crawford said.

Across from the mall, the Commons at Willowbrook shopping center began a $12 million renovation in February with the occupancy rate expected to rise to 97 percent in 2013. The project to revitalize the 457,000-square-foot center was the result of an increasing demand from consumers, according to developer CBRE Realty Inc.

The Academy Sports and Outdoors, previously adjacent to the Commons, relocated to within the shopping center Dec. 14 in preparation for the holidays, said Allan Rojas, senior communications coordinator.

"The biggest thing for us is the convenience to our customers in the Willowbrook area," he said.

Assuming the economy continues to improve during the next two years, consumers can expect to see several changes and renovations to shopping centers throughout Willowbrook, Makris said.