Locally referred to as “Gunspoint” due to its high crime, Greater Greenspoint—the area where I-45 and Beltway 8 intersect—has made strides  in economic development and public safety in the past few years, officials said. Now, Greenspoint leaders said their biggest challenge is tackling the lingering negative public perception.

“There are a lot of really exciting things happening here,” North Houston District President Greg Simpson said. “There is what [some] believe a misperception of the area.”

The North Houston District, a management district that advocates for services and projects in the Greenspoint area, announced in the summer that $500 million is being invested into the area from 2018-23. Investments include hotel renovations, new businesses such as a Coca-Cola bottler opening in early 2020 and the opening of Rockstar Energy bike park in August.

From 2017 to 2018, the total number of crimes committed—including violent and nonviolent—also dropped 10% north of Beltway 8 and 2.6% south of Beltway 8 within Houston Police Department’s jurisdiction, according to HPD data.

But many Spring and Klein residents said they still they do not feel safe visiting the area. One Greenspoint resident, Emily Ebarb, who has lived in an apartment in Greenspoint for nearly two years, said the area is “one of the worst spots” she has lived in.

“There’s a lot of crime. There’s a lot of loitering around gas stations,” she said. “I’ve actually had a shooting in my apartment complex I had to run from.”

Law enforcement officials and apartment, nonprofit and business owners said they are partnering together to combat crime and build a sense of community in Greenspoint.

“We do different programming in the community,” said Jose Rivera, executive director at the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA. “Right now, we have 14 after-school sites, and we have outreach sites within apartment complexes where we provide after school enrichment.”

New developments, renovations

The North Houston District—originally the Greater Greenspoint District—was created in 1991 to advocate for projects and services. In an attempt to rebrand the area and move away from the stigma of “Greenspoint,” the district renamed Greater Greenspoint into four quadrants in 2016—Greens Crossing, Greenspoint, Pinto Business Park and Aldine Corridor. In this article, “Greenspoint” generally refers to the Greater Greenspoint area.

The district also works to attract new businesses. Industrial and logistics specifically appear to be on the rise in the Greenspoint area.  Businesses that recently opened include Kitchen Cabinet Distributors, which opened in January; and Amazon’s Fulfillment Center, which opened in July 2017.

Projects under construction include a logistics center, Crow Holding’s multibuilding industrial center and a 40-acre industrial development known as Layne Crossing, all of which will be completed by the end of this year.

According to a survey from the North Houston District of 23 buildings, occupancy for Class A buildings on July 2, 2018 was 85.7% in the north Houston submarket—higher than the 2017 year-end figure of 71.3%.

Meanwhile, Rockstar Energy Bike Park—a $25 million complex—opened in North Houston in August. The park will host the BMX Nationals in October 2019 and April 2020 and the 2020 BMX World Championships in May.

“We are expecting 3,000 to 4,000 people a day attending each of those [nationals] events,” said Sally Bradford, director of the North Houston Development Corp., a tax increment reinvestment zone. “We expect 8,000 attendees a day for an eight-day event [for the world championships].”

Alongside new projects, businesses and hotels are investing in renovations and upgrades. For example, Driftwoods Hospitality Management said it expects to spend $35 million on the Hilton Houston North.

“We believe [the renovations] will be a significant part of this area’s rebirth,” hotel General Manager Richard Sutter said.

Although the Greenspoint area is working to attract businesses, Greenspoint Mall is filled with vacant storefronts. On Sept. 23, the GNC inside Greenspoint Mall had “closing soon” signs displayed on its front windows.

GNC store manager Judy High said the closing is a combination of companywide closures as well as slow traffic inside Greenspoint Mall.

In May, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved a resolution for the redevelopment of the Greenspoint Mall by the North Houston District. However, the district would not provide details of the redevelopment plans before press time.

“I can say there are conversations in progress regarding the sale of the mall, but I can’t say anything more than that,” Simpson said.

The mall’s General Manager Patsy Mitchell gave no comment on what the redevelopment might entail.

Partnerships to tackle crime

Law enforcement officials said they attribute declining crime to recent partnerships and new programs.

“Crime has dropped significantly since 2016 and every year since then,” Houston Police Department Lt. Bridget Lummus said.

In January 2018, HPD established its North Belt Division to service Willowbrook, Greenspoint and the nonairport communities.

The move brought 100 new HPD officers to the Greenspoint area, which has led to quicker response times, said Tracy Harrison, director of public safety for the North Houston District.  Bradford said the district and the city of Houston will also be funding a new police station for the North Belt Division on Gears Road, which will total $18 million in construction costs. Design will begin this winter.

In March, the North Houston District joined the Harris County Attorneys Office’s Community Protection Program. The program provides additional resources for law enforcement to work with properties where habitual crime occurs. As of September, Harrison said law enforcement has closed two illegal massage parlors.

Law enforcement officials also said they collaborate with apartments.

“We have a wonderful working relationship with the apartment managers, and we offer monthly meetings with all of them to address any crime trends or issues,” Lummus said.

Steve Moore, co-owner of Villa Serena Communities, which manages more than 4,000 units in Greenspoint, such as Augusta Apartments, said he has been able to cut crime on his properties in half since he acquired them six years ago by conducting background checks on potential renters, working with the local police and installing 250 cameras throughout his properties in February.

“We have incredible teamwork between us … and HPD’s North Belt Division, headed by Capt. Steven Spears,” Moore said. “The police … have got to have the community [support].”

Crime, poverty perception remains

Despite the advances in public safety and economic development, many residents in Greenspoint and nearby said they do not feel safe in the area.

Bruce O’Neal, a professor of mass communications at Sam Houston State University who also lives in Greenspoint, he began researching this summer why negative perception surrounds Greenspoint. Although only in his initial stages of research, O’Neal said it might have to do with internal biases.

“The perception still persists that [Greenspoint is] this dangerous [place] that you can’t even drive through without a bullet in your window,” he said. “I’m looking into [why we] believe … things when there’s overwhelming evidence that it’s not the case.”

Residents say poverty is another challenge the area faces. The median household income for the North Houston District is lower than the city of Houston’s, at $37,492 in 2018, according to a report prepared by Esri, a geographic information system company. The city of Houston’s median household income in 2017 was $49,399, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ebarb, a student and working mom, said she struggles to make ends meet. She said has noticed some small aesthetic improvements to the Greenspoint area but still feels the area overall is neglected.

“The [apartment] managers keep trying to make it better; they keep trying to do things to deter crime,” she said. “New gas stations try to come here ... but it always ends up with ... people that [probably] aren’t doing things legally.”