Park 8Ninety

Missouri City, Texas

Park 8Ninety is a 127-acre business park in Missouri City, Texas, just southwest of Houston. Ultimately, 1.8 million square feet of warehouse and flex space is planned, beginning with a speculatively built first phase of 439,704 square feet in three buildings with high ceilings and wide column spacing. Existing tenants include distributors and manufacturers, many serving nearby hospitals or the building trades.

The infill site has excellent highway access but had been overlooked because it was entangled by multiple utility easements that made drainage difficult. The municipality of Missouri City worked with developer Trammell Crow to implement an off-site stormwater detention strategy that raised the site’s elevation and created a new recreational lake at an adjacent city park.

 

Introduction

Getting stuck at the office over the weekend took on an entirely different meaning for employees of Rexel Inc. during Hurricane Harvey. They were scheduled to open a new regional office and warehouse at Park 8Ninety in Missouri City in September 2017. On Saturday, August 26, the rains came—and did not let up for four days.

Park 8Ninety is a business park in Missouri City, Texas. (Powers Brown Architecture) First, the sunken highway interchange out front filled with water; elsewhere in town, two tornadoes struck offices and homes. Then, water began backing up in some of the roads—but then stopped, well short of the front doors or even the cars in the small parking lot. Nobody could leave because even the elevated highways were only reachable via flooded roads, but at least the staff, the new furnishings, and the valuable inventory were safe inside. By the time the sun came out August 30, roads were clear, the detention basin’s channel was dry, and the new offices could open on time.

The $4 million drainage system installed at Park 8Ninety “still worked with 50 inches of rain,” says Dan Muniza, vice president at developer Trammell Crow. “Our tenants were high and dry—including the ones trapped in the property during move-in.” A partnership between the developer and the city ensured that the rain was safely diverted 1,000 feet away—to a newly dug lake at the popular Buffalo Run Park. The park’s lakes kept more than just the business parks dry: an adjacent high school also became a refuge during the storm, taking in more than 600 residents displaced from their flooded homes.

The Site and the Idea

Park 8Ninety fills 127 acres in the southern quadrant of the intersection between Beltway 8 (Sam Houston Parkway and Tollway) and U.S. 90 Alternate (U.S. 90A), a limited-access continuation of Houston’s South Main Street. The site is 13 miles from downtown and ten miles from the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, with over 100,000 employees.

The beltway’s opening in 1997 gave the area much-improved, stoplight-free access around southern Houston to the Port of Houston east of the city, the nation’s largest port by tonnage, as well as to the two international airports and the Energy Corridor business center on the city’s west side (see ULI Case Study: CityCentre Houston). The additional connectivity sparked growth among industrial facilities in the southwest part of the region, an area that had mostly been bedroom communities.

In 2007, Trammell Crow purchased the defunct Willowisp Country Club just south of Park 8Ninety and redeveloped it as Lakeview Business Park, building off the success of nearby industrial development. A residential developer had been interested in that site, given the boom underway at the time, but Trammell Crow convinced the city that industrial development presented greater opportunities to expand its tax base and create local jobs.

“We predicted the industrial market moving in that direction,” says Jeremy Garner, principal at Trammell Crow. “We saw demand expanding south of the beltway.” Today, Lakeview has over 1 million square feet of industrial space, including facilities for Niagara Bottling, Southwest Electronic Energy, and Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Trammell Crow, which began operations in 1948 with a speculative industrial park in Dallas, today is the largest commercial real estate developer in the United States, with almost $8 billion in projects in development. (ULI published a biography of founder Crow in 2005.) Today, it is the development services arm of CBRE, a Fortune 250 commercial real estate services and investment firm.

Planning and Design

Ultimately, Park 8Ninety will contain a total of 1.8 million square feet of space in up to 13 buildings. The site is bisected by a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) drainage channel, which conveys water from U.S. 90A along the site’s northwest boundary to the Cangelosi Ditch, the site’s southeast boundary.

Buildings. The first phase consists of 440,000 square feet of space in three single-story buildings at the front of the park, closest to the intersection of Beltway 8 and U.S. 90A. Two buildings (Buildings 1 and 2) are 160 feet deep and bracket a rear truck court; the larger Building 3/7 is 200 feet deep and 1,620 feet wide, with a front truck court. Four additional 160-foot-wide buildings are planned for the park’s front half. All of these structures are appropriate for either warehouses or flex space: multiple frontages allow for windowed offices in front of or beside warehouses; storage racks easily fit under high-cube ceilings with 28 or 32 feet of clearance and bays up to 52 feet wide.

The park’s back half, west of the TxDOT channel, is planned to include five substantially larger warehouses. Three are planned as cross-dock warehouses (with loading docks on both sides), and two are flex buildings with parking in front and a truck court at the rear.

Despite its choice location, the Park 8Ninety site remained underused for decades; much of it was woods or fields, but part was developed as a golf range in the 1990s. To the west are a few streets of houses built in the 1970s and one site with a colorful history: a racetrack, then a failed Chinese-themed retail center, then a never-built Islamic religious center. This particular site had been eyed for development, but appeared to be impossible to drain—especially since about 40 percent of the site sat below base flood elevation. As Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen explains, “Development [in east Texas] is geared around two things: getting water onto the site and getting water off of the site.” The latter took some ingenuity.

Drainage. Even though the site is traversed by TxDOT’s drainage channel and borders the Cangelosi Ditch, these were both only a few feet deep—too shallow to adequately drain the volume of water coming off the site. Sites in the Houston area must be engineered to convey a storm that drops 13 inches of rain within an hour—a requirement that is being raised in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Neither constructing conventional storm sewers just below grade nor deepening the TxDOT channel was physically possible: Park 8Ninety is traversed from east to west (parallel to the ditch) by multiple utility easements—notably two 16-inch-diameter high-pressure petroleum pipelines five feet below grade and high-tension electrical wires above. Trying to detain all stormwater on site would have left much of the site as wetlands, with only unusably small remnants for development.

The solution, hammered out by assistant city manager Scott Elmer and project engineer Mark Sappington, looked beyond the site’s boundaries for a solution involving a nearby park that needed improvements. As Joe Esch, economic development director for Missouri City, says, “We needed a hole, and they needed dirt.”

Most of Missouri City drains southward, toward the Brazos River, but this corner drains to the northeast, into Sims Bayou via the Cangelosi Ditch. In the late 1990s, Missouri City commissioned a watershed-wide master drainage plan from local engineering firm Walter P. Moore that identified a defunct sand mine just south of Park 8Ninety as an ideal regional detention site.

The mine site was purchased in 2000 by Fort Bend County, which built Thurgood Marshall High School on part of it and sold 95 acres to Missouri City for Buffalo Run Park. The two big sand pits were flooded to create three interconnected lakes with a boat ramp, surrounded by almost two miles of trails, three picnic pavilions, an observation tower, a volleyball court, and a playground. When combined with the high school’s adjacent playing fields, the park can accommodate crowds as large as the city’s Independence Day festivities. In addition to absorbing stormwater from adjacent parcels, including Lakeview Business Park to the south, the lakes provide backup irrigation for the school’s fields.

A fourth lake had long been proposed within the park but required additional funding. The developer could dig that lake down to a depth that would accommodate Park 8Ninety’s drainage needs (25 feet) and use the dirt to raise the Park 8Ninety site’s elevation. In addition, a half-mile-long pipe could connect the site to the new lake, underneath the Cangelosi ditch. “We bypassed the ditch and put a 10-by-10-foot box underneath the Cangelosi Ditch,” says Sappington. The pipe “drains into the lake, the lake rises, and spills into a channel, back into the ditch.” The overall approach ”provided a depth of outfall that you could not achieve elsewhere” in a very flat area, he says.

The site’s elevations had been determined from a 20-year-old survey of the ditch’s drainage area, conducted before GPS and lasers allowed more precise measurements. A new survey of the detention basin—at a cost of $50,000, borne by Trammell Crow—found that the ditch’s standing water level was lower than previously reported. This reduced the amount of fill needed to raise the base site elevation above the floodplain, from three feet to two.

Careful attention during grading of the entire site offered another buffer against floods. Wing walls, 30-foot-wide landscape buffers, and ramped parking lots imperceptibly modulate an elevation rise between the roads and buildings—and between the front parking lots and rear truck courts. This subtle rise keeps the buildings dry even when flash floods exceed the conveyance system and spill into streets and truck courts.

Performance, Management, and Marketing

Trammell Crow broke ground on Park 8Ninety’s first phase, with three speculative multitenant buildings, in 2015 and completed the buildings about a year later. In early 2017, the first leases were signed—including one for a space that spanned the existing Building 3 as well as a planned but then-unbuilt extension, Building 7. Speculative construction on phase two will begin soon, and larger tracts within the site are being marketed as further build-to-suit opportunities.

Tenants drawn to the site so far are mostly business-to-business suppliers with regional distribution networks. Some combine warehouses with light manufacturing: Texas AirSystems stores, services, and does on-site final assembly on heating, venting, and air-conditioning systems. Others, like Rexel Inc., have operations that cross multiple uses: at Park 8Ninety, the electrical supplier has one of its two area warehouses, its regional sales office, and a small retail showroom facing U.S. 90A. Half the tenants so far, including anchor tenant VWR International, supply the life sciences industry.

In addition to the prime location, Park 8Ninety offers tenants readily available space—whether buildings or land—in flexible configurations. For industrial users, “most searches begin with available space, not land,” Esch says. “[Trammell Crow was] out of land that could be delivered at Lakeview, but this allowed them to start with spec buildings” that were move-in ready. “Speed to market is the key to attracting tenants,” says Jeremy Garner, principal at Trammell Crow. “Having a shovel-ready site means there’s less uncertainty and allows us to provide prospects with a reliable timeline and costs.”

Missouri City’s flexibility and transparency in dealing with businesses’ varying needs has also been a draw. VWR has 20,000 square feet of chemical storage space, says Muniza. ” We got letters from the fire marshal about what they would do” to train fire department staff on the proposed systems at the park, giving the tenant additional certainty ahead of its major capital investment.

The site’s proximity to Buffalo Run Park and extensive landscaping distinguish it from other area offerings. Companies have picnics at the park and the site, and employees can go fishing or jogging after work.

Management. Missouri City owns the stormwater infrastructure, roads, ditch, and parkland. The Missouri City Parks and Recreation Department performs light maintenance on Buffalo Run Park; heavier maintenance is carried out by the city’s streets department. TxDOT is responsible for its drainage channel across the site, but in practice Trammell Crow mows it along with the rest of the site.

Flood performance. The drainage system’s first big test came on April 15, 2016, even before the roofs were complete on the first phase of Park 8Ninety. Then-record-setting bands of rain pummeled the west side of Houston in what became known as the Tax Day Flood. Six inches of rain fell in 12 hours in Missouri City; other areas saw an inch of rain in just five minutes. The detention lake at Buffalo Run Park, then newly complete and slowly filling, easily absorbed the storm. During and after Harvey, both the Cangelosi Ditch and its receiving stream, Sims Bayou, stayed within their banks. Indeed, Sims was the only bayou in Harris County that did not jump its banks.

Observations and Lessons Learned

Planning for regional detention. Neither the Park 8Ninety site—surrounded by highways and utility easements—nor the Lakeview site could have been developed had it not been for Missouri City’s foresight in creating a master drainage plan, identifying a detention basin, and following through on building Buffalo Run Park. Elmer, previously the city’s chief engineer, says the strategy resulted in a net benefit for the city, with more tax value from the business parks, particularly because the city “managed to partner with the parks department and surrounding agencies to turn these facilities into major, award-winning parks.”

Thinking in three dimensions. Especially in a region as flat and wet as Houston, careful elevation measurements can make a huge difference. A digital survey of the site recalculated the amount of fill needed, reducing the grading bill by a third. Yet changing the topography by raising the site’s base elevation only made sense as part of a wider strategy that included raising some areas and lowering an adjacent area—which could not only detain stormwater, but also provide inexpensive fill. The exceptional depth of the drainage infrastructure, including the pipe and lake, both created the right volume of stormwater detention and allowed the pipes to clear below-grade hazards like the petroleum pipelines and the ditch’s channel.

Working across boundaries. Park 8Ninety itself crosses boundaries—the parcel spans two cities and two counties, and drains onto public land. It took a lot of cooperation, mutual understanding, and a sustained effort by Missouri City to make sure those boundaries did not get in the way. Esch, the economic development director, credits the city’s “competitive edge—to be creative, reduce costs, and create an amenity [Buffalo Run’s fourth lake] that we can sell elsewhere. We can spend that dollar once and see multiple benefits from it.” Digging the lake, says, Elmer, was “something that benefits everybody.”

 

The above is an excerpt from the ULI Case Study of Park 8Ninety. Read the full text here: https://casestudies.uli.org/park-8ninety/