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Houston's Northside Area Grows With The Oldest Craft Brewery in Texas

New Downtown Site Marks a Step Forward for Brewer Saint Arnold's, Surrounding Community
July 30, 2018
Photo credit: OJB Landscape Architecture.

On a church-inspired site in downtown Houston named for a saint, the oldest craft brewery in Texas has built a site for beer-filled contemplation that's part of a commercial real estate revival.

Almost 20 years after its inception, the Saint Arnold’s brewery opened a new 20,000-square-foot beer garden to the public. Situated across the street from the brewery at 2000 Lyons Ave., just north of downtown, the new beer garden and restaurant offers more to the emerging Near Northside neighborhood than fresh beer and views. Built on the site of what used to be a tow lot, the new gathering place reflects not just the growth of Saint Arnold’s, but also the surrounding area.

In a city growing in every direction, development has been slow to come to Houston’s Near Northside, despite its proximity to prominent markets like the Heights and the downtown.

The neighborhood’s narrative began to change in 2004 when METRORail’s inaugural Red Line opened for service with the train's last stop at the University of Houston Downtown, on the edge of Near Northside. In 2008, Saint Arnold’s moved into the neighborhood, eventually buying a three-story, 104,000-square-foot historic brick warehouse to call home, just a short walk from the METRORail’s new stop.

Over the past decade, Saint Arnold's and Near Northside have grown alongside each other. Houston's Near Northside average home price jumped from $49,500 in 2008 to $212,900 this year, according to Zillow. In the same time, Saint Arnold’s annual production increased from roughly 30,000 barrels to more than 100,000.

Enrique Corona, a young professional and property owner active in the Near Northside community, has grown up alongside the community, witnessing and participating in the change first hand.

"I remember visiting the area as a child to visit family," Corona said. "The sense of community really stems from the fact that so many families in the neighborhood have owned their home for multiple generations."

Once part of the Fifth Ward, Near Northside began as a neighborhood for immigrants of Italian and German descent, but for seven decades now, the population has been predominantly Hispanic.

Corona became involved in the neighborhood as an adult in 2011 when he began volunteering for Avenue CDC, an organization dedicated to promoting affordable housing and community development.

Like many people looking at Near Northside, Corona wasn’t satisfied with life in the Heights, a prominent upmarket neighborhood on Near Northside’s Western border, where he bought his first home.

"A lot of people are moving here because it’s still relatively affordable compared to the Heights and the proximity to downtown and the light-rail," Corona said.

Corona and his girlfriend, Samantha Young, decided to purchase an empty lot and move to a 1920s bungalow from the Heights that was scheduled for demolition to make way for yet another town house.

Commercially, two and a half years ago Corona opened a creative studio called Houston Warehouse Studios in the neighborhood, hoping to become Houston’s first affordable studio for photographers, exhibits and theater productions. The space has since hosted several local productions, including a recent documentary filmed by BET on late rapper, Pimp C.

Near Northside’s development reached another turning point in late 2013, when the METRORail line was extended to run from UH Downtown to the North Loop, with seven of the Red Line’s 25 stops -- almost one-third of the total footprint -- located in Near Northside.

More recently, indie music bastion White Oak Music Hall opened its doors in 2016, followed by the foodie gastropub Edison & Patton and later Sideout Volleybar in 2017. The 350-unit Residences at Hardy Yards, which will be managed by Greystar, is projected to deliver in July 2018. Fulton Station, the latest project by national homebuilder Lennar Corp., is yet another sign that neighborhood is in the spotlight.

Rapid development and skyrocketing home values have also made the neighborhood a target for affordable housing efforts to preserve the community’s small-town feel.

"We have seen a lot of changes coming though, some good, some not so good. Our taxes are skyrocketing and I know some of our neighbors are beginning to feel that burden more than others," Corona said. "Just this past month I sat down with one of my neighbors to help her get familiar with what a Homestead Exemption is."

In the past 25 years, Avenue CDC, a HUD-certified agency, has developed 173 single-family homes, 747 affordable rental units and 140,000 square feet of commercial space creating accessible, quality affordable city living for Houston residents.

"The not-for-profit Avenue Community Development Corporation has chosen the Near Northside area as the focus of its revitalization efforts since 2002, and has brought an attractive array of multifamily and single-family affordable housing to the area," CoStar Market Economist Justin Boyar said. The efforts have helped slow the forces overtaking other gentrifying Houston neighborhoods, but Near Northside is set for more changes.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project, a $7 billion project by the Texas Department of Transportation, will rebuild I-45 from Beltway 8 through downtown along Near Northside’s western edge. Expected to break ground in 2020 and take eight years to complete, the project will reshape Near Northside’s connection to The Heights and downtown.

Saint Arnold’s beer garden’s "disappearing" design by Natalye Appel + Associates blends it into the neighborhood. Inside, the church-inspired design features six mini "chapels" featuring custom designs from local Houston street artists GONZO247, Carlos Hernandez, Nick Papas, Robynn Sanders, Matthew Schott, and Jeff Szymanski. The culmination of beer, food and culture is likely to draw more visitors to the brewery and neighborhood. At least, that’s the goal.

"St. Arnold’s needed to build something like this to cement their future at the site," Boyar said.

Kyle Hagerty, Houston Reporter  CoStar Group   
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