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Developers create new spaces in artistic neighborhood west of downtown

The Tank Project Space presents “Gasp for Air” by Marius Zgirdea

Some of the old warehouses lining a stretch of Sawyer Street across Interstate 10 from the Heights are being primed for new development, as this First Ward area continues to morph from industrial hub to an upscale artsy neighborhood.

Houston-based Lovett Commercial is transforming a 1950s warehouse at Sawyer and Edwards into Sawyer Yards, which will have about 40,000 square feet of space for restaurants, retail or offices.

The Shops at Sawyer Yards, under construction

The company is looking to fill another 5-acre parcel at 2000 Taylor just south of I-10 at Spring Street. The property is across from the Sawyer Heights Target.

H-E-B quashed rumors that it was considering opening a store there, though the grocery chain has been looking around.

"That's not a piece of land we're looking at," said spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts. "We've had an interest of moving into the Heights area for several years now. We just have not been able to identify a location."

Jon Deal, who has developed artist studios in the area, is planning another project at the old Riviana rice facility at Sawyer and Summer.

The project is called the Silos on Sawyer, and it will include artist studios, creative workspaces and some retail.

The main building contains more than 50,000 square feet.

Deal said he, Steve Gibson and Frank Liu of Lovett Commercial own - separately or in partnerships - at least 35 contiguous acres in the area.

They hope to master-plan the acreage.

"Ideally we're going to be a campus-type creative community," Deal said. "It'll look and feel like a master-planned development in the end, although it'll keep its raw edge."

The area is part of a cultural district recognized by the state, Deal said. The program is not currently being funded, he said, but when it is, it will allow artists to seek grant money.

No slowing down

Despite a potential slowdown in the Houston economy, the Dinerstein Cos. is not losing steam.

The Houston-based apartment and student housing developer is expecting to begin construction this week on a high-rise at Holcombe and Cambridge that it announced last fall.

Even with the plunge in oil prices and the escalation of in close-in apartment construction, the inner city is still a smart play, said Clay Hicks, Dinerstein's president of apartment management.

"People really want to live where they work, play and eat, and I don't think that's going to change," Hicks said.

As far as lower oil prices, Hicks said Houston has always recovered from energy price declines. And building near Houston's Texas Medical Center is a hedge against a possible downturn.

"If you look at the two deals Dinerstein is building next, they're both in the Medical Center. If there's any place insulated from oil, that's the Medical Center," he said.

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