Texas-size dreams

Marvy Finger aims to put his mark on the Houston skyline with a 37-story apartment tower on a land-lease deal with basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon. By all accounts, the deal is a 3-pointer.


HOUSTON The Finger Cos. is planning to build a 37-story apartment tower on land crowning the city’s new downtown park — the first residential tower in this area in decades. Construction is expected to begin sometime late this year or in early 2007 on the upscale high-rise, which is valued at more than $100 million.

In recent years, most of the new housing downtown has been the product of renovations of older structures into lofts and condominiums.

“The city needs one great residential tower downtown,” said Marvy Finger, president of the Finger Cos., founded in 1958.
Dubbed the Park Tower, the new building will have 347 apartments and a host of high-end amenities. It will also be the first all-residential high-rise building to be constructed downtown in about 40 years, according to real estate observers.
The Four Seasons Hotel, which has apartments and condominiums, was built in 1982. But the newest residential buildings to be developed before then were the Houston House and 2016 Main, both built in the mid-1960s.

Finger’s tower will overlook a 12-acre park the Houston Downtown Park Conservancy is developing. The park, which will have a fall 2007 opening date, will include an outdoor amphitheater, a large pond, a putting green and two restaurants.

Laura Van Ness, director of business development for Central Houston, said the park and adjacent tower could be the sparks that fuel a residential boom downtown.

“I think this may be as important to downtown residential as the Rice was,” she said of the residential project credited for a resurgence in downtown living. “This has the prospect of doing that or more.”

Last year, Colorado developer LandCo bought property on the park’s northern fringe for a residential project, but the company said it would wait for the market to improve before starting construction.

Bordered by McKinney, Austin, Lamar and La Branch streets near the Houston Center office and retail complex, Finger’s project will add to the some 3,800 residents already living downtown, primarily in buildings that have been converted to condominiums and lofts.

While the residential population in the city’s core business district isn’t huge, recent demand has been strong, Van Ness said.

“Part of that is because the energy leasing market is on fire in downtown,” she said.

Jackson & Ryan Architects, the same firm behind Finger’s Museum Tower on Montrose, is designing the rose-toned masonry building that will have limestone accents and 9-foot windows. It will also have four high-speed passenger elevators and two service elevators.

About 22,000 square feet of first-floor retail space is slated for a food market, cafe and wine merchant.

The eighth floor, which will sit above the parking levels, will include a roof garden with outdoor kitchens, a four-lane lap pool and a putting green. Party and meeting rooms for residents will open onto a grand balcony overlooking the park. The apartments themselves will have a contemporary, open floor plan, each with a terrace.

Unlike the more loft-style Museum Tower, units in the new building will be fully finished. They’ll have 10-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and stone tiles in the bathrooms. Apartments on the top and eighth floors will have even taller ceilings.

Typical rents are expected to start at around $1,800 and reach $3,500. Average units will range from 800 square feet to about 2,000 square feet, with the largest spanning some 3,700 square feet.

In recent years, other developers have announced downtown residential buildings that never got off the ground. Experts said those projects failed because of high construction costs and relatively low rents.

Timing also played a key role. Construction was only recently completed on many downtown streets that were torn up for months or, in some cases, years. And new sports venues, a light rail system and an expanded convention center and new hotel were under way when some of the buildings were announced.

“All the amenities are now in place,” said Blake Tartt III, president of New Regional Planning, a commercial real estate firm.

Based on Finger’s strong track record in development, few are concerned about the project’s feasibility.

“He’s a man with tremendous credibility in the apartment business,” said Bob Eury, president of Central Houston, Inc.
Finger acquired the downtown property in a 99-year ground lease from retired basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, who owns real estate downtown and elsewhere. Finger is also under contract to acquire an adjacent parcel of land where a second tower could be built.

“Everyone’s going to look at this as being Finger’s crowning achievement,” said David Cook, a broker with Cushman & Wakefield who for years has represented Olajuwon in real estate transactions.

©2006 Houston Chronicle Publishing