Building on an opportunity

LaCenterra becomes ‘a town center for the whole greater Katy area’

March 24, 2017 | Originally Published in the Houston Chronicle By Katherine Feser – LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch, one of a handful of large-scale “town center” projects in the region’s suburbs, turned 10 this month.

Houston-based Vista Cos., co-founded by Woody Mann during the 1980s oil bust, partnered with Denver-based Am-star to develop, over time, 34 acres along the Grand Parkway at Cinco Ranch Boulevard into a collection of 75 shops and restaurants plus offices around a central courtyard. Restaurants Peli Peli and Snooze will join popular chains such as Torchy’s Tacos and Trader Joe’s. Next year, an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, anchoring the fourth and final phase of the development, will boost the project to 410,000 square feet, including 125,000 square feet of office space.

LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch is by far Vista’s largest project. The company has developed and acquired 1.2 million square feet of commercial real estate and has a brokerage arm.

Woody Mann recently spoke with the Chronicle about the company’s most ambitious project. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: How did you select the location? A: It’s a highly affluent area. There was a noticeable lack of quality retail and restaurant space in the area. People from far west Houston were having to drive 20 miles east down to Town & Country to shop. It’s really morphed into a town center for the whole greater Katy area.

Q: How important was it to be in a master-planned community?

A: When you’re in a master-planned community, you basically have de facto zoning. That’s a positive because it allows us to determine what’s going to happen around us. It keeps somebody from coming in and competing with you on an adjacent property.

Q: You’ve lost some tenants lately, such as the Restless Palate and Bonefish Grill, which shut several locations nationally. How is leasing of the second generation retail space going?

A: Second-generation retail space is much easier to attract good operators than first-generation retail space when they see competing restaurants doing well. We can afford to pick and choose who we want there, which is a nice position to be in.

Q: How is the office component doing?

A: Office is doing well. We’re not dominated by any one particular industry, and we don’t have any large exposure to the energy sector. We around 92 or 93 percent occupied on the office; right at 90 percent on the retail.

Q: Did you have plans for another office building?

A: We did have plans for 125,000-square-foot office tower two years ago. We pulled that back just because of the energy situation. There’s so much sublease space available in west Houston.

Q: How did you get into this line of work?

A: I got out of school at the University of Arkansas and went to work for a large insurance company in their mortgage division, came to Houston in 1965 and went into business with my father for 10 years in the mortgage banking business. I left in the early ’70s to join a Houston-based company that was involved in land syndication and development and just progressed from there. We started Vista in 1985.

Q: What’s your next big project?

A: We’re currently under construction with Phase 1 of University Commons in Sugar Land at the intersection of Highway 59 and University Boulevard. It’s a 150,000-square-foot retail center anchored by a Burlington and Michael’s. We started construction in June of last year. We’ll open in May of this year. Then late this year or early next year, we’ll start construction of Phase 2 of that property, which will be another 110,000 square feet across University Boulevard. We just completed construction of a 120,000-square-foot center in Terra Haute, Ind., anchored by Academy Sports + Outdoors and a Fresh Time Supermarket.

Q: Looking back, would you have done anything differently at LaCenterra?

A: It’s exceeded our expectations. The only thing I think I’d do differently is buy more land and have a bigger project, just because I think the need is there. We don’t have that option because it’s not available. LaCenterra is a total of 34 acres, and I wish we had another 30.