Welcome back to Houston Historic Retail, where Dead Malls, are a bit of specialty. Chances are you learned about this blog through one of our Mall based posts, dead, dying, or otherwise. Houston’s dead mall problem has never been particularly bad. While we’ve had malls that have been problematic, we’ve usually been limited to one to two malls dying at a time, and in the 4th largest city in the United States, and that ain’t too bad. At the moment the two malls on “high levels of alert” are Pasadena Town Square/Marcoplaza and West Oaks with Greenspoint bringing up a close third. At this point, I wouldn’t say Greenspoint is really dead. It actually seems to still be doing a bit better than it was 10 years ago, even though its most recent “revival” seemed to mostly involve a migration of stores from Northwest Mall after they closed. Greenspoint Mall opened in 1976, as a centerpiece of the Friendswood Development Corp’s new project, the Greenspoint neighborhood. Unlike earlier projects undertaken by the company which involved developing land they had purchased for mineral rights, Greensgate (as it was initially known) was new land purchased for the purpose of creating a new hub for Exxon (Humble Oil) owners of the Friendswood Development Company at the time. The idea would be somewhat influenced by the success of The Galleria in Houston where a large mall and new office buildings had helped spur a residential boom in the area. The Greenspoint plan would be much the same with Exxon buying up 2000 acres for development around the mall and office spaces they were planning. The plans were ambitious sometimes being termed as Houston’s “second downtown” for the scale they wished to achieve. However, the biggest difference between the development of Greenspoint and the Galleria would be the timing. While the Galleria was started in the 60s during the oil boom, and mostly finished by 1980, work on Greenspoint would begin just as the oil economy began to wobble, in a cycle of busts and booms. While Greenspoint was initially a very nice area and had a mall that reflected it, by the time our local economy straightened out again in the 90s, the greater neighborhood had deteriorated, and few developers were willing to invest in Greenspoint. From here forward you hear the familiar story of “Greenspoint was nice until…” and then you hear one of a few different starting points. “until the mid-80s oil bust when everyone moved out.” or “until the 90s when that cop was shot at the mall.” or “until the 2000s when those Katrina evacuees moved in.” The thing is, none of this really is true, the failings of Greenspoint started much earlier. When Friendswood was initially planning the development, it was the largest undertaking they had ever planned. As such, it did little to plan for city services outside of the basic MUD connections (Electric, Water, Sewer, and Gas). There was no planning for police stations, fire stations, etc… This was all expected to be provided by the City of Houston which annexed the land just after the mall opened.
Unfortunately, though, this annexation would end up creating a “jurisdictional enclave” with the nearest HPD station over 10 miles away. While the developers had planned on the city immediately building new services in the area, this wasn’t the case. It wouldn’t be until the 1990s when the Mall actually donated a portion of its space to the city that Greenspoint would finally get its own HPD substation. Prior to this, a few improvements were made to the area in the 70s. Such as the development of a few residential neighborhoods, and an elementary school. The neighborhoods would be slightly above average homes, on good-sized lots. However, by the late 70s, fewer homes were being built on increasingly smaller lots. By the 80s Greenspoint would then see a large number of “high-end” apartments developed for the mainly oil and gas crowd who lived in the area, and with the 1985 oil crash, after a large number were laid off, Greenspoint found themselves with vacant apartments and nothing drawing anyone to them. The luxury style of most apartments demanded a high rate, and the location was rarely convenient to anyone, who didn’t work in the area. This stop in residential development meant the city would leave the Greenspoint area to fend mostly for itself. Don’t worry, the City was kind enough to install a Fire Station by 2015! During the mid-80s crime spiked all throughout Houston, but jurisdictional enclaves like Greenspoint became notorious for them. Not because of the fact that it was a bad part of town, but rather a very nice part of town, with no nearby enforcement. Greenspoint Mall was particularly a magnet for violent crimes due to its popularity and lack of security to compensate. Unfortunately by the time the aforementioned Police Substation had been built in the mall Greenspoint’s fate was all but sealed. By the 90s many of the former luxury apartments had been converted into government-sponsored housing. This saw a rapid decline in the socioeconomic status of the area’s residents and a decrease in the amount of crime. In the late 90s and early 2000s the area experienced a small resurgence with the boom in O&G that occurred around this time, area apartments were refurbished, and somewhat re-occupied, only to fall vacant again. Lately, Greenspoint has seen an increase in commercial growth, but it hasn’t been larger chains operating in the area. Mostly independents and local chains find the Greenspoint Mall and surrounding shopping areas suitable. Even the office tenants are now smaller companies, although some legacy O&G companies still have their Greenspoint digs, Exxon ditched theirs in 2015. Truly a lack of planning nearly killed Greenspoint from the start, it wasn’t the only area to have this occur. Alief went through a similar experience and still has yet to recover. It’s hard to say exactly what lays in the future for Greenspoint Mall but downsizing is likely a good start. The mall is far too spread out, and if they were willing to demolished an empty wing or two, and consolidate the remaining stores closer to the center, they would likely see good results. West Oaks tried this demolishing the former Mervyn’s Wing for a new movie theater, and it helped to buy them a few years. The fact that Marcoplaza and West Oaks have already tried tenant consolidated on a larger scale and have had little success leads me to believe Greenspoint will be around for at least a bit longer.