The ink has dried on a multi-million dollar deal that will create a new H-E-B and have an undeniable impact on the future narrative of Houston’s historic Third Ward. After years of speculation and deliberation, the City of Houston has officially purchased the 9 acres of land at the northeast corner of Highway 288 and North MacGregor Way from Houston Community College. The $13.85 million purchase is the beginning of a two-year construction process that will bring fresh food to an area previously recognized as a food desert and create 250 jobs for the community in the process. Lifelong Third Ward residents however, are not ready to roll out the welcome carpet just yet.
For many this deal, like the changing of Dowling Street to Emancipation Avenue and the subsequent $33.5 million park renovation, is an ominous sign and physical manifestation of the nagging fear that gentrification has become an unsettling reality. For generations, families in the Third Ward have worked and joined in fellowship together; celebrated in Emancipation and MacGregor parks, come together for cultural enrichment at the S.H.A.P.E. center or Project Row Houses. Newcomers to the area seem to have overlooked this existing culture in their haste to settle in and create a “new” identity.
As investors’ interest in the area emerges, the tension between historic Third Ward and new Midtown has become palpable. Longtime residents have expressed concern for raising property taxes and the impact of increased traffic from H-E-B and future development on the existing infrastructure. While everyone can agree that new and improved amenities improve quality of life in the area and are beneficial for families, history and cultural identity are too valuable to be opportunity costs. The City and elected officials have an opportunity to bridge historical value with economic development, but they must be diligent about not sacrificing the roots for the roses.
Construction on the new store is anticipated to begin in early 2019 and be completed in the first half of 2020. In the meantime, community members have the responsibility to work with one another and their civic associations to stay informed, create plans for their neighborhood and remain actively involved in conversations with those that represent them. Revitalization does not have to result in gentrification, but cannot be left in the hands of investors or developers to act in a community’s best interest. “Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.”