Planners’ concept seeks to preserve an oasis in a fast-changing land
You might say Grisby Square has soul. A bit offbeat (the anti-strip center, if you will), this place almost hides behind deep-rooted oaks peppering a hodgepodge of funky buildings that would seem more at home in old agricultural Addicks than along a bustling urban highway.
Come lunchtime, Grisby Square becomes a rustic retreat for the denizens of those gleaming glass towers lining the Katy Freeway. At night, it’s a beloved hangout that harkens back to a time when couples shared heady margaritas at a long-gone Tex-Mex cantina, watching the sun crawl behind Barker Dam when Highway 6 was really in the sticks.
There’s nothing quite like it in Houston. And the new master plan for The Energy Corridor District seeks to keep it that way.
When the Boston-based Sasaki Associates team that developed The District’s master plan came to town, they were drawn to Grisby Square, where restaurants, trees and narrow streets beckon.
“We were kind of enthralled by the place,” explains Fred Merrill, principal for Sasaki. “It’s almost an oasis, a remnant of a piece of old agricultural Houston. We loved the way it felt. We’d hate to see it displaced or lost.”
So the plan, says Merrill, is to “celebrate Grisby Square – conserve it, enhance it and make it more of what it is.”
“Embrace its friendly, pedestrian scale, one that’s very walkable with a tree canopy,” he explains. “Our plan tries to make it more of a human-scale destination for food and beverage. Maybe over time you can imagine small-scale business and residential being developed there.”
Inspired, perhaps, by The Energy Corridor District’s conversion of Fortsmith into a shared street featuring permeable pavers and a design that slows traffic, the master plan envisions a Grisby Square more welcoming to pedestrian strolling.
One idea, the plan proposes, is to build a parking garage on the western edge of Grisby Square that could house ground-floor retail to make the project commercially viable. It’s an idea that could free up the limited parking there, opening the Square’s tree-lined streets to pedestrians and bicyclists, while creating opportunities to build outdoor dining “parks,” courtyards and new restaurants.
The “T” of its street grid, Stafford and Fortsmith, would become pedestrian-oriented streets, moving more vehicle traffic off to Addicks-Howell Road, Jackson Avenue and Grisby Road.
“The District is already doing all the right things there with its Woonerf shared-streets project,” says Merrill.
The master plan even envisions a community garden, a gathering place for Energy Corridor residents and even the students and teachers from Maurice L Wolfe Elementary School just south of Grisby Square.
“With so many new, multi-family apartments being built in The Energy Corridor, we see a community garden becoming a collective focal point on weekends,” says Clark Martinson, general manager for The District. “By creating more of a communal destination out of Grisby Square we can help ensure its identity as a gem on a human-scale for The Energy Corridor.”
As Houston grows west past Katy with more high-scale development, says Merrill, Grisby Square can remain an oasis, a reminder of a less hectic time when it marked the western outskirts of the nation’s fourth largest city.
“We just think it’s a good place,” he says.