Houston’s Landmark Downtown Post Office Site Chosen for 2012 Urban Land Institute Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition


WASHINGTON, DC – January 24, 2012 – (RealEstateRama) — Downtown Houston’s historic post office property has been selected as the site for the tenth annual Urban Land Institute (ULI) Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition. The ideas competition, open to graduate-level students, will provide multidisciplinary teams the opportunity to propose a long-term vision for creating a distinct identity for a new downtown Houston district.

Now underway, the 2012 competition challenges teams to create a practical and workable scheme for the best use of approximately 16.3 acres owned by the United States Postal Service (USPS). The competition is based on a hypothetical proposal in which a fictional entity, the Central Houston Foundation (CHF), acquired the option to purchase the site and determine its redevelopment goals and connections to the surrounding areas. According to the scenario, the CHF has committed a large endowment to both community development and the sustainable growth of Houston’s downtown in hopes of generating a revenue stream for its endowment while giving shape to a new downtown district. In order to meet the owners’ demands, student teams will act as a master developer by proposing a master land use plan for the development site as well as supplying financial projections needed to support the master development plan.

The Hines competition strives to encourage cooperation and teamwork—necessary talents in the planning, design and development of sustainable communities—among future land use professionals and allied professions, such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, historic preservation, engineering, real estate development, finance, psychology and law. It is open to graduate students who are pursuing real estate-related studies at universities in the United States and Canada, including programs in real estate development, urban planning, urban design, architecture and landscape architecture.

The competition has been funded in perpetuity through a $3 million endowment from Gerald D. Hines, chairman of the global Hines real estate organization (founded by Hines in Houston in 1957) and a recipient of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. A legend in the land use industry, he is widely known as a leader who pioneered the use of high-quality planning and architecture as a marketable feature of development in office, residential and mixed-use projects.

Since the first competition was held in 2003, nearly 4,000 students on 800 teams have participated, representing 92 schools in the U.S. and Canada. Competitions have been held in cities all over the United States, from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis to Seattle. “The roots our organization has in Houston make this year’s competition particularly exciting for me. I’m looking forward to the teams’ ideas for such a significant site in our great city,” Hines said. “Over the years, the proposals prepared by the students for each competition have been increasingly imaginative, innovative, and most importantly, doable. As the competition enters its tenth year, I am more convinced than ever that the future of the built environment is in very capable hands.”
A $50,000 prize will be awarded to the winning team; and each of the remaining three finalist teams will receive $10,000. This year, applications were submitted from 154 teams representing 64 universities in the United States and Canada, with 770 students participating in total.

While based on a hypothetical situation, the 2012 Hines competition addresses local groups’ desire to connect downtown redevelopment to incorporate connections to Houston’s neighborhoods. Houston’s downtown is the center of the city’s transit network, providing downtown workers with a variety of commuting options that include light rail, buses, vanpools, and carpools. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s (METRO) transit system has 73 percent of its bus and rail routes running through downtown, providing hassle-free commuting options for ones of nation’s youngest and fastest growing populations. The city plans to invest more than $1.6 billion into new light-rail lines, expanding connections from the Texas Medical Center to downtown, to area universities, sports venues, and neighborhoods.

The competition is focusing on the USPS property since it is considered by many stakeholders to be a key site to reconnect the Theater District, the Historic District, and the greater downtown to the Buffalo Bayou. The downtown post office, located at 401 Franklin Street, was one of several hundred USPS properties put up for sale nation-wide in 2009 in order to offset the federal agency’s financial losses. Land planners and real estate experts have suggested numerous possibilities for the property, which have included converting the land into public open space, mixed-use development that includes residential housing, as well entertainment venues. Therefore, the challenge posed to the students is to devise a scheme that not only gives a unique identity to this new downtown Houston district, but also sets the tone for how area redevelopment can incorporate elements of public open space, affordable housing, and transit in order to catalyze economic development.

The teams will be expected to submit proposals that illustrate innovative approaches to five general elements: 1) planning context and analysis, 2) master land use plan, 3) urban design, 4) site specific illustrations of new development, and 5) development schedule and finances. Participants have received project briefing materials, including a comprehensive problem statement; background information on the site; market information; relevant existing design proposals; and other details, along with a list of materials required for team presentations. The competition is designed as an exercise; there is no intention that the students’ plans will be implemented as part of any revitalization of the site.

Four finalist teams and several honorable mentions will be named in late February. In the final phase of the competition, the student finalist teams will have the opportunity to expand their original schemes and respond in more detail. During this time, a member of each team will be brought to Houston to tour the site and revise their presentations. On March 28-29, 2012, finalist team members will present their schemes to the competition jury members during a public forum in Houston. The event will culminate with the announcement of the winning team.

The competition jury consist of renowned experts in urban planning, design and development: Jury Chairman Jim Chaffin, chairman, Chaffin Light Management, LLC, Okatie, S.C.; Gerdo Aquino, managing principal, SWA Group, Los Angeles, Calif.; Mimi Burns, principal, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, Albuquerque, N.M; Anyeley Hallova, partner, Project^ Ecological Development, Portland, Ore.; Richard Heapes, principal, Street Works, White Plains, N.Y.; Sandra Kulli, president, Kulli Marketing, Malibu, Calif.; Michael Lander, president and owner, The Lander Group, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.; Allen Mountjoy, principal, Chan Krieger/NBBJ, Cambridge, Mass.; Tim Van Meter, partner, Van Meter, Williams Pollack, LLP, Denver, Colo.; and one to two more jury members to be named at a later date.

For more information on the ULI Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition, visit: http://udcompetition.org
About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (
www.uli.org ) is a global nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in sustaining and creating thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

Robert Krueger at 202-624-7051;

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