Real Estate / High-Rises

Houston’s Most Tricked-Out Luxury Tower

New 40-Story High-Rise to be a Grown-Up Playland — Death-Defying Pool Included

BY // 06.09.16

If Houston’s luxury tower building rush is a developer’s version of a Cold War arms race, Market Square Tower may have just acquired the nuclear codes. The 40-floor skyscraper rising over Market Square Park is clearly upping the ante in the already intense race to show off the most over-the-top features and perks.

This new apartment tower from Woodbranch Investments Corp. will boast two full floors of amenities, including a half-court basketball court, a children’s room that would be at home in Disney World, and a show-stopping, glass-bottom pool that extends out 40 stories over the street — and threatens to make anyone scared of heights faint. (Hopefully not while swimming.)

“It’s a nice eye-catching amenity to have,” Woodbranch CEO Philip Schneidau says with a laugh.

All the amenities will give Market Square Park something of a fantasyland feel, where everything is at your beck and call. A movie room with iPic-style seating? Check. Shuffleboard, air hockey, foosball? Check, check, and check. They’re all available to play in the game room. Health club-worthy gym? Check. Heck, there are separate poker and billiards rooms.

Tom Hanks’ character in Big would have died to live here.

The Woodbranch group debated how much space they should devote to amenities. Some earlier plans called for apartments on the second floor as well. In the end, they decided to go big with the perks. With some other new luxury apartments facing a dearth of available would-be tenants and a high profile Hines apartment tower rising just across the park (albeit a little more slowly), the Market Square Park developers hope that the amenities will set the building apart.

In an increasingly crowded luxury housing market, every big thing helps.

Whether it’s a pool that seems to defy gravity or apartments that measure in a little larger than most. Typical Houston one-bedrooms run around 820 square feet. Market Square Tower’s are 200 square feet bigger than that, and the differences are pretty consistent across the unit range, right up to the new tower’s four new penthouses that total 14,902 square feet.

“We felt larger units were more important than trying to cram in a few more units,” Schneidau says. “Particularly with our demographic. People want their space. Especially if they’re downsizing from a home.”

Model units are already being shown off at the site of the new tower, 777 Preston. They’ve been built right into the tower’s sales center. When you’re trying to fill a 40-story tower, you need to give people a taste of what their life in the sky will be like.

The tower itself is on track to open on October 1 — when the first 16 floors and both levels of amenities are projected to be operational. Additional floors will open from there.

Market Square Tower is packed with amenities, including a giant gym.
Market Square Tower is packed with amenities, including a giant gym.

Woodbranch has owned this prime downtown site for more than 20 years, waiting and waiting for the right moment to build. “We didn’t feel like there was enough demand (for downtown apartments),” Schneidau says. “Just in the last five years, we’ve seen the demand pick up.”

The downtown building tax incentive program from the city also helped spur Woodbranch into action. This is a measured company that weighs every major decision — and then weighs it again. Woodbranch similarly held an office site for 15 years before finally deciding to start building the office tower it planned to develop from the beginning.

With his silver hair, glasses, thin frame and relaxed soft-spoken demeanor, Schneidau could be mistaken for a college professor. So maybe it’s no surprise that he runs his company with the patient eye of an academic.

“We’re not aggressive, risky developers,” Schneidau says. “We will wait rather than go too fast. We’re long-term owners.”

Schneidau is a Houston native who sometimes wondered if this day would ever come. Vertical living in Houston? It seemed so crazy not long ago. “I went to Jesuit high school, and we were out in the cow pastures then,” he says. “Growing up, I remember Kirby was all one-story businesses. It’s just very different.”

Now, Schneidau is building a tower in the sky with rents that start at $1,800 a month for the smallest units and rise to $16,000-plus a month for the penthouses. A tower with a pool that hangs over the street. “We thought it would be an attention grabber, and it has been,” the CEO says.

Woodbranch researched showpiece extended pools that have been done at luxury towers in other parts of the world, as well as the few there are in the U.S. They brought in a specialty consultant and a team with experience building such pools. While it looks like glass and operates like glass, the see-through bottom of the pool is actually made of 8-inch-thick acrylic.

“It’s super-strong acrylic,” Schneidau says. It’s strong enough to let a man or woman swim over the street — and look straight down, 40 stories, at the cars and concrete — without worry. Showmanship matters. Especially in a luxury arms race.

Good luck topping this one.

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