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Real Estate / Neighborhoods

Sawyer Yards’ Massive Expansion to Bring Barbecue, a Brewery and a New Seafood Hotspot

But Should the Artists at the Heart of This Neighborhood Be Worried?

BY // 09.05.18

Here comes the neighborhood. Houston’s creative center is set for a massive expansion, adding even more color to the artsy First Ward. Sawyer Yards, the urban arts heartbeat of the city, is gearing up for the next chapter.

Think serious renovations and two new buildings by spring of 2019.

The 40-plus-acre enclave is a home base to more than 400 local artists, making it the second largest artist space for working studio artists in the country, falling just behind The Brewery in Los Angeles.

It’s known for the events the artists put on — everything from Second Saturdays to Flea at Silver Street, the Fall Biannual, the Spring Biannual and the Summer Series. The hyper-walkable space will be joined by Cirque Noir starting in November.

Sawyer Yards’ studios and work spaces have been surrounded by shops and restaurants since the complex’s opening in 2005. They’ve been joined by restaurants, salons, fitness centers and more. Think Poitin and B&B Butchers. Now, it’s time for the next wave, heavy on booze, barbecue and robust restaurants.

The developers can’t wait for the new tenants, anticipating that they’ll bring even more curious crowds to the industrial chic area. But artists who’ve been at the epicenter Winter Street Studios from the beginning warn that the creative side shouldn’t get all caught up in the commercial.

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Glass mosaic artist Chris Silkwood has been a part of Sawyer Yards for 13 years now, since the very start. What’s the creative community’s take on all the changes taking place?

“It’s definitely growing,” Silkwood laughs. Her studio is at Winter Street, the first building to get converted into artist space. Spring Street Studios sprang up not too long after.

“Really over a period of about 10 years we now have six buildings that are devoted not just to artists but also creative space,” Silkwood says.

“That may be an architect’s office, it might be a yoga studio. In our building, we now have a sound studio. It’s all related to being a creative space.”

And that categorization can’t be attributed to restaurants and breweries, not exactly. “I’m not going to tell you that there isn’t a bit of a downside to that. The First Ward is considered to be one of the most gentrified areas of the city,” Silkwood says.

“The important thing is to make sure there is still affordable space for the mom and pop cafes. And bistros for artists to be able to create and not have rents that are so high that artists disappear,” Silkwood says. “It’s important that the developers consider those things.”

Beer, Barbecue and Seafood

The first step in the new renovations?  Restoring the 65,000-square-foot warehouse at 1201 Oliver. You can expect a New Orleans-based brewery complete with a beer garden, a cidery and a celebrated barbecue house reborn. The area is no stranger to breweries, with Platypus and Holler a stone’s throw away.

And you just might have heard of the chef setting up the seafood restaurant coming to the all-new digs at 1818 Washington. Atlanta-based celebrity chef Ford Fry, the mind behind State of Grace and the upcoming Superica and La Lucha, is set to open up a seafood-centric spot at the new, two-story 50,000-square-foot property.

The terrace is set to look out over the city skyline, and the patio will be available for al fresco diners.

There will be other tenants, depending on how it shakes out so far as square footage. Likely another couple of large restaurants and quite a bit of unique urban entertainment concepts,” Lovett Commercial’s Erin Dyer tells PaperCity.

 “A tenant we’re working with is an axe-throwing concept. It’s a fun experience we’re bringing to the campus. We’re able to do that because we have large buildings we’re able to repurpose. It’s hard to find that amount of space in urban Houston.”

“These old buildings — you can’t really create them. It’s an experience in addition to going to a salon or fitness. It’s an experience that you really can’t recreate or mirror simply because of the unique feel to the area,” Clay Mealy of Lovett Commercial adds.

Lovett Commercial is one the founding developers of Sawyer Yards, which runs the length of several city blocks. The others include Jon Deal, Steve Gibson and Paul Hobby.

The new expansion is ambitious. But many artists like Silkwood remain most concerned about the basics.

“At Sawyer Yards, people can come there and directly negotiate pricing and they can select from an incredible number of artists. They can find any kind of piece that they want, from great photography to oil paintings and acrylic paintings,” she says.

“Art should be the heart of every home and every business in the city. Art is what makes a space complete.”

The Sawyer Yards expansion’s renovation kicks off this fall. Leaves change, times change.

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