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'Things will never be the same' | Two big office-to-apartment conversions underway in downtown Houston

Reimagining underused office space is more and more common in the wake of the pandemic.

HOUSTON, Texas — The tip top of the 1927 Niels Esperson building is its most characteristic feature and is visible from various vantage points amid newer neighbors.

“I’ve loved this building since the day I first saw it,” said Gensler principal architect Dean Strombom.

He's now helping with a top to bottom transformation.

"It’s important for a building like this, that is so wonderful to begin with, to have another life in a new form,” said Strombom.

Recently revealed plans will see the historic property become an amenity-filled combination of new apartments and workspace.

"Our goal is to be very flexible to respond to the market,” said Dougal Cameron, CEO of Cameron Management, which owns the building.

The project takes inspiration from pioneering female developer, Mellie Esperson, who named the first tower after her husband.

A later addition is named for her.

"And we love the idea of curating part of Houston’s history," said Cameron. "But doing it in the same entrepreneurial style that it was started.”

Credit: John Yancey, Gensler

A similar conversion is already underway in a building nearly 50 years newer across downtown.

"It’s a transformation from a 1960s office building to 372 housing units,” said ARC3 architect Eddie Mastalerz.

He shared renderings of what apartments inside 1801 Smith, also known as 600 Jefferson, will look like once work by a Florida-based developer is done.

"What we’re looking at is a complete adaptive reuse of the building that was not being used very well prior to this,” said Mastalerz.

Credit: ARC3
Credit: ARC3

As more and more people choose to live, work and play in the same place, experts say re-thinking office space may be the next big challenge.

"Things will never be the same," said Strombom. "And there’s a lot of conversation about what the future might be like."  

"Truly, nobody knows.”

These conversions don’t come cheap.

We're told the ballpark figure at 1801 Smith is around $100 million.

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