Things look a little sweeter in Sugar Land today.

Recent activity in the last major undeveloped areas inside the city limits suggests an uptick following a recession that dramatically slowed commercial development in the once-booming suburb.

"We think things are really turning around," said Scott Shafie, general manager of Johnson Development, which is developing a large master-planned community to be anchored by the city's forthcoming minor league baseball stadium. "Sugar Land is probably one of the best places to develop in the country right now."

Nowhere is anticipation higher than at the intersection of Texas 6 and U.S. 90A, where another retail project is in development and the stadium is scheduled to open next year. Freeway improvements make the area even more accessible.

"Things are really starting to gel at the corner," said G. Peter Jacob, principal of Rubicon Realty Group, which owns land near the intersection.

Bullish developers further cite Sugar Land's positive demographics, including a growing population and a median household income of $93,025 — nearly 90 percent higher than the state as a whole.

"It's driving more activity than other parts of Houston," said Matt Keener, a retail broker with CB Richard Ellis. The master-planned Telfair community, in particular, he noted, has attracted many wealthier South Asian families.

"Disposable income, and kids on top of two adults, and - in the case of some Asian communities - extended family as well, it all drives desirability because it means more people to clothe and feed, and that's great for a retailer," Keener said.

Three major projects are leading the rebound:


When capital markets plunged, commercial development tapered off in Telfair, a 2,000-acre master-planned community started in 2005.

Jay Nowlin, president of The Woodlands-based Nowlin Interests, owns about 3.5 acres at nearby Bonaventure Place, where a Hilton Garden Inn sits. But the tightening lending markets thwarted his original plans to put medical offices there.

"Now we're looking at doing some retail, though we've got a medical user that wants to go in," he said. "We won't do a hotel. Hotels are overbuilt."

When the realty group now known as Rubicon bought 112 acres from Telfair developer Newland Communities, it had planned to start developing at the corner of Texas 6 and U.S. 90A in the winter of 2006. The first building of the boomerang-shaped parcel, the hotel, opened in 2008, and a small medical office and shopping center followed.

Both projects had secured financing before the financial crisis.

"We purchased this land to do development but also to sell tracts of land to other single-purpose users," Jacob said. "And when the doctors and other types of business or developers weren't able to get construction loans, things pretty much slowed down."

Business seems to be picking up again.

In early January, Rubicon announced it had sold about 15 acres to H-E-B, the first major anchor at the center, Crossing at Telfair. H-E-B, which has already started clearing its land for construction, should help attract more retailers to the area that were waiting to sign on once the H-E-B deal closed. A few tracts are under contract, and Jacob said he expects more announcements this year.

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