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photo: Morris Malakoff

Millennials, those born roughly between 1982 and 2004, have been derided as a generation marked by an “everyone gets a trophy” upbringing, their need for immediate and positive reinforcement, and their entitlement. Like most stereotypes, it doesn’t apply to all millennials, who are also rightly lauded as a generation that’s accepting of diversity, embraces technology and believes strongly in being able to change the world.

Eighty-million strong, this is a generation that will no doubt have a lasting effect on the society at large. Their work habits are more fluid than the typical 9-to-5, they are consumers of the sharing economy for everything from catching rides with Uber or eschewing hotels for Airbnb, they are, it seems, endlessly on the move in some way.

If ever a generation seemed born for Downtown living, this one might be the poster child. Downtown taps into their need for experiences, their love of being at the heart of the action, whether that’s courtside at a Rockets game or taking in a Broadway show. Their endless appetite for exploring new flavors is stoked by Downtown’s dizzying array of restaurants and bars, with cuisine from all over the globe. As the city center has grown, and more residential properties come online, bringing with them more and more independent shops and businesses, life in Downtown has evolved to a place where people live, work and play – exactly the kind of work-life balance Millennials crave.

We asked six of them to share their experiences about why the city center is the place to be. Their stories are as diverse as they city core they inhabit and the generation they are. But there’s one thing they have in common – and that’s an unbridled enthusiasm for Downtown life.

 

The Global Citizen:
Amir Mansouri
Age: 36
Occupation: Development Manager, Shell
Residence: One Park Place

“When I lived in Houston 10 years ago, Downtown was very commercial,” says Mansouri. “Not a lot of people were living here. In my job with Shell, I lived in Dubai, London and Paris – I love the vibe of places like that. In Paris, I lived in Saint-Germain. It was very buzzy, close to the Seine and the Luxembourg Gardens. The same thing in London, where I lived near Hyde Park, close to Knightsbridge and Harrod’s.”

He enjoyed the energy of those cities, the streets crowded with shops and restaurants and people hurrying to appointments or out for leisurely strolls. For Mansouri, that way of life was an important component of how he saw himself, as a young professional living an international life.  When he came back to Houston, he knew he wanted to capture that same kind of vibe. And this time, Downtown had it.

“I’ve been living here just over three years,” he says about his Downtown address. “And the progress and evolution that’s happened here – it’s been amazing.”

Mansouri rents a two-bedroom apartment in One Park Place, a spot he picked for its central location, with the added bonus of having world food retailer Phoenicia on the ground floor. He refers to the market and restaurant, which specializes in house-made Mediterranean dishes ready for guests to take out, as well as a mind-blowing variety of imported goods, as his “extended kitchen.” More than finding Phoenicia convenient, however, Mansouri recognizes that the city core has grown up in terms of being a 24-7 place, making it easier for people to make the choice to live there.

“The development of the green spaces, the social environments, have been amazing,” he says, noting that he’s always lived near parks and that having Discovery Green within a stone’s throw was a big selling point for him. “These kinds of places attract people. And with more people come things like the development of more restaurants and bars. Downtown is really a case of success breeding success.”

For Mansouri, one component of that success has been his neighbors. One Park Place is a swanky address, rated number one last year for 5-star resident reviews in Texas. Its meandering pool is super luxe, on par with virtually any luxury resort on Earth, it boasts 24-hour concierge service, balconies with expansive city views and plenty of conference and party space, making it a natural location for residents who want to socialize.

The residence has a cache unlike many others in the city. Rockets players live at One Park Place; Mansouri says he even ran into Beyonce’s dad in the elevator.

“Everyone here has an interesting story,” says Mansouri. “And so many people who live in this building are here on international assignments, so it’s fantastic to be able to see people from around the world experience Houston like this and see it’s got a really cosmopolitan vibe.”

He loves seeing people recognize Houston as a truly international city.

For Mansouri, One Park Place in particular, and Downtown in general give him everything he needs for his lifestyle. He’s a runner, so most days, he’s jogging through Discovery Green. When he wants a longer workout, he’ll start at Discovery Green and run along Buffalo Bayou to Memorial Park and back. 

“I’m always so inspired when I go there, along the Bayou,” he says. “So much thought has gone into how they laid it out [in the renovations]; it’s really beautiful.”

Mansouri walks to concerts at Toyota Center, enjoys One Park Place’s resident socials and believes that his residence in Downtown offers an experience similar to those he loved in Paris and London.

“There is such a buzz here,” he says. “When the Final Four was in town, I could hear Pitbull from my balcony. It was fantastic! When you live here, you really feel that you are connected to what is happening in the world.”


My Downtown Life – Amir Mansouri
On a Saturday morning, you'll find me along Buffalo Bayou going for a run, the stretch from Downtown to Memorial Park. It has been laid out immaculately with running and biking trails, and you get incredible views of downtown from inside the park. 

My favorite Downtown hangout is Discovery Green because there is always an interesting event – from concerts to sports and cultural activities.

The best-kept secret in Downtown are the bike rental stations (BCycle) and the bike lanes. I love it because you can really explore Downtown and nearby areas such the Museum District, Hermann Park or Montrose on a bike.

If you're looking for something great to do after work in Downtown, I highly recommend going to a Rockets game because of the energetic atmosphere (especially when we are winning!).

If I could only describe Downtown living in one word, it would be: vibrant.

 

The Cosmopolitan Couple
Jacklyn Ochoa-Mendez and Marcos Mendez
Ages: 32
Occupation: Management Consultant Technician (Marcos) and Trainer/Fitness Instructor (Jacklyn)
Residence: The Rice

When Marcos Mendez and his wife, Jacklyn Ochoa-Mendez, lived in Montrose, they found themselves hanging out more and more in Market Square. They loved the events there, from the movie nights to block parties. Having lived in New York City, they knew what an urban life was like. When it came time to re-examine their living space, moving Downtown made sense. They moved last October.

“The transition was easy,” says Jacklyn. “Being Downtown has been such a great experience, especially with all the new development. It’s even better than we could have expected.”

Marcos, who usually works from home (his company is at Richmond Avenue and the Beltway), says Downtown feels distinctly Houston.

“You can see the tipping point happening here in terms of residents and residential options. There’s a great diversity in who lives Downtown, and in what you can do. New residential buildings are coming into the mix, and they’re bringing in more people. We’re excited. Downtown is going to be the next big neighborhood in Houston.”

“We feel like Downtown pioneers!” laughs Jacklyn. “We’ve seen Downtown’s struggles and growth.”

The couple also has an appreciation for the city core’s history. One of the things they love most about living at The Rice is that it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and Marcos says that while the building is obviously one of the oldest in Downtown, with a rich heritage as a hotel, it still feels modern, nearly brand-new.

“This is a building with a lot of lives,” he says. “That’s pretty cool.” 

He and Jacklyn also love the ability to walk anywhere they want to go. They routinely take in Astros games at Minute Maid Park and cheer on the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. They are regulars at many of the restaurants in Market Square and other parts of the neighborhood, and they know that living in the city center is a unique experience amid Houston’s vastness and sprawl.

“We have access to all the best parts of the city,” says Marcos.

Jacklyn agrees. In addition to lifestyle amenities of walking to concerts, restaurants, bars and events, Jacklyn has built up her personal training client base since moving into the neighborhood. She typically conducts personal training sessions 10 times each week, and her clientele are a combination of fellow Downtown dwellers and those who commute in.

“It’s so convenient for the clients,” she says. “I can see them on their lunch hours, or right after work. I’m able to see them in their homes, and I can walk there. It’s great.”

The couple sees many similarities between their life in New York City and Downtown Houston, pointing out the ability to be in the heart of the action.

“If you’re active and you like being able to walk and take part in events at Discovery Green or supporting the arts, like we do, Downtown living is very similar to New York.”

“Our location is perfect,” agrees Jacklyn. “I can see Minute Maid Park from my window. Living Downtown gives us this wonderful urban lifestyle that really works for us. And, I get all my steps in every day!”

Our Downtown Life – Jacklyn Ochoa-Mendez and Marcos Mendez
On Saturday morning, you'll find us at The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar having brunch. We usually go with smoked salmon and eggs, and the breakfast BLT. And we love their Irish coffee.

Our favorite Downtown hangout is Okra Charity Saloon because it's involvement in the community is its best feature even with a great staff, food and drinks. Jacklyn loves their chocolate-chip cookies, which she drinks with bubbly.

The best-kept secret in Downtown is The Houston Watch Company, and we love it because of its history and craft cocktails. They have a great selection of takes on the Old Fashioned.

If you're looking for something great to do after work in Downtown, we recommend Tuesday or Thursday Steak Night at MKT Bar next to Phoenicia.

If we could only describe Downtown living in one word, it would be: vibrant!

 

The Houston Transplant
Andrew Appleton
Age: 29
Occupation: Buyer/Sales at John Lawrie, Inc
Residence: Franklin Lofts

Originally from Arkansas, Andrew Appleton went to college in Missouri and wound up, like so many before him, in Houston for a job. Not knowing much about the Bayou City, or anyone here, he rented a nice apartment in Post Oak, and looked up the best bars in the city, then proceeded to visit them, to help him get his bearings. While Appleton found many places he loved, he discovered two things fairly early on: he hated fighting Interstate 59 every day to get to work, and Houston really isn’t a walkable city.

“I wound up just exploring Downtown while I was learning the city,” says Appleton, and he quickly came to see it as a vibrant neighborhood, not just a sprawl of skyscrapers and offices. One of his favorite haunts quickly became Hearsay, and as he found himself spending more time in Downtown, it became apparent that he really needed to move there.

At first, he looked in EaDo, and he liked the area, but there was just something about the Franklin Lofts that captured his attention. The eight-story building was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was completed in 1904, and it’s touted as Houston’s first skyscraper. Home to the mortgage and investment firm Lomas and Nettleton, 201 Main Street got an addition in 1925, and was converted to a residential loft property in 1999. Sixty-two luxury loft condominiums now grace the building’s eight floors, offering sweeping vistas of Downtown from original 10-foot windows. Exposed brick walls enhance the building’s historic character and, with its location right on METRO’s Main Street Red Line, it’s in the center of everything.

“It feels authentic,” says Appleton about the Franklin Lofts and his 1,900-square-foot space. “There’s something that feels incredibly Southern about it, that this was a commerce center and the tallest building at the time. I love the history of it.”

Appleton loves New Orleans, and he says the Franklin Lofts reminds him of the buildings in the French Quarter. Aside from aesthetics, Appleton also enjoys the convenience that being Downtown affords. He loves walking to the places he wants to go, instead of hopping in the car and driving and hunting for parking. His commute, he says, is about 19 minutes, no matter which direction he chooses to take to get to his office, which is near the Houston Ship Channel. And more than all that, he says, there’s just a certain feeling he gets from living Downtown.

“It really feels alive here,” he says. “You know, when I lived near the Galleria, it was like, you come home from work, you park your car in the garage, you go into your apartment. Here, you get to be out on the streets and you feel so much a part of all that’s happening.”

One of his favorite spots is Market Square Park, where he lets his dog run around the dog park. He also says that since the city and Buffalo Bayou Partnership completed the renovations to Buffalo Bayou Park, he and Rye have enjoyed long rambles along the waters that gave birth to Houston not too far from his front door.

“Downtown has just grown so much over the last year and a half,” he said. “Nightlife has picked up, there’s so much to do. It’s so convenient. I love how walkable it is. And it really feels like a neighborhood. That’s such a benefit to me.”

My Downtown Life – Andrew Appleton

On Saturday morning, you'll find me at the Market Square dog park playing with my dog Rye. 

My favorite Downtown hangout is The Nightingale Room because  it’s turned into a great place to see live music most nights of the week.

The best-kept secret in Downtown is Roma’s Pizza and I love it because everyone swears by Frank’s, but Roma’s has the best slice. My favorite is the pepperoni and sausage!

If you're looking for something great to do after work, I recommend grabbing a beer and something to eat at one of the food stalls at Conservatory.

If I could only describe Downtown living in one word, it would be: flavor.

 

The Downtown Booster
Casey Holder
Age: 29
Occupation: Attorney at BakerHostetler
Residence: 500 Crawford

At press time, Casey Holder had literally just moved in to her apartment in 500 Crawford. She’d been there three weeks, but even as she was still unpacking, she was touting the virtues of Downtown living.

“I walk to my office at Rusk and Main,” says the international trade attorney who’d formerly lived in Midtown and the Heights. “I get on the train and go to the Theater District.”

Holder’s life at BakerHostetler is hectic, her schedule often meaning long days and detailed work. That’s why the convenience of being Downtown is an asset – she’s close to everything she likes and needs, and while she readily admits she likes to spend weekends resting after a busy week, she takes advantage of as much as she can.

“I don’t make plans on the weekends, really. I’ll just take the dog for a walk and see what’s happening,” she says. “A lot of activities I love Downtown are free or just a nominal cost, so it’s great to always have options.”

Holder’s no homebody, though. She always loved having the ability to hop on the METRO light rail line and head to Reliant Stadium during the Rodeo. She’s looking forward to doing that again next year, but now she finds herself loving heading to movie nights or playing bingo in Market Square Park.

“It’s so great to be able to explore and get to know the neighborhood,” she says. “If you look back at just the last year, Downtown has changed so dramatically. I really love just walking around and seeing what’s new.”

Holder says that over the last few years, she’d been edging closer and closer to living Downtown, knowing that she wanted to advantage of being in the city core. 500 Crawford offered them multiple times over. The midrise apartment complex features a resort-style pool and an outdoor kitchen where residents can test their culinary aptitude, 24-hour access to the complimentary coffee lounge and sports and lounge deck that overlooks Minute Maid Park. The residence was designed so that all bedrooms could accommodate king-sized beds, and the 11 floor plans give residents tons of choice for one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as one bedrooms with a study. In addition to those interior options, 500 Crawford touts its central location as one of the most walkable residences in the city core. Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse is a block away. Jackson Street BBQ and the Lake House in Discovery Green are three blocks away. Looking to catch a movie? Sundance Cinemas is nine blocks away, or easily accessible on Metro’s Green Line. BBVA Compass Stadium is within six blocks; Toyota Center is within seven.

“I have absolutely no regrets about moving Downtown,” Holder laughs. “Living here doesn’t mean you have to give up your car – I drive once or twice a week. And I don’t pay for parking; it’s included in the rent. I keep trying to get my friends to move Downtown with me. If you’re even remotely thinking about whether to move Downtown or not, just do it!”

My Downtown Life – Casey Holder
On Saturday morning, you'll find me running along Buffalo Bayou with my dog then grabbing a Greek coffee at Niko Niko's in Market Square Park. I may also drop in on a Saturday morning class at Crossfit Roughnecks or join a free community yoga class in Discovery Green. I love to do something active on Saturday morning before enjoying Downtown's great bars and restaurants on Saturday night.

My favorite Downtown hangout is 8th Wonder Brewery (technically EaDo) because it's dog-friendly, serves great Houston brews, and is a short walk (or train ride) from Astros, Rockets, and Dynamo games. They also have live music and the Eatsie Boys food truck most nights of the week.

The best-kept secrets in Downtown are the various residential options - apartments and condos in historic conversions or new builds. I love it because I'm walking distance from work, great restaurants and bars, several sports venues, arts and theater performances, concerts, 5K races, dog parks . . . I could go on. There is always something happening Downtown and I love being in the middle of it.

If you're looking for something great to do after work in Downtown, I recommend grabbing a margarita made with infused tequila at El Big Bad (my favorite is the habanero ginger). Pair it with some fresh guac or ceviche - both delicious.

If I could only describe Downtown living in one word, it would be: convenient.


The Positive Risk-Taker
Lance Mullins
Age: 27
Occupation: New Hire Instructor and Scale Operator, Republic Services
Residence: The Rice

Lance Mullins is from Patterson, New Jersey, so he grew up in the shadow of the Big Apple. New York City was a train ride away, with its promise of great live entertainment, ethnic cuisine from around the world and cosmopolitan vibe. When Mullins graduated from Hilbert College in Buffalo, he’d been working for Apple. But a chance meeting led him to Houston. 

“I met a gentlemen who was the general manager of six landfills,” he says. “And he really liked the work I was doing, and convinced me to come to Houston to see what it was about. He showed me the city, and I could see a lot of opportunity here. I really liked what I saw.”

Taking what he called a “positive risk,” Mullins left the Northeast and headed south to the Bayou City. He chose Downtown because it offered what he felt was something unique to the city – and something familiar to his living in the shadow of New York.

“Downtown doesn’t feel like Houston,” he says. “While Houston has a lot of sprawl – it’s big – Downtown feels more like New York. There’s always noise here, people on the streets, things happening. It’s really comforting to me to hear that. It makes me feel like I am home.”

Mullins has a studio apartment at The Rice. Offering loft and multi-bedroom options, Rice is in one of Downtown’s historic buildings and anchors the Historic District. Residents have every amenity imaginable, including auto detailing; a 24-hour-fitness center with towel service; their own private, fenced-in dog park; and an outdoor terrace with lounge, gas grills and TVs. Built in 1913 on what was the site of the Republic of Texas capitol building, it operated as the iconic Rice Hotel for much of the 20th century. Shuttered in 1977, it sat empty and unloved for nearly two decades before it was reborn as the Rice Lofts in 1998. As one of the early options for Downtown’s residential renaissance, the new incarnation kept original touches like the exposed brick and massive windows, and capitalized on the building’s location to lure everyone from young professionals to empty nesters. “My studio fits really well for my personality and my needs,” says Mullins, who has something of a designer in him. He’s taken care to create a space that looks aesthetically pleasing and functions well for his lifestyle. “It’s cool when people come in and say, this is a very cool apartment.”

It’s located 15 minutes from his office, and he says the convenience factor was a huge selling point. Mullins knows many people in Houston travel much longer and further than that; he realizes he’s lucky.

For Mullins, living Downtown is about combining convenience with a cosmopolitan lifestyle. He loves jumping on the METRO light rail to get around. He loves seeing the new restaurants and gathering spaces coming into the area.

“There’s such diversity Downtown,” he says, talking not only about the people who live there, but things to do. “There are so many different places to eat, there’s a great atmosphere here. I feel like every day, I walk down the street and see something new. It’s like a pop-up, these pubs and places I’ve never seen before that are here now.”

He says that he loves the feeling that there is always something going on Downtown, always something to do.

“There has been so much renovation and new building, Downtown just looks great, and it feels like a place that’s right for me.”

When he recommends Downtown living to people, he counsels them to do a little research first. He recommends coming Downtown and staying at one of the hotels. This, he says, lets people get a feel for the neighborhoods-within-the-neighborhood and see what it’s like to walk to a lunch or brunch spot, head to Sundance Cinemas for the latest big-screen release or an art-house film, take part in the activities at Discovery Green or Market Square.

“Downtown is a great place to live,” he says. “People should really come on out and explore and see what we have.”

My Downtown Life – Lance Mullins
On Saturday morning, you’ll find me just relaxing and then maybe heading to Sundance Theatre for an early movie.

My Favorite Downtown hangout is The Commoner because of the good music. They have a really good DJ who plays everything from hip hop to old school to R&B, as well as a lot of Houston artists. It’s a great place to hear up-and-coming artists and just good music in general.

The best-kept secret in Downtown is Main Street because there’s always a party, between the restaurants and people out looking at the art.

If you’re looking for something great to do after work in Downtown, I recommend jumping on the train to any of the restaurants along the rail line. It’s so convenient. I love Oporto in Midtown, with its blend of Indian, Hispanic and Italian cuisines. It’s a regular brunch spot for me because of their curry empanadas.  

If I could describe Downtown living in one word, it would be: culturally diverse.

When you live here, you really feel that you are connected to what is happening in the world. -- Amir Mansouri
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