HOUSTON — One of the largest private redevelopment projects in Houston’s history — a $500 million plan to transform Memorial City, a 1960s retail and commercial center, into a new urban community — is under way on the city’s west side.

The impressive undertaking by Houston-based MetroNational, a privately held real estate investment company, involves office, hotel, retail, restaurant, cultural, residential and healthcare components spread over 200 contiguous acres. The project is scheduled for completion in 2003.

"Memorial City should be the vanguard for what urban living will be in the future," said Bill Peel, MetroNational’s executive vice president and an acknowledged urban visionary. "As Houston continues to grow, we will rediscover the value of our urban centers to maximize our quality of life. Our goal is to create a unique place that will support the community. And quite simply, to become Houston’s premier total family experience."

The Houston real estate industry applauded the Memorial City makeover, particularly the urban center concept. "I think Memorial City will emerge as the downtown for the West Houston/Memorial area," said David Cook of Cushman & Wakefield Texas. "The mall has also emerged as the winner in the long struggle between Town & Country Mall and Memorial City."

The project includes the redevelopment and expansion of Memorial City mall and expansion of the Memorial Hermann Memorial City Healthcare campus.

"Right now, there are lots of architectural islands in a sea of asphalt and concrete," said Peel. "At Memorial City we are rediscovering the value of the pedestrian experience, the importance of space between buildings and creating a sense of community."

One of the centerpieces of the urban development will be a repositioning of Memorial City mall from a regional shopping center to a hybrid retail, recreational and entertainment experience. The renovation will include a 300,000 sq. ft. flagship Foley’s, a 140,000 sq. ft. "new generation" Lord & Taylor, a 250,000 sq. ft. Dillard’s and 550,000 sq. ft. of specialty retail tenants. Additional amenities will include a two-story Italian-designed carousel, an ice rink for hockey and recreational skating and a 1,200-seat amphitheater for performing arts and community events. Environmentally sensitive "widewalks" will run adjacent to major streets and then into the mall, hospital, restaurants and other venues. Bike paths will be designed to draw the surrounding neighborhoods into Memorial City, making the area equally pedestrian and vehicle-friendly.

Plans are also under way for a 300-room all-suite hotel, a conference center and a theater complex. "We are transforming Memorial City into an urban oasis to live, work, shop, learn and play," said Peel.