Pedestrian-friendly plaza is latest part of Rice Village makeover

Houston Chronicle
Written by: Katherine Feser

A small parking area in a corner of the Rice Village will soon be a pedestrian plaza as part of an ongoing transformation of the longtime shopping and dining district.

Known as Morningside Plaza, the space will provide seating and free Wi-Fi in front of D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe, Nao Ramen Houston and the soon-to-open Hopdoddy Burger Bar. It’s on Morningside Drive, between Times and University boulevards.

“Within the tight confines of Rice Village, our biggest challenge has been finding opportunities to add much-needed public space for the community,” Tommy Miller, managing director of Trademark Property Co., said in an announcement Monday.

“This plaza was basically created out of thin air. We’re creating an engaging gathering place framed by landscaped planter boxes with new shade trees and seating. It is time for this beloved but neglected stretch of Morningside known for its vibrant restaurant and bar scene to evolve, and hopefully this will be a catalyst for future improvements.”

Eleven parking spaces were eliminated to make way for the new Morningside Plaza, Rice Village spokesman Bernard Kaplan said. That is a small fraction of the more than 750 parking spaces in a region of Rice Village owned by Rice University and managed by Trademark Property. The area is bounded by Morningside, University, Kirby and Times.

A planned widening of the 130-foot length of the sidewalk along Morningside will create a more pedestrian-friendly walkway and provide access to food trucks, Kaplan said.

Patrons of food trucks such as Dough Cone, Smoosh Cookie and Yoyo’s Hot Dog, which park along Morningside Drive, will be able to order from the new 5-foot-wide sidewalk.

Completion is planned in early March in time for the Hopdoddy Burger opening.

Rice Village is changing the parking set-up, essentially flipping the paid and free spaces, Kaplan said. Newly installed meters, currently undergoing testing, are expected to be in service next week. Shoppers will pay rates starting at $1 per hour for prime spots in front of stores, while garage parking will be free for the first two hours.

The parking changes follow a 2015 study by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research that found that as many as 1,000 spots are unused during peak demand times such as lunchtime or on Saturdays.

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