College Station is a place where people tell you “howdy!” loudly, enthusiastically and, occasionally, in unison. It’s a college town through and through—not only do more than half of the 100,000 residents attend A&M, it’s right there in the name.
Because the town grew out of the school, and because nearby Bryan, where there’s a quaint Main Street, was founded several years before the university’s arrival in 1876, College Station has no downtown. Instead, it’s distinctly suburban, consisting of huge tracts of student housing, Taco Cabanas and, of course, the school, around which everything revolves.
But a new kind of development has sprung up here that’s bucking the usual trends. Century Square—brought to College Station by local developer Midway, also the progenitor of Houston’s CityCentre—isn’t a central business district in the traditional sense, instead evoking the town squares of The Woodlands and Sugar Land. Slated to finish construction in June and located directly across from A&M’s main campus, it will include two upscale hotels—the first of their kind to come to College Station since the four-star Hilton opened in 1985—as well as a Hopdoddy burger joint, a movie theater, and 250 luxury apartments, which are already finished and up for lease.
The apartments, called 100 Park, come with an interesting catch: You must be 21 or older to rent one. In other words, they are decidedly not geared to the 48,000 undergrads across the street. “In College Station, if you’re a young professional or someone moving to town, your options are, really, buy a house, or rent an apartment that’s probably still going to have a heavy, heavy concentration of students in it, whether it’s true student housing or not,” says Jonathan Brinsden, Midway’s CEO. “So we thought there was a real opportunity for a high-quality, sophisticated, urban, residential product. And nothing else existed in the market.”
Sophisticated and urban aren’t terms usually associated with Aggies. But developers like Midway and William Cole Inc., which is in the process of building a master-planned community it likens to “The Woodlands of Bryan–College Station,” are still targeting folks who bleed maroon—just older ones, who they say are moving back to where they spent their glory days and taking their refined sensibilities with them. And the numbers back up their claims: Between 2000 and 2010, the town’s 55–64 population increased by 88 percent, while residents over 65 increased by 78 percent.
Each generation of Aggies, points out William Cole president Spencer Clements, is bigger than the one that came before it. “The people in my class, ’86, we all turned 50 a few years ago,” he says. “Well, guess what? In a few years, we’re turning 60, and an even bigger class is turning 50. So the train’s coming at you every year, and every year there’s more people in the cars.”
These are the people he’s hoping to reach, the empty-nesters and early retirees who hold Aggies season tickets and know their way around 18 holes. The firm’s master-planned community, which sits along a Texas A&M Traditions–branded golf course, includes plans for a senior living facility and a wellness center targeting seniors, in addition to shopping and another four-star hotel.
Midway’s also catering to empty-nesters, Brinsden says, plus grad students and young professionals, including employees of several biotech firms that are moving into the area. “Students will obviously be a part of the project’s life,” Brinsden says, “but it is very much targeted, in order for us to be successful, for the broader community.”
At the November ribbon-cutting for 100 Park, the crowd was decidedly older, with many even passing up the circulating trays of complimentary champagne. Phillip Ray, Texas A&M’s Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs, took the stage to say some words—the school owns the land occupied by Century Square, and it was clear the university understands that in order to grow itself, it needs to grow College Station.
After the crowd gave Ray an enthusiastic “howdy,” he spoke about the community’s excitement about the project, grinning as he asked, “Who would’ve thought? Urban living in College Station!”