This fall, Westchase District celebrates its 25th anniversary. The District was created by an act of the 74th Texas legislature and signed into law by then-Governor George W. Bush on June 12, 1995. The law became effective on August 28, 1995 and the newly-formed board of directors met for the first time on August 29, 1995. But Westchase District’s history hardly begins there.
The Westchase Business Council – the District’s predecessor organization – laid the groundwork for the District’s creation. The first management districts in Houston were just being formed and the WBC’s board believed that the Westchase area would benefit by the creation of a formal district. They tasked their only employee, Jim Murphy, with the effort to create a district.
“Our service plan was refined over hundreds of presentations to area owners,” said Murphy. “As we spoke to stakeholders in the area and solicited their support for the formation of the district, we learned what was important to them and developed goals for the district based on that feedback.
“For apartment owners, for example, safety and security were very important. Business owners would say, ‘this is a great place, but you can’t get here,’ so for them, mobility was important,” said Murphy.
The Westchase District office opened with little fanfare in 1995, with Murphy as its founding general manager. He hired two staff members who helped get the organization up and running. Founding board members began determining what projects would be undertaken.
Public safety, mobility, beautification
“Our goal from day one was that Westchase District would be safe, mobile and attractive, so each of those became very important in our daily work,” said Murphy. One of the first contracts approved by the board of directors was to engage the Harris County Precinct 5 Constables to provide public safety patrols in the area.
Over time public safety became an even bigger part of the Westchase District portfolio and more oversight was needed. In 2004, the District hired its first-ever Public Safety Director and began hiring off-duty HPD officers to patrol the area. “Our first public safety vehicles were white Ford Expeditions,” said Murphy. They were outfitted with all the same equipment that police officers would find in their HPD vehicles, including back-seat “cages” to detain criminals and radios which connected them to HPD dispatchers.
Today, the program is overseen by retired HPD assistant chief Don McKinney, Westchase District’s Vice President of Public Safety since 2017. “We hire the absolute best HPD officers,” said McKinney. “They work individually, in teams, on bikes, on foot, and in patrol vehicles. These officers have a keen eye for trouble. Their work has kept Westchase District’s crime rate down, especially when compared to surrounding areas of Houston.”
Mobility is key
At its founding, Westchase District’s location on the West Sam Houston Tollway gave it a prime advantage over other areas of town. “The Westpark Tollway became one of the most important things we worked on in the early years. Now we’re sitting at the intersection of these two strategic tollways,” said Murphy.
With a 1996 budget of just $800,000, Westchase District was not equipped for big infrastructure projects. But the District used its resources to conduct traffic studies that justified mobility improvements, then took those proposals to the appropriate governmental agency to execute.
For example, traffic studies justified a stop light at CityWest Blvd. and Briar Forest Drive. The City of Houston installed the light. Traffic studies justified double left turn lanes on Wilcrest at Westheimer and Westchase District worked with both the City of Houston and the Texas Department of Transportation to accomplish that project. “These are examples of small projects that have big impact on mobility in Westchase District,” said Murphy. “Today, thanks to our 380 Program with the City of Houston, we’re able to tackle much bigger projects, like the $20 million complete reconstruction of Walnut Bend Lane.”
Beauty in the eye of the beholder
Westchase District’s beautification program started out as part of a larger portfolio known as “area image,” according to Murphy. “The board recognized that branding was important. They shortened our name (from Westchase Area Management District to Greater Westchase District to Westchase District) and created our original logo,” said Murphy.
But more was needed to tie the area together. “The District is divided by the Beltway and is made up of five different commercial subdivisions,” said Murphy. “Landscaping and signage became the way that we connected the geography of Westchase District.”
Moving the goal line
After nine years of focusing on mobility, beautification and public safety, Westchase District’s board of directors and staff began a long-range planning process. “In 2004, our board challenged us to look beyond an annual horizon and think boldly about what Westchase District might look like 20 years in the future,” said Murphy.
“That effort resulted in our Long-Range Plan, which has already come to fruition in the form of our trail system, the reconstruction of Walnut Bend, the Westheimer streetscapes project and our two upcoming parks,” said Murphy.
Westchase District’s original legislation provided for a 10-year service plan which meant the District would have ceased to exist in 2005. But staff reached out to owners through a petition process to extend that service plan through 2024. A second successful petition drive in 2018 extended the District’s service plan through 2045. That timeline – coupled with the District’s 380 Program with the City, which provides the necessary funding – means Westchase District will be here another 25 years maintaining the projects already accomplished and developing new initiatives that will benefit the area’s