The Richmond Avenue corridor southwest of The Galleria shopping mall has experienced many ups and downs during its 50 years or so as a steadfast location for Houston office commerce, entertainment, dining and apartment living.
Now the corridor is on its latest upswing — that key property owners expect will be permanent — thanks to the public safety services provided by the Southwest Management District.
Created under state law, the management district originally formed as a Sharpstown improvement agency that now encompasses the Chinatown corridor along Bellaire Boulevard and the Gandhi District along Hillcroft Avenue as well as PlazAmericas Mall, Houston Christian University and Southwest Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Richmond Avenue property owners approached the Southwest Management District about a year and a half ago seeking to be annexed into the service area after seeing the public safety enhancements the district had brought about.
With its core goal of economic development, the district had established private security patrols, overtime patrols by Houston Police Department officers, coordination with police commanders, the operation of portable and stationary security cameras, an annual ceremony honoring outstanding officers, community meetings with police and even more safety-related projects.
After suffering an increase in crime and related nuisances, Richmond Avenue property owners sought annexation from the district to extend the safety initiatives to their commercial strip. The annexation of more than 100 real estate parcels, worth more than $115 million, took place in early 2022.
“We want to gain a voice (against crime),” said Berzin Bhandara, vice president of the Ardenwood Group, which owns commercial property and is headquartered at 6060 Richmond. “And we saw that voice as coming from the Southwest Management District.”
He cited the district’s graffiti abatement program as merely an example of the services that have helped blunt crime and blight.
“It’s now something where we make a call and have it taken care of so that it doesn’t metastasize and lead to worse outcomes,” he said.
With funding from annual assessments on commercial properties within its boundaries, the district removes graffiti from commercial structures and restores surfaces to their original color without extra charge.
The regular visibility of Seal Security Solutions officers in the area helps prevent crime and often discourages loitering and other nuisances to which HPD officers do not respond on an emergency basis.
In partnership with District J Council Member Edward Pollard, the district purchased dozens of Flock Safety automated license plate reader cameras that help law enforcement identify and track wanted criminals and potential suspects who travel through the neighborhood.
Richmond property owners have joined the district in placing mobile Zaladium Analytics security cameras throughout the area, leading to another reduction in crimes such as vehicle and office burglaries.
Former HPD officer and academy instructor Victor Beserra, director of public safety for the management district, has critiqued security precautions on private property along Richmond and works as a liaison between owners and officers at the Midwest Command station, which is supervised by Commander Zachary Becker.
Also the district established a new board of directors subcommittee on Richmond Avenue public safety. It receives crime data and discusses related issues every month. The panel is chaired by board member and Richmond property owner Frank Donnelly.
The new partnership among HPD, the district and the business has improved the public safety environment on Richmond through better coordination, according to Donnelly.
The district also contracts with the Harris County Attorney’s Office for the dedication of two assistant county attorneys to focus on taking potential legal action in uncivil court against businesses that create excess noise, loitering, criminal mischief and other aggravations.
“The best approach to dealing with nuisance properties is through this joint effort,” Donnelly said.
Next along Richmond, the district wants to help push back against after-hours clubs whose presence often leads to early morning crimes such as speeding by drivers along the corridor — or much worse.
The district is working with Becker and his staff to develop a “differential response team” to target crime hotspots such as the unlicensed clubs that serve alcoholic beverages. HPD defines the teams as “specially trained police officers practicing Problem Oriented Policing utilizing non-traditional police methods.”