The City of Houston is known for its many important historical communities. The Third Ward, one of the City’s Complete Communities Initiative neighborhoods, is less than a mile from downtown Houston and has been home to some of the most important institutions in the African American community. It was once a thriving community of businesses, churches, schools, and families but, unfortunately, over the past 40 years the Third Ward has seen businesses close, families move out, urban blight and virtually no economic investments to serve as the catalyst for the revitalization that it so desperately needs.

For many years this urban community had limited access to healthy and affordable food options and was known as one of many “food deserts” in the greater Houston area. It was clear that limited site selection, lack of interest by grocery retailers, and insufficient funding were just some of the obstacles to successfully fulfilling this community’s long-term grocery needs. For many decades, these obstacles have left a huge void up until several years ago when H-E-B, Texas’ largest grocery chain, stepped up and engaged Waterman Steele to assist them in addressing this challenge.


On behalf of H-E-B, Waterman Steele led the efforts to establish a public/private partnership with the City of Houston and the Houston Housing Finance Corporation by providing strategic and advisory direction for advocacy, community engagement, government affairs, and public relations. These efforts led to the construction of a 90,000+ sq ft. state-of-the-art H-E-B store that had a parallel goal of not only providing an array of fresh produce, meats, and shelf goods, that this community so urgently needed but also providing 250+ liveable wage jobs to low-and-moderate income individuals. Waterman Steele was instrumental in bringing to fruition a store that has become a sustainable solution for this community as well as become a nationally recognized best practice for public-private partnerships.

Recognizing that developing in low-to-moderate income communities can be challenging and that there must be a necessary return on the investment to make projects like this viable, Waterman Steele’s expertise in community reinvestment helped H-E-B to make the case for public investment. The federal funding that was provided to the City and HHFC to purchase the site provided H-E-B with the opportunity to engage in a long-term lease and to focus their efforts on what they do best, the design and construction of the $25M+ store and ultimately providing access to fresh produce, meats, and other groceries. This public investment allowed H-E-B to leverage its resources with a long-term investment in this community.


Through Waterman Steele’s community engagement efforts this store has wide community support and is having a transformative social as well as economic impact. At Waterman Steele we are proud to be part of a public/private partnership that is enhancing the quality of life for low-and-moderate income families, is serving as a catalyst for other future investments as well as helps to preserve the integrity of the community’s most important asset, its people.