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HoustonHouston renters are feeling the pinch as they face some of the highest price hikes in the country, according to a new report from researchers at Harvard University.

Of the 93 metro areas measured, Houston made it into the top 10 among large cities with rate increases at 4.8%. That’s more than 3 percentage points above inflation. Among all cities nationally, Houston is 15th on the list of rent increases.

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies says the increases are the price we pay for our buoyant job market as the rises match our well-above-average employment gains.

All those newbies want prime locations, meaning apartment hunters inside the Loop are faring the worst. An average apartment there now almost $200 more than it was two years ago.

“Two years ago, a one bedroom inner Loop/West Greenaway Plaza apartment cost $1,087. Now it’s $1,271,” said Bruce McClenny, from Apartment Data Services. “We just haven’t delivered enough product to meet this demand. We just didn’t build enough fast enough.”

Compare that with the average in the Houston metro area as a whole, which saw an increase of just $100 in two years for a one bedroom, from $662 to $762.

Also making the top 20 fastest-rising rents were Austin and Corpus Christi, which have seen similar employment growth.

Researchers say things may get better as new construction projects are completed, but until then, the best advice may be to stay put rather than move homes.

“You might get a better deal renewing rather than starting out fresh,” says Andy Teas from the Houston Apartment Association. “Landlords want to avoid the costs of finding new tenants.”

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galleria_photo_211Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc. is planning to make the nation’s fourth-largest shopping center even bigger.

As part of a series of changes coming to Houston’s Galleria, Simon plans to convert the existing Saks Fifth Avenue on Westheimer Road into a two-level wing that will house an additional 35 luxury retailers as well as future restaurants.

The overall plan will eventually add 100,000 square feet of new retail space to the mall, the company said.

Simon’s plans also include upgrades to the interior, exterior and parking decks of the mall.

The Galleria is jointly owned by an affiliate of SPG and Institutional Mall Investors LLC.

What will happen to the Saks?

The flagship store will open in its new location as a two-story department store where the Macy’s on Sage is currently. The 198,000-square-foot store is scheduled to open in fall 2015. Until then, Saks will continue to operate in its existing store.

Macy’s will consolidate into its Hidalgo Galleria store, the Houston Chronicle reports.

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spaceportIn an effort to keep the Houston spaceport ball rolling, the Houston Airport System publicly revealed the first renderings of its proposed spaceport at Ellington Airport.

HAS displayed the renderings, as well as a promotional video, to a full auditorium at the Johnson Space Center the evening of Sept. 4.

“This is not a science fiction-type conversation where we have to imagine how this industry might operate if it did in fact exist,” Mario Diaz, HAS’ aviation director, told the crowd. “This industry exists today, these launches have already taken place.”

HAS started aggressively moving forward with its spaceport plans in July, when it secured approval from Houston City Council for a $718,000 contract for a consulting firm to study how Ellington Airport can obtain a spaceport launch site operator’s license. However, HAS has been looking into developing a spaceport in Houston since early 2011. The ideal Ellington spaceport would allow for space tourism, astronaut training and commercial space experiments, HAS said.

In addition to unveiling the spaceport renderings on Sept. 4, HAS hosted a panel of members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. The panel, which was composed of former astronauts who are now working at companies that are in the process of creating commercial spaceflight vehicles, such as SpaceX and Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), spoke about their progress. Most of the panelists noted how their work is directly tied with Houston — all of them were trained as astronauts in Houston and many work with the Johnson Space Center on developing their technologies used in spaceflight.

It is this connection with Houston that has HAS optimistic about the potential for the Ellington spaceport.

Diaz emphasized that if Houston wants to remain as “Space City” in the 21st century, it needs to get on the commercial spaceflight bandwagon, and he believes the city can eventually lead the way in commercial spaceflight.

“In short, if you were to sit down and attempt to create the perfect location for a commercial spaceport, you would wind up drawing something very close to Ellington and its surrounding area,” Diaz said. “That’s why we are so excited about the future of the Houston Airport System because the possibilities and the available resources are coming together in such a way that not even the sky is the limit anymore.”

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HoustonIn the latest grand accolade for the Petro Metro, Forbes predicts that within a decade Houston will be known as America’s next great global city.

Forbes made the prediction in its article “A Map of America’s Future: Where Growth Will Be Over the Next Decade,” part of its “Reinventing America” series.

The article breaks the country into seven major regions, including the Third Coast — of which Houston is named the capital.

“Once a sleepy, semitropical backwater, the Third Coast, which stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from south Texas to western Florida, has come out of the recession stronger than virtually any other region,” Forbes writes. “Since 2001, its job base has expanded 7 percent, and it is projected to grow another 18 percent in the coming decade.”

Forbes notes two of Houston’s major economic powerhouses — energy and trade — as two of the driving forces behind the area’s success.

In addition to Houston’s energy prominence, Forbes also notes the racially and ethnically diverse metro has the world’s largest medical center and recently surpassed New York City as the No. 1 exporter nationwide. The diversification of the region’s economy will continue to increase as the area’s wealth grows, according to Forbes.

Last year, Forbes named Houston the coolest city in which to live, and the Bayou City has racked up numerous superlatives since then.

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