By Alex Wukman
Almost anyone would be forgiven for not knowing about Main Street America, Houston’s latest weird idea and apparent proof that the real estate market has fully recovered. Not to be confused with the much more famous, and slightly more interesting, Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland Main Street America is essentially the project’s owner and CEO, Michael Feigin, describes it, with a straight face, “a home product theme park.” The idea is that people will flock to this “unique venue” to take self guided tours through 12 “showcase homes” that will allow them to see, touch and experience various home products. The difference between Main Street America as opposed to say killing an hour or so before your favorite bar opens on Saturday afternoon by going to a model home open house and drinking the free wine, is that at this permanent model home open house visitors will be able to use proprietary Technological Education Devices to scan RFID chips embedded on almost everything to see how much it costs.
So, to recap: Main Street America is a year round model home open house that built a device that allows visitors to read RFID chips to determine prices of objects instead of visitors taking photos of the devices they like and searching the internet from the phone to determine the price. And somehow this is called a “theme park?” Not to sound like someone against progress, but theme parks usually involve rides, stunt shows, teenagers dressed up like cartoon characters and overpriced food. Main Street Ameica will have none of the things that people think of when they hear the phrase theme park.
It will have “a cooking demonstration studio, a custom home building office, a home remodeling center, mortgage financing services, an interior design studio, a specialty café and a childcare area.” In addition to going into model homes and looking to see how much the counters cost visitors will be able to learn how to make a nice souffle and then negotiate with a mortgage lender at the same spot. If you idea of fun is picking out kitchen cabinets and finding the perfect serving set to offset the kitchen faucet this is definitely the place for you.
The sad part is that because of the belief that Houston will keep growing and growing projects like this will keep finding funding. This means that instead of investing in smart growth iniatives, high density pedestrian friendly sites connected by masss transit, that reduce the number of cars on the road, developers like Feigin continue wanting to build master planned communities that require people to drive everywhere. In some ways Main Street America is a relic 10 years past its prime, the ownership society that nurtured the custom home industry that Feign is seeking to bring together died a swift and painful death in late 2008.
The concept of Main Street America, a year round home show, stands in stark contrast to the paradigm shift brought about by the recession and only helps to reinforce the idea that Houston real estate developers are completely out-of-touch with the rest of the world.