By Christina Autry
Sheri Cortez is the Brays Oaks Management District’s Chair of Economic Development. Cortez has been an active member of the community for twenty-five years, and is a leader in the district’s current rebranding initiative. We spoke with Cortez to get a brief update on this rebranding process and where it stands.
What does the rebrand entail?
We need to move away from the name Fondren-Southwest. You see it on every corner. We’re going to redirect the community to get away from the Fondren-SW name and develop a Brays Oaks name. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We want to take what we have already and build on it. Part of this will result in our Beautification Committee implementing major markers in our esplanades. As far as the government is concerned, we have always been the Brays Oaks District. But “Southwest Houston” is what the media has always referred to us as, combining us in with other areas of Houston.
What is the reason for the rebranding effort?
Pre-2000, our community had businesses like Target, Palais Royale, Randal’s, Kroger, and the district had a nice aesthetic. After 2000, there were many negative economic impacts that affected our city and played a huge role in the dynamics of the community. Even before I was on the board, I heard from those doing influential work in the area that it was hard to get investors to drive through this district. This was directly tied to its name: Fondren Southwest. Due to the economic impacts in our area businesses such as HEB were not able to secure loans from the bank to open stores here. This lasted until about two years ago when the economy in our area began to rise again. That changed everything.
How did the branding get started?
We are bringing Ernst & Young LLP to come in and help us create a plan. Their process is in part developed by reviewing available marketing tools, conducting research, and assessing organizational information. The consulting group will come up with a strategic plan, tied with our economic development plan. We’ve conducted audience engagement within our Super Neighborhood, the term for the leadership of all the neighborhoods in the district. It’s the neighborhoods who have held this area up, and if they don’t buy in, it will sink. We have to make sure they’re all involved. Due to COVID-19, we have had to conduct our meetings on Zoom, which has prevented us from getting the community involved as fast as we want to.
What are the next steps?
Once we get the reports and findings, Ernst & Young will give us a guidebook that we can follow. The guidebook will describe how we will market with print, digital, social media, and our public relations campaign. They’ll give us options for our new name, whether that ends up being Brays Oaks District, Brays Oak Community, or another option.
Ernst & Young will talk with businesses both small and large, as well as our real estate personnel, to evaluate our existing conditions. They’ll do an online survey, and hold workshops to discuss initiatives. I’m talking with business owners to give them info about rental assistance so they don’t lose their leases in the meantime. We have to keep moving forward so when COVID decreases, we will be ready for the next step.
The accessibility of the district to commuting in Houston continues to be a strong selling point as we make forward progress. The kids that were raised here and went off to college have started coming back and moving into their parents’ homes or buying homes in their neighborhood. Lawyers, doctors, real estate professionals, accountants who work in Houston are wanting to live here because of the accessibility.
Positive steps have already been made; the Houston Community College campus built in the district is called “Brays Oaks” HCC. The charter school here, YES Prep Academy, is also called Brays Oaks. Within the past year, Google Maps has labeled our area as Brays Oaks. Developers are now looking at the prime real estate that we have available. The tide is turning.