05/25/17 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW LONG UNTIL HOUSTON’S FLOODWATERS WASH AWAY THE OIL MONEY? “But hey, why bother [with impermeable ground cover]? I’m sure this city will continue to grow and prosper and the taxes will still come pouring in, years after it exacerbates its reputation as a flooded-out mess far behind the tipping point. It will make our elected leaders look so smart when the pension system fails anyway because energy companies choose to move to Austin, OKC, DFW and Denver, because they can’t in good conscience relocate people to the flooded mess of our city. Oh wait — you say energy companies would never leave Houston? Remember, the oil companies fled New York decades ago. Recently BP has moved its onshore group to Denver. Exxon is gone to the Woodlands (and lets not pretend that didn’t have anything to do with escaping the hot mess of city hall mismanagement.)” [Tired of flooding, commenting on Where 2 New Buildings and 542 New Surface Parking Spots Could Fit North of Washington Ave.Illustration: Lulu

05/25/17 3:45pm

RESIDENTS NEAR SMART FINANCIAL CENTRE: DON’T WANNA LIVE WITH ‘EM, MAYBE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT ‘EM Mike Snyder reports from a dead empty plaza at the new Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land for the Chronicle this week — utilizing the deserted backdrop for some quiet contemplation and speculation regarding the development’s likely ability to draw long-term business. So-called “destination center” projects like Smart Centre and Town Square are “a big part of [Sugar Land’s] long-term financial strategy to broaden our economic base and keep our property taxes low,” city business director Jennifer Mays tells Snyder — but Snyder and others suggest that a lack of nearby residential development may make it harder for Smart Centre to take off the way Town Square has. Snyder also notes that 900 new apartments were originally planned near Smart Centre, but were nixed on account of objections from “residents concerned that renters would increase traffic, crowd schools and damage their suburban lifestyle.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Smart Financial Centre

05/25/17 2:00pm

Not to be outdone by last week’s midday plug-up of the Alfred Hernandez Tunnel beneath the railroad tracks and the Burnett TC Red Line stop, another semi making its way through the passage got lodged in the tunnel late this morning — getting torn open end-to-end in the process. But that’s not even the first truck stuckage incident at the underpass in the last 24 hours, according to a reader who’s had both a camera and a Twitter account trained on the recently retooled intersection for at least the last few months.

The reader tells Swamplot that another truck got stuck briefly last night, and that it happens about 6 times a week: “Our camera system auto-wakes when it hears something beyond a certain threshold; most drive away, presumably nervous[ly] on their way to have a talk with the boss.” Some work on the tunnel has been on the city’s docket this spring, and was approved at a mid-April meeting; that’s likely to start around the end of the month. 

Here’s the scene from above as of early this afternoon:


Near-Daily Grind in Near Northside
05/25/17 12:00pm

Today our sponsor is Plan Downtown and the Downtown District, bringing you the last of 4 weekly posts focusing on the 4 pillars of the Plan Downtown effort. Thanks for supporting Swamplot!

How can the Plan Downtown effort establish Downtown Houston as a leading multi-modal center?

Pillar Four of the strategic initiative seeks to answer this question. More specifically: how to connect Downtown Houston to the general region, and how to capitalize on Downtown’s place as a walkable area with bikeway, greenway, transit, and roadway networks.

Dr. Carol Lewis, professor and director of the college of science, technology, and engineering at Texas Southern University, has spent much of her career researching transportation planning and policy, public transit operations, and public involvement. In this interview, Dr. Lewis discusses improvements meant to help Downtown Houston flourish as a destination that provides flexibility in its mobility options.

The goal? To improve neighborhood edge conditions, reduce barriers, and expand green networks, with streets serving as connectors to destinations that reinforce opportunities for land uses.

Q: Why is Downtown Houston important to the region?

A: Downtown is the symbolic heart of the city. At one time, people joked that one could roll up the streets of Downtown at the end of the workday. That wasn’t good.

This core is the seat of government for most of the region’s residents (City of Houston and Harris County), the historic location of the city’s founding, plus its cultural core, with theaters, sports, and entertainment. A strong Downtown will serve as the pulse of the region.

Q: Why do you feel we need to talk mobility now?

A: Because the City of Houston and our region are going to gain millions of people over the next 10 years. Essentially, we’re going to get the city of San Antonio and layer it on top of Houston. We’re already having trouble with our mobility.

I think mobility Downtown is critical because if people can’t get Downtown, it’s going to signal something negative for the rest of the region. We have to have enough dialogue around it to make sure our decisions are correct.

Q: What improvements can be done to make Downtown more walkable?

A: Beyond the physical — like increasing sidewalk width, adding a strip separating pedestrians from vehicular traffic, and improving lighting conditions at night — opening more ground-level retail and giving people other places to go would make Downtown more walkable.

The key to making an area more walkable is people. We have to get more people Downtown. It’s happening already, so we need to fuel that trend. Include more buildings that face the street with glass facades. If I’m outside, I can see people inside. If I’m inside, I can see people outside. That gives everyone a heightened sense of security.

Lighting has to be sufficient. You can’t feel like it’s dark or shadowy.

Q: What improvements can be made to better connect Downtown and central city neighborhoods?

A: Multiple easy transportation options, transit, Greenlink, taxi — I advocate a Downtown and Midtown zone where taxis are frequent, can be hailed on-street and are single priced within the zone.

When walking out of a door to the nearest corner, there should be something one could catch and ride within a couple of minutes.

Q: How will public transportation affect the growth of Downtown? Why is public transportation important?

A: In other cities, I have seen development gravitate toward station locations, which indicates permanence. We are seeing that at the Ensemble Station now. It’s not uncommon for that development to happen 10 to 30 years behind a station opening.

In a recent meeting for Plan Downtown, we all learned that the people who live closest to Downtown are still driving their cars, and the people who are taking transit are the ones who live farthest away. Why is that? I think it gives us something to investigate.

It comes down to, I propose, that people are always going to do what’s easiest for them.

Support people who care about your city. Become a Swamplot Sponsor.

Sponsor of the Day
05/25/17 10:45am

The Refinery Burgers & Whiskey is currently in the process of moving past its oil theme dependency and rebranding to pay homage to a different set of Gulf Coast-al tropes: the new name of the joint at 702 W. Dallas St. will be South Bank Seafood Bar, and a menu including some Asian and Cajun-Creole nods is purportedly in the works.

The patio in front of the 2-spot retail strip (which the restaurant shares with barber and beardwrangler Shave) has been getting dressed up and expanded as part of the remodel. And just this morning, a reader caught sight of what may be preparations to slice a service-window-shaped hole into the shipping container now sitting out front:


Habitat Alteration at Downtown’s Edge
05/25/17 8:30am

Photo of City Hall: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

05/24/17 4:45pm

6 MOCK ICE HOUSES FOR BRAYS BAYOU, AS PROPOSED BY THAT GUY WHO TAKES PHOTOS OF HOUSTON ICE HOUSES That massively expanded greenway network is all well and good, suggests architect and icehouse photographer-philosopher David Richmond in the Chronicle today — but bayouside trails are a lot better at getting people from up and down the waterways to run right past one another than they are at getting the same folks to mix or hang out. Richmond offers a suggestion to change that: a design for a boxy, glassy pavilion structure loosely inspired by the shape of, and what he argues is the historic social function of, Houston’s icehouses — namely, as a stand-in for the kind of town squares that he says most of Houston doesn’t really have. Richmond proposes sticking the same square design in 6 different spots along Brays Bayou, with each structure’s range of possible uses (from flea markets and coffee shops to movie nights and wedding receptions) being tailored to fit the surrounding area. [Houston Chronicle] Speculative rendering of pavilion structure along Brays Bayou: David Richmond

05/24/17 3:30pm

It doesn’t take effect until August — but a new sales permit looks to have been okayed last month for 160 W. Gray St., bearing the name The Ginger Man – West Gray. The Rice Village bar has previously established outposts in locales as far-flung as Austin, Dallas, and Plano (and claims a somewhat looser connection to a trio of spots in New York and Connecticut), but a West Gray location would be the chain’s second spot inside the Loop(s). That spot, meanwhile, is still the home of Junction Bar & Grill, just north of the W. Gray Y with Webster St. — though the building itself (shown above) was listed for lease on LoopNet earlier this spring. Prior to the turn of the decade, the space previously went by The Wet Spot. 

A recent-ish photo from the lease listing (above) shows off the wrapping up of the Dolce Living apartments next door.  Not pictured, just beyond the duo of homes visible to the east below: the charred skeleton of Fuzzy’s Tacos, which was cleared out some time after its November flameout. 


Midtown Fourth Ward Junction
05/24/17 12:00pm

Today our sponsor is the home at 2711 Morrison St. in Woodland Heights, which is being offered for sale by Norhill Realty. Thanks for supporting Swamplot!

Designed and built by award-winning design-build firm StudioMET — aka AIA Houston’s 2016 Firm of the Year — this custom home blends modern design with family-focused spaces both inside and out. In addition to the 3206-sq.-ft. main house, there’s also a 1122-sq.-ft., 1-bedroom guest quarters with a full kitchen and its own private entrance.

The Woodland Heights location — just a block off White Oak Blvd. — is convenient for active Houstonians. Before taking a short commute Downtown, you can swim a few laps in your 62-ft. pool, lay out on the sun deck, or go for a jog along the White Oak hike-and-bike trail.

It’s also a home for entertaining: Built on a 10,000-sq.-ft. double lot, this property includes a covered patio, sun deck, 3 balconies, and a landscaped back yard — plenty of space to host guests. And the separate guest quarters means out-of-town visitors can stay longer and more comfortably.

Start the day with your family in the island kitchen within the open-floor-plan main living area. Features include a glass-tile backsplash, granite countertops, a walk-in pantry, a stainless-steel Jenn-Air range, a built-in Miele coffee system, and a 4-stool breakfast bar.

The home is listed as a 3-bedroom, but the floor plan provides flexibility: You’ll find 2 additional rooms — currently being used as an indoor gym and a design studio. Both can be adapted to your specific needs.

Additional photos, a walk-through video, and listing details are available at norhillrealty.com.  If you are interested in more information or would like to schedule a showing, contact Vincent Biondillo at 713-449-2416 — or email him at vincent@norhillrealty.com. To keep up with Norhill Realty’s latest listings and real estate tips, follow up on the Norhill Realty Facebook page or check out the Norhill Realty website.

Show Swamplot readers what you’ve got going on. Become a Sponsor of the Day.

Sponsor of the Day
05/24/17 11:30am

The paved lot now being marketed as 1818 Washington Ave. (across Silver St. from that recently recolonized cluster of ex-nightclub buildings, and bookended to the east by the former bakery now housing B&B Butchers) appears to be marked for some higher purposes, per recently released leasing materials for the property. Plans on Lovett Commercial’s flier for the site show 2 structures (rendered above as things might look from Washington Ave., facing toward Tacodeli) that pretty much fill up the whole piece of land — but fear not, parking-requirement hawks! The land directly north of the property, a 2-block elongated space nestled mostly between Center St. and a stretch of Union Pacific railroad, is marked up to become a 4-plus-acre surface lot, with room for 542 cars or so; that’d likely more than make up for the parking spaces that B&B would lose, too.

That’s the apparent plan for now, anyway — the flier does point out that some kind of garage structure is probably on the table for later on. As for the yet-unbuilt spaces for lease: The site plans show an L-shaped 2-story building, plus a smaller, squatter freestanding restaurant space tucked back along the corner of Silver and Center. The larger structure has spots marked off for a couple of upstairs patios, as well as office use: 


Parking Restructure
05/24/17 8:30am

Photo of the George R. Brown Convention Center: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool