04/27/18 2:00pm

INDICTMENTS BRING LE MERIDIEN HOTEL RENNOVATOR’S INTERSTATE KICKBACK SCHEME TO LIGHT A construction boss who oversaw work to turn the Melrose Building on the corner of Walker and San Jacinto into the new-ish Le Meridien Hotel has been indicted for his role in a scam to embezzle $3.4 million from his employer — The Beck Group — during its renovation of the structure. “[Moses] Said was picked to manage construction at the Le Meridien Hotel from 2016 to 2017,” reports the Chronicle‘s Gabrielle Banks. “Prosecutors say he turned in fake invoices he had signed off on asking the Beck Group to pay for services that were never provided. After the fake contractors received money from Said, they kicked back some of the illegal proceeds to Said, according to court documents.” Also named in the indictment: 8 co-conspirators across multiple states who worked with Said as part of the scheme. The 225-room hotel opened in late 2017 after roughly 2 years of work. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Le Meridien Hotel: apvossos

04/25/18 2:45pm

The Holiday-Inn-turned-Days-Inn-turned-Heaven-on-Earth-Hotel at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. has now been posted to CoStar by commercial broker CBRE following a 2-week period of higher-than-usual on-site cleanup activity. Crews removed debris from its garage and pool late last week; and just yesterday, 2 workers scaled nearly all 31 stories of its western face to take down the semicircular light box of the Days Inn sign that once hung near the top of it (see photo above).

The seller, SFK Development, bought the property in 2012 — becoming the building’s third owner in its post-Maharishi era. (The building — which for a time was home to a Vedic school run by the former Beatles spiritual advisor — was shut down by the city in 1998.) Since then, it has been fertile ground for numerous urban explorers, as well as the imagination of several would-be redevelopers.

The sale listing includes images of possible makeovers:

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Heaven On Earth Up for Grabs
04/23/18 12:00pm

Mayor Turner announced last Thursday that 115,000 storm drains would be put up for adoption as part of the city’s new Adopt-A-Drain program — already 5 have been claimed downtown by members of the public. (One of them — dubbed the “Director’s Drain” — is cared for by public works director Carol Haddock, reports the Chronicle’s Mike Morris.) The custodians Houston really wants to engage? “Schools,” as well as, “individuals, families, youth organizations, businesses (large and small), civic and non-profit organizations, fraternities, [and] sororities,” according to the website set up for the program. There, prospective adopters can view an interactive version of the map above showing what drains are and aren’t yet spoken for, as well as claim their own.

Then comes the responsibility: “Turner wants Houstonians to clear their drains at least four times a year, particularly when rain is in the forecast,” writes Morris. Although, the city adds, they should: “stop working and call the city’s 311 helpline if they encounter needles, construction debris, animals, firearms or chemicals.

Map: Adopt-A-Drain Houston

Adopt-A-Drain
04/20/18 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FROM THE DOWNTOWN DAYS INN WATCH TEAM “Before I left work, a guy was at the very top pulling a long rope he had tied to a wooden structure hanging on the corner of the building. It looks like a homemade trebuchet. I’ll keep posting updates if anything major happens; hell, it’s in my sight line all day.” [Kim, commenting on Cleanup Crews Now Polishing Downtown Houston’s Most Famous Abandoned Building] Photo of former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy.: Guy Mahaffey

04/20/18 11:00am

SHUTTERED LANCASTER HOTEL’S POST-HARVEY REDO HAS BEGUN The latest purchasers of the recently-renovated Lancaster Hotel hotel at 701 Texas Ave. had only owned it for about 2 months before 2 ft. of water entered its lobby — and 12 its basement — during Harvey, reports the HBJ’s Cara Smith. Its last redo in 2013 was along the same lines (“significant alterations to the lobby, guest rooms, suites and meeting spaces,” the HBJ wrote then) as what Magnolia Lodging has planned for it now: “a redesigned lobby, guest rooms, a new restaurant and bar, an indoor mezzanine, an espresso bar and a new cardio fitness studio.” The 92-year-old structure has been shuttered since the storm, leaving its 12 stories and adjacent parking lot (where 2 buildings were demolished on Louisiana in 2016) unoccupied. [HBJ ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: Jay H.

04/19/18 11:30am

CLEANUP CREWS NOW POLISHING DOWNTOWN HOUSTON’S MOST FAMOUS ABANDONED BUILDING A reader in the KBR Tower 2 blocks east of the former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. reports sightings of several different crews that have appeared outside the north face of the hotel within the past week. A pair of crane trucks have been parked at the foot of the hotel’s garage, and a swing-stage scaffold is hanging near the top of the podium. Also noted: Workers have cleared out debris from inside the garage, and accumulated trash has been removed from the pool of the 31-story hotel-turned-Vedic-school. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Kimberly Knight

04/04/18 4:00pm

Exterior renovations are nearly complete on the 39,213-sq.-ft. building Houston’s First Baptist Church took over from a local branch of the Communication Workers of America on the corner of Jefferson and Chenevert last year. The new location is number 4 for the church — existing worship centers include the flagship spot on the Katy Fwy. just outside 610, as well as other sites in Cypress and Missouri City.

Crews began whitewashing the brick walls adjacent to the curved entrance drive along the building in January:

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Downtown Christening
03/23/18 12:45pm

Workers are now applying paint to the 5-level garage stump of the former Americana building at 811 Dallas St. Over the last year, the 10-story office tower that sat atop the southern half of the garage was removed.

9-in. aluminum louvers were added to the portion of the parking podium pictured above on the corner of Dallas and Travis streets during a renovation in 2000. That exterior layer was stripped off as part of the recent work on the building, however, exposing the original clay block surface underneath.

30,000-or-so-sq.-ft. of ground-floor retail are also receiving touch-ups as part of the current work on the property.

Photos: Drew (parking garage); Boxer Property (Americana)

Clay Tile Refresh
03/19/18 4:30pm

Update, 1 pm, March 21: The numbers of Sapporo restaurants under the same ownership but with different names have been clarified.

Now on its way to the former Fusion Taco space shown shaded by trees and orange awnings next to Barnaby’s in the photo at top: Sapporo Japanese Sushi & Bar. The restaurant’s spot in the Henry Henke Building on the corner of Congress and Milam — across from Market Square Park — will be its second location with this specific name; its first is just off the western end of Woodlands Pkwy. Two other Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Bar restaurants are also located in the Houston area.

Fusion Taco opened at 801 Congress in 2013. Here’s what the view east from its sidewalk seating area looked like before the place shuttered:

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Fusion Taco Turnover
03/01/18 11:15am

SIGNS ARE ON THE DOOR TO WEWORK’S NEW DOWNTOWN BRANCH AT 708 MAIN The building on the corner of Main and Capitol — known since 2003 as the Great Jones building — is showing signs of the new WeWork office that’s heading into it. Last April, the workspace provider signed a lease for 86,000 sq. ft. in the building — originally billed as its first Houston location, although a smaller WeWork branch snuck in and opened on 3 floors of the Galleria I tower last December. 708 Main St. has been undergoing renovations since 2016 when its developers Midway and Lionstone Investments announced they planned to link the structure to its neighbor — the JP Morgan Chase building on the corner of Main and Rusk — via a first floor and mezzanine common area dubbed the Currency Lounge. The entire block between Capitol and Rusk is now being marketed as a single property termed The Jones on Main. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of WeWork entrance: Swamplot inbox

02/27/18 1:15pm

A Swamplot reader holed-up in a hotel room at the Hilton Americas sends photos looking past Root Square and the Toyota Center to show the new tower crane being lifted on the site of the coming Camden Downtown apartment tower last weekend. Camden Property Trust broke ground on the 1.4-acre block adjacent to the Toyota Center’s garage at the end of last year. The finished tower will sit on the north side of the parcel — formerly a parking lot — on Bell St. between Austin and La Branch.

A rendering from architect Ziegler Cooper shows the 21-story building neighboring the parking garage and fronting the park:

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Grandstanding
02/21/18 11:30am

La Calle Tacos & Tortas has opened a hole in the wall to allow customers to get to its new space: Cantina La Calle, shown to the right of the original restaurant on Franklin St. in the photo at top. Interior renovations on the new cantina at 911 Franklin began late last year in the spot that PI Lounge once occupied and a planned English-themed bar dubbed The Brit eyed but never landed in. The photo above looks into the taco shop — opened in 2016 — from the new cantina next door to it.

Photos: La Calle Tacos

Bayou Lofts Eats
02/05/18 4:30pm

TABC signage tacked to the 2-story office structure at 1803 Pease St. notes that AZ Furniture is applying for permission to serve beverages into the late hours on site. Could it be that a boozy cabinetry boutique is in the works, or a couch showroom that fronts a speakeasy? No, according to building permits filed to convert the 5,952-sq.-ft. building into a bar. The name listed on those permits is more suited for a venue located 3 blocks southeast of the Toyota Center — it’s Slam Dunk Bar & Grill.

Renovations began on the building last year. The photo below views it from its adjacent parking lot on the corner of Pease and Chenevert:

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The Hard Court
02/01/18 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A NEW DOWNTOWN BIKING MAIN LANE “. . . Metro and the City of Houston should close Main St. to vehicle traffic and make it a bike/pedestrian lane. It’s terribly confusing and extremely slow compared to the lanes next to it and causes more harm than good. People love to hate on bike lanes, but I bet all the haters avoid driving on Main like the plague already.” [HeyHeyHouston, commenting on Council Cuts a Break on Harvey Water Bills; Metro Cracking Down on Illegal Turns Across Tracks; Latest Timeline on the San Jacinto Waste Pits Cleanup] Photo of Main St. at Franklin St.: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

01/31/18 11:45am

The turf is down and the Adirondack chairs are seated in the front courtyard of Frank’s Backyard — the new 2,520-sq.-ft. beer garden wedged in Frank’s Pizza’s side yard on Travis St. Frank’s opened the lawn 2 days ago in place of a parking lot that once spanned all the way from the historic restaurant building on the corner of Travis and Prairie — home to both Frank’s and El Big Bad — north to Preston St. Hines’s Aris Market Square apartment has since taken over the northern portion of that lot along Preston. Its ground floor tenant Bravery Chef Hall borders Frank’s Backyard’s northern side.

At the end of the courtyard, an Airstream trailer-turned-bar sits parked beyond the garage door:

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Downtown Beer Garden