05/01/13 10:00am

ASTRODOME STRIPPED BARE BY THE ARCHITECTS, EVEN With the June 10th deadline to submit the Astrodome proposals that the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation kind of forgot to ask for approaching, architect Ben Koush pens some poetic support for UH grad student Ryan Slattery’s idea to open the Dome up for public use and reduce it to a shell of itself: “Architects, myself included, often tend to like ‘structure’ and buildings that are under construction better than those that are finished. Even crappy suburban spec houses have a noble purity when they are just a concrete slab and 2x4s, before the pipes, wires, and air-conditioning ducts go in and clutter everything up.” Noble purity notwithstanding, Koush does recognize at least one problem: “Since the Astrodome is essentially in the center of a giant parking lot with gates as well as a long, un-shaded walk discouraging the public from visiting, one wonders who would actually use [it].” [Arts + Culture Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Save the Astrodome

01/29/13 3:00pm

“If you really wanna pass on the secrets, if you really wanna pass on truth, embed it in architecture,” says Glenn Beck in the January 10 episode of the Blaze. “That’s what I intend on doing.” The Dallas Observer‘s taking him at his word, speculating that Beck’s planning to build something like that radiant city in the screenshot above: it’d be a $2 billion master-planned community — with a theme park and an Alamo-inspired non-denominational church. It’d be called Independence, USA. And the Dallas Observer says it’d be in Texas.


12/10/12 3:52pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SHORT TIMERS “I’ve lived in Oak Forest now for 11+ years, zoned to OFE, in an original house just north of 43rd, west of Ella and about 5 years ago began receiving sporadic letters to buy the house site unseen. That stepped up a bit a year ago and we now get 2-3 a month from random builders/real estaters trying to purchase our house with promises to close within 30 days. Granted not all the original homes are gems, some need to be torn down, but there aren’t many of those now left, and other originals are well maintained and still solid, smaller by today’s standards, but that’s a preference for me. The kids enjoy the bigger yard. I don’t mind the new bigger homes that much, but unfortunately the new homes on the block have had owners that lived there for about a year before they put it back on the market. Both are back up for sale again at the same time. The block is pretty tight, we know each other, but really never got to know the folks in the new builds. That is the underlying issue for a lot of the folks in the neighborhood with the old vs. new, it’s the perceived mindset or commitment to the neighborhood.” [greg, commenting on Comment of the Day: That Brand-New Neighborhood Called Oak Forest]

12/15/09 4:22pm

GALLERIA POCKET PARK FIGHT ENDS WITH TIRZ REACHING INTO POCKET Twin septuagenerian veterinarians Jock and James Collins, whose property on the corner of San Felipe and Post Oak Ln. adjacent to BLVD Place was taken by eminent domain 2 years ago, settled their dispute with the city this past August after receiving a $990,000 payment from the Uptown TIRZ, reports Mike Snyder: “The amount of the settlement is less than the $1.4 million Wulfe offered the brothers for the property in 2006, an offer they refused because they wanted a lump sum rather than payments over several years. However, it’s more than twice the $433,800 that the city asserted the land was worth in December 2006, the agreed-upon date for settlement discussions, [the Collins brothers’ attorney, J. Cary] Gray said. The brothers contended the land was worth $1,012,000, Gray said. The Collins brothers, along with leaders of some government watchdog groups, contended the park was a pretext for providing a landscaped entrance to [Ed] Wulfe’s [Blvd Place] development at public expense. Documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle last year showed that the condemnation helped Wulfe close a $12.5 million land deal for a planned residential tower within the development, although plans for that project have been delayed because of the recession. [Mayor] White repeatedly denied that political considerations were a factor. The need for land to widen San Felipe wasn’t disputed, and White said it was a better deal for taxpayers for the city to take the entire parcel.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot]

02/23/09 8:04am

TAKARA SO AND BEYOND: MORE OF ALLEN STANFORD’S HOUSTON REAL ESTATE VENTURES Long before the Stanford Lofts debacle, Guardian International Investment Services — Allen Stanford’s former real-estate company — bought and sold or developed a number of Houston properties. Nancy Sarnoff follows the trail: “The properties include the 77-unit Takara So at 1919 W. Main and the 66-unit Severne at 7650 Moonmist. They were later sold, according to records from the Harris County Appraisal District. In 1989, Stanford built the patio home project [on Mimosa Drive, just east of Kirby and south of San Felipe], which he named Stanford Oaks, and hired [Martha] Turner’s company as the exclusive marketing agent to sell the homes. They started at about $400,000. Turner said the company didn’t have to borrow money to get it built. ‘They had their own money. They were financing their own stuff,’ she said. A couple years later, Guardian started a new enclave of homes called Le
 Voisinage on Bammel Lane south of West Alabama.” [Houston Chronicle]

01/26/09 12:46pm

“Ronald McDonald will soon have all of his parking spaces back,” writes Swamplot tipster Michele, who also sends in these photos from yesterday. They show the sales office for Randall Davis’s canceled Titan highrise — which hung out in the McDonald’s parking lot on Post Oak for many months — boarded up and readied for its next location and rebranding assignment.


01/22/09 12:08pm

WESTCREEK APARTMENTS: REFINANCED, WAITING The Austin-based owners of Westheimer’s Westcreek at River Oaks Apartments — just inside the Loop, just west of the giant new steel sculpture known as High Street — have refinanced the 574-unit complex with a $27.5 million, 7-year, floating-rate loan that allows prepayment with a penalty: “A flexible prepayment also means when market conditions warrant, the owner can redevelop the asset, which sits on 14.5 acres. ‘This is a well-maintained, but older property that sits on dirt, and the dirt is actually worth more than the apartments,’ [Matt] Greer [of Capmark Finance] explains. He says the asset’s owning partnership, which consists of local management company Kaplan Management Co. Inc. and an equity partner, will redevelop the property when market conditions come back.” [Globe St.]

01/19/09 11:50am

Weingarten’s Planning Commission victory earlier this month doesn’t resolve everything for the westernmost of two replacement retail buildings now under construction at the River Oaks Shopping Center. First, reports Mary Ann Acevedo in the Houston Business Journal, that last-minute compromise left a few neighbors grumbling:

. . . some of the neighbors are not pleased that they didn’t have an opportunity to review the final agreement after Weingarten’s most recent changes prior to the Jan. 8 hearing with the Planning Commission.

According to [neighbor Janet] Moore, Weingarten had told the group it would deliver an advance copy for their review.

“They presented us a signed, unmarked copy at the hearing and had no one available authorized to negotiate changes to the agreement,” Moore says. “Some of the neighbors are disappointed with a few of the changes in the agreement.”

On, Jan. 13, Weingarten presented the neighbors with a revised agreement that Moore says does address some of those concerns, although the parties continue to work out the details.

Next, that Vallone restaurant planned for the building’s second floor and balcony — which at one point was referred to in Weingarten’s marketing materials as Il Tavolo (and is labeled Adagio Vino in the renderings) — may not be a done deal yet:


01/15/09 2:15pm

TRAMMELL CROW, 1914-2009 Real estate developer Trammell Crow, the founder of Trammell Crow Company (now a part of CB Richard Ellis), died yesterday in Tyler at the age of 94. “He relied on hundreds of young leasing agents to fill the buildings, and those who proved themselves talented and hardworking became partners. This approach marked the evolution of Crow’s then-unusual methods of working in the real estate industry. As he brought in new people to work on residential and commercial projects, he gave them an equity stake in the business. Crow explained that he believed the projects would thrive if the people managing them were partners rather than employees. He said people worked harder when they had a stake in the company. Biographer Robert Sobel said Crow had another reason for using the partnership strategy: By offering equity instead of pay, he conserved his capital for putting up buildings.” [Associated Press]

01/09/09 9:59am

There was no showdown over the River Oaks Shopping Center variance request at yesterday’s Planning Commission hearing. In talks prior to the meeting, Weingarten Realty used its mad skillz to assuage the most vocal neighbors with a few minor changes to the patio-topped porte-cochere facing Shepherd Drive — already under construction — that violated the setback:

. . . reduce the size of the balcony seating and enclose the seating area. That will result in a 30-inch encroachment into the area of the 25-foot setback.

Lower the 10-inch signage on the west side of the building facing Shepherd Drive.

Will remove external LED lights on the west side of the building and turn off flashing security box lights inside the parking garage.

Variance . . . granted! The screencapture above shows the revised, enclosed balcony shown at the hearing, which will be a part of Tony and Jeff Vallone’s new Il Tavolo restaurant and wine bar.

Weingarten knows how to keep more than just a noisy upstairs wine-bar quiet, notes abc13’s Miya Shay:


01/07/09 4:52pm

Former Heights landmark Super Happy Fun Land may reopen in its new East Downtown EaDo location soon, writes Omar Afra in the Free Press. What’s happened since we last checked in?

To give you a brief synopsis, Houston’s favorite uber-eclectic outsider arthouse and music venue SHFL operated out of a house in the Heights for 5 years until the property owners squeezed them out. Well, the silver lining was that they found a new home in a gigantic warehouse just east of downtown that could facilitate larger shows, more art, and crazier antics. So we at Free Press Houston decided to have a giant shindig at the new venue to celebrate our 5th anniversary and the opening of the great new spot. The place was packed. Err, too packed. The fire marshals came and, lo and behold, SHFL did not have adequate occupancy permitting to permit such an event. They of course got ticketed out the watoozy and have since been jumping through all the municipal hurdles required to submit building plans, acquire permits, and such to open their doors legit. It looked rather bleak for a while as the city does not exactly get excited about doing what it takes to get outsider-art venues open. After having their plans denied several times and given the run around for nearly a year, the good folks at SHFL have got their chance. Their plans were recently approved and they are set for a final inspection in early January to get their occupancy permit. Problem is, they need help.

How can you help Super Happy Fun Land open again?


01/05/09 8:44am

POST OAK LANE PARK DOLLAR TIMELINE: ALL THE OFFERS AND COUNTERS Following up on the overview of the controversy he and Carolyn Feibel published last week, Bradley Olsen provides this updated summary of all the offers made for James and Jock Collins’s 7,230-sq.-ft. property at the the corner of San Felipe and Post Oak Ln., adjacent to Boulevard Place: “In April 2002, the Uptown Development Authority offers the Collins brothers $289,000 for their property to widen San Felipe and for other purposes (they bought it for $363,750 in 1982). They declined. In February 2004, Uptown offers the Collins brothers $398,035 for their property. They declined. Wulfe & Co. begins negotiations with the brothers to buy the property in 2004. In early 2006 (one side says March, the other says May), Wulfe and Co. offered the Collins brothers $1.985 million, which included a $1.46 million cash offer plus financing of $525,000 over five years. The brothers declined that offer, both sides confirm. The brothers counter-offer by asking for $1.7 million in cash, according to Cary Gray, their attorney. In June 2006, Wulfe and Co. responded with a $1.46 million cash offer, which they withdraw in July, according to both sides. In October 2006, the city notifies the Collins brothers of its intent to seize the land through eminent domain powers. Before filing its eminent domain lawsuit, the city gives the brothers a final offer in May 2007 of $433,800. They declined. In February 2008, a panel of special commissioners appointed in Harris County Civil Court voted to award the Collins brothers $723,000. They declined. The legal proceedings between the city and the brothers are still ongoing and are in the discovery phase.” [Houston Chronicle]

12/31/08 4:11pm

Swamplot mentioned the cancellation of Randall Davis’s Titan condo project in passing yesterday, announcing at the same time that the project had scored the first-place spot in the hotly contested Most Grandiose Development category of the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. But really, if any 2008 event in Houston real estate deserves its own separate post on Swamplot, this is it.

Davis told the Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff that slow sales convinced him to shut down the 25-story highrise project. There’ll be no rearranging of the deck chairs, no putting the project “on hold,” no “My Heart Will Go On.” It’s all over.

But the Titan will be sorely missed.


12/29/08 12:02pm

Here’s something we can all feel tingly and nostalgic about: Developer Bobby Orr’s Heights-ish fantasy — of brand-new old-timey storefronts facing long streetside parking lots off Yale St. and Heights Blvd. just south of I-10 — is dead. The Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff drops news of the demise of the Heights Village dream as an aside to her update on the stalled-out High Street development.

The entire 4.9-acre property, across Heights Blvd. from the ArtCar Museum, is back on the market, at $75 a square foot.

Sadly, Cushman & Wakefield’s listing for the property doesn’t include any misty watercolors to memorialize what might have been. But Swamplot remembers! Here’s a brief trip down invented-memory lane . . . in 3 quick images:


11/24/08 12:20pm


Has the nail-salon bubble finally burst? Retail space in so many area strip centers lies vacant: “In the Houston area, much of the problem lies in strip centers built during the recent commercial real estate boom when inexperienced developers were throwing up small centers in areas close to new residential growth. In the third quarter, Houston-area strip centers recorded the lowest occupancy of all retail property types at 80.4 percent, according to the Colliers report. Some of these buildings went up away from highly coveted traffic corners, and before any tenants were signed — a risky proposition should something go wrong.” [Houston Chronicle]