03/08/16 10:00am

TREE PROFESSIONALS: PECAN AT 509 LOUISIANA ST. WOULD HAVE JUST DIED ANYWAY Pecan Tree formerly at 509 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The pecan tree formerly behind the former Longhorn Cafe on Louisiana St. is down at last, following the 100-plus-year-old buildings at 509 and 517 Louisiana into that Great Big Preservation District in the Sky. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Chronicle reports that 2 arborists were called in to examine the tree, and pronounced it dead-or-close-enough: Lauren Lusk Willis, a member of the family that owns the next-door Lancaster Hotel, told the Chronicle that a lightning strike had damaged the tree, and that its core was rotting. Willis said that the pecan “would not likely have survived the leveling of the lot for any construction,” and that “ultimately, it wouldn’t have survived regardless.” The tree, haunted by a both-Sam-and-city-of Houston ghost story, was long visible only to those who entered 509 Louisiana’s hidden courtyard, until the pecan’s 2001 outing by the demo of the Rice Rittenhouse parking garage; it went back into hiding by the end of 2003 with the help of 33-story Calpine Center. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of the pecan tree, following demolition of 509 Louisiana St.: KineticD

03/02/16 5:00pm

Carvana Vending Machine construction site, 10939 Katy Fwy., Memorial, Houston, 77079

Carvana has confirmed that the work going on now at the former Big Tex Tree Nursery lot at 10939 Katy Fwy. is setup for the giant car vending machine referenced in September bid documents labeled with the site’s address. Building permits issued in January were applied for under the name of largely-non-digital used-car chain DriveTime, an investor in the Phoenix-based startup that also allows Carvana to borrow facilities to prepare vehicles for sale.

The new vending machine could be the first in Texas; Carvana opened a vending machine in Nashville last November, and also has a pickup site in Atlanta for those who don’t want to deal with delivery service. A reader sends some fresh shots of the action at the site, as well as a glimpse at a building plan:


Going Digital on I-10
02/11/16 3:15pm

Harvest Moon Solar Farm, FM 3013 at Gebhardt Rd., Sealy, TX 77474

Harvest Moon Solar Farm, FM 3013 at Gebhardt Rd., Sealy, TX 77474These crop duster-height shots of 12 acres of solar paneling were snagged above FM 3013 half a mile south of Gebhardt Rd., where Harvest Moon Renewable Energy Company is getting ready to bring its juice to market in Sealy and Houston areas served by CenterPoint Energy. According to a fresh-from-the-farm press release, the plant’s 15,000-and-then-some solar panels, blossoming on the end of more than 1,000 steel posts, should produce around 2.5 million kilowatt-hours of power each year (bundled into the 952 million kWh the EPA says Houston uses annually). MP2 Energy will take care of the actual selling, and plans to fill in the gaps from the solar supply with power bought from other renewable sources.

Harvest Moon’s president Joey Romano, who previously developed the solar-focused Mirabeau B. apartments on Waugh at Hyde Park, is now running the operation with founder and CEO Joe Romano, formerly CEO of Contango Oil & Gas and CFO of Zilhka Energy. The company plans to allow customers to tour the family farm, but you can also watch the panel crop grow online — the company took a time-lapse video of the 120-day installation, which wrapped up late last year:


Fresh from the Photovoltaic Module
02/08/16 9:30am

TEXAS A&M WEIGHS HOUSTON EXPANSION AS UT COLLECTS LAND FOR ITS PLANNED CAMPUS UT Houston Campus Site, Buffalo Lakes, HoustonFollowing the University of Texas’s recent start on buying up that land in southwest Houston for a proposed campus of yet-ambiguous-purpose, Texas A&M is now sizing up the city as well, writes Benjamin Wermund of the Houston Chronicle. A&M president Michael Young suggested that those watching the university’s plans for the Houston area “stay tuned” as the school weighs strategy. UT’s November announcement that it would buy around 300 acres at W. Belfort Ave. and Buffalo Spdwy. triggered responses from University of Houston supporters including Texas senator John Whitemire. Whitmire’s December letter to UT chancellor Bill McRaven cited fears that a new UT Houston campus would pull resources and top-tier faculty away from U of H, in part due to the structure of the state’s Permanent University Fund allocations (which go only to UT and A&M campuses). Young, however, suggested that backlash over UT’s ongoing purchases south of Reliant was premature (as, perhaps, was UT’s broadcasting of its plans): “I guess I’m a little confused about the spat at the moment, because I don’t know that UT has really said what they’re going to do,” Young told the Chronicle. “So far it’s a land deal, and I must say an amusing one, because I didn’t know you announced you were going to buy property before you actually bought it.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Conceptual rendering of UT Houston campus: Houston Public Media

01/26/16 12:30pm

Oakmoor Pkwy. at Acaciawood Way, South Main, Houston, 77051

A ‘dozer was sighted this past week roaming across the newly-cleared plains at the dead end of Acaciawood Dr. into Oakmoor Pkwy., just south of Airport Blvd. between Almeda Rd. and a disconnected stretch of Kirby Dr. (nearly 2 miles southeast of where the main section of Kirby halts, on Holmes Rd. next to the intended UT Houston campus). Workers clearing the land last week told a reader that new apartments were planned for the spot (shown above); the tract, however, is sliced up into single-family-home-sized bites in County Appraisal District records. The land sits south of the Oakmoor Apartments, which sprouted up around the end of 2006. The short neighborhood streets on the other side of Oakmoor were in place by 2008, though the homes now lining them didn’t begin too appear until 2012.

In the distance, the photo above also catches a view of the nearby Harbor Hospice Houston Inpatient Facility (to the left of center, behind a brushpile), and the Citadel on Kirby (to the right), which hosts weddings, galas, and corporate events. Across Kirby lies the Houston Sports Park — work on the first 7 fields at the Houston Dynamo’s professional training facility started at the end of 2009 and wrapped up by 2012. The Houston Parks Board is now fundraising to add an additional 11 fields at the complex, which is also open for public recreational use.


Oakmoor Oaks No More
01/12/16 3:45pm

Demolition of 517 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Time to bid adieu to 2 more of downtown’s oldest buildings: readers sent both sky-high and excavator-side photos of yesterday’s teardown work at 517 Louisiana St., and 509 is permitted to follow). According to the building’s owners, the next-door Lancaster Hotel’s parking crunch is the reason the 2 1906 Theater District neighbors will meet their flattened fates, along with a long-hidden pecan tree that shades a once-secret courtyard at 509. Taking their place: a surface lot for 50 cars — and, maybe, one day, an expansion to the hotel.

517’s transformation to empty space was complete by the end of the day yesterday:


Coming Down in Downtown
04/24/14 12:00pm



Little White Oak Bayou meanders by the back of a property (and so do a couple of uh, hikers in the background of the top photo) located east of N. Main St. and about 3 sidewalk-lined blocks from the Metro rail station at Fulton St. Is the Northside property located in De Noyles, as indicated in the listing, or is it Booth North Main, as recorded by HCAD for all addresses on the block? The listing’s all-cap message is all about redeveloping the acre-plus lot of land, not the 1960 home that sits on it at the end of a long driveway (above). A month ago, the asking price dropped to $1.1 million. Since January (and in a previous listing dating back to September 2013) it had been sitting at $1.6 million. But even that was down a bit from someone’s expectations: In 2008, a six-month listing’s asking price kicked off at $2 million.


Mind the Gap
10/10/13 11:45am

Here are some drawings of an apartment building that appears to be aimed for an empty lot in East Downtown. As drawn, the concept shows the 216-unit EaDo Place standing on the block bound by Bell, Clay, Chartres, and St. Emanuel — that’s right beside the former Meridian Club, where the food trucks idle and generators hum at the Houston Food Park. And it’s just 2 blocks from Bastrop St., where that pedestrian promenade leading to BBVA Compass Stadium is to be put into place. If built, the apartments would stand at 2616 Clay, just on the other side of the Southwest Fwy. from the George R. Brown Convention Center, and would top off some ground-floor retail, with a 30,938-sq.-ft. grocery store facing Bell and St. Emanuel.


09/26/13 10:00am

Here’s a concept that HKS came up with for a site just behind the Hotel Granduca, Montebello, and Villa d’Este towers in Uptown Park. The concept shows how it might go if you wanted to build a conference center and a combo hotel-condo tower on 14 green acres between Tilbury and N. Wynden off S. Post Oak, just west of the Loop. This rendering shows the boxy exterior of what appears to be the conference center flanking a linear park shooting off from the banks of Buffalo Bayou.


09/25/13 4:35pm

Board members of Houston Botanic Garden, a nonprofit formed in 2002 that’s been looking to bring a big-time garden to the city ever since, have had their eyes on several properties, including the KBR site in the Fifth Ward. But it’s the 150 acres home to the 18-hole Gus Wortham Golf Course — the oldest in Texas — that they are after now. The course, which includes a driving range, is owned by the city, and Jeff Ross, president of the garden club, explains that the organization hopes to ink a “long-term lease” that would allow it to “repurpose the property,” much like the 55-acre VanDusen Botanical Garden had done with the old Shaughnessy Golf Club in Vancouver. Ross explains that this repurposing could mean reserving as many as 65 acres for a 9-hole course — which could be built from scratch or involve a kind of rejiggering of the existing holes — and setting up the gardens on the remaining 85-90 relatively hilly acres that roll here toward Brays Bayou.


09/10/13 11:00am

NEXT ALEXAN COMPLEX GOING UP ON LAKE-LOOKING SITE IN SPRING Most of the Alexan-brand apartment complexes that Trammell Crow is building haven’t strayed too far from I-10 — with ones planned for the Heights, Energy Corridor, and Wilchester — but a new one is being built much farther north on I-45 in Spring. Partnering with Prime Property Investors out of Illinois, Trammell Crow has started construction this week on the 346-unit Alexan at Auburn Lakes at W. Rayford and Gosling. And what comes with this new territory? Residents, reports Nancy Sarnoff, will have access to a “private lake” among other attractive amenities — a dog park, business center, shared kitchen, billiards room — and shell out an average rent for the 1- and 2-bedroom units of $1,199 a month. [Prime Property; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Prime Property Investors

09/05/13 3:45pm

Here’s a look at the recently approved designs of the new arts and concert venue that could start being built as soon as 2014 in Sugar Land. Drawn up by Washington, D.C., firm Martinez & Johnson, the 200,000-sq.-ft., 6,500-seat theater will eventually sit on 39 undeveloped acres in Telfair, just off the Southwest Fwy. and University Blvd.


09/04/13 12:00pm

PRESERVING THE DEER PARK PRAIRIE WITH SARDONIC TEEVEE POWER The mad dash to raise the $4 million to buy up 53 acres of the Deer Park Prairie and save it from development got an early $2 million boost from a minor Houston celebrity, long-time environmental activist Terry Hershey; now, with the landowner’s once-delayed deadline just a week away and $650,000 still needed, the Bayou Land Conservancy is appealing to an even higher power, reports Lisa Gray: “‘There is only one man who can save us now,’ proclaims the [conservancy’s] website . . . ‘Stephen Colbert!’ In hopes of winning a mention on ‘The Colbert Report’ and enjoying the resulting ‘Colbert bump’ in popularity, [the conservancy] urges prairie fans to rally the Comedy Central TV host to their cause.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Image: Bayou Park Conservancy

08/22/13 12:30pm

Just north of the just-underway River Oaks District and in the shadow of the Highland Tower, 24 of these homes are going up in what will be another cheek-to-jowl gated community. The first 8 are almost done, apparently, and all but 1 has sold; the whole set of ’em should be ready by March. Located at 2200 Briarglen Ln. just south of San Felipe on the site of some apartments that were knocked down in 2008, the homes range in size from 1,989 sq. ft. to 2,305 sq. ft. They’re starting at $600,000.

Rendering: Pelican Builders

08/12/13 2:30pm

The Bayou Land Conservancy is really pushing to raise $4 million in the next week or so in order to outbid a homebuilder on a 50-acre patch of prairie in Deer Park. The video above is part of what the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray describes as a “Hail Mary pass” to raise the money before August 20.

The sought-after patch is among the last 1 percent of the Gulf Coast’s original prairie, reports Gray. The conservancy has been attempting to raise the money to buy it for the past year and a half — an attempt that’s now being hastened by a recent $4.25-million offer from a developer with plans for a 201-home subdivision on the land near Spencer Hwy. and Luella Ave.

And what would the conservancy prefer for the prairie? Here’s Gray:

The prairie’s fans imagine a visitor’s center fashioned from a next-door ranch house. They imagine busloads of visiting schoolkids. They imagine research into the still-mysterious workings of the prairie biome. They imagine harvesting native seed, to be used in eco-conscious plantings in the area. They imagine Battle of San Jacinto re-enactments more realistic than those that take place at the battlefield itself.

Video: Bayou Land Conservancy