COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SLEEPY STREETS HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD BUYOUTS LEFT BEHIND
There is a community close to 290 and Windfern, on Cole Creek Dr. and another near Fairbanks and Hollister on Woodland West. Deep in the flood neighborhoods that were bought back by Harris County Flood [Control District] a while ago. All of the roads, utilities and everything are there. Just no homes or homeowners. Made a great place to take a post-lunch car nap when I worked close by. [bocepus, commenting on The Latest Wave of Harris County Home Buyouts, Mapped] Illustration: Lulu
WHAT CHANCE WOULD THE KIRBY MANSION STAND TO STAY STANDING UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP?
The demolition watchdogs over at Preservation Houston report that a buyer has the 36-room Midtown mansion on the corner of Pierce and Smith St. under contract and “does not intend to retain the building.” Seeking to thwart a teardown, Houston historic commission chair Minnette Boesel met with seller Phlip Azar last week — reports Nancy Sarnoff — and urged him to find someone instead who’ll keep the place upright. Aside from the house’s pedigree (built in 1894 for John Henry Kirby, it was expanded and remodeled 32-years later by architect James Ruskin Bailey), the Tudor at 2006 Smith St. has state and federal tax credits to offer any developer that renovates it for commercial use. That’s what its last would-be buyer Dennis Murphree hoped to do 3 years ago before the sale fell through. His plan: build a 15-story office tower designed “to look as much like the mansion as possible,” right next door to it — reported Sarnoff — and incorporate the 18,000-sq.-ft. house into the complex.[Preservation Houston; more info] Photo: Preservation Houston/The Heritage Society
THE ONGOING TRAVELS OF CITY HALL’S FLOODED-OUT BASEMENT EMPLOYEES
Shell has been allowing the city’s procurement staff to stay for free in 74,000 sq. ft. at One Shell Plaza, across Smith St. from the City Hall basement they were forced out of by Harvey’s floodwaters. (They’re joined in the office tower by IT employees from the city’s 611 Walker facility, which suffered its own water damage when its sprinkler system malfunctioned in December). But the free ride is coming to an end this month, reports the Chronicle’s Mike Morris: Shell is charging $70,074 for June rent. Now, the city plans to move its refugee employees again — this time to Enterprise Plaza (pictured above) at 1100 Louisiana where they’ll stay from July 1 to the end of next year at a rate of $93,380 per month for 69,000 sq. ft. (about $1.7 million total). After that, they’ll head back to 611 Walker, which the city plans to have ready for permanent residents by then. As for the damaged City Hall basement and the tunnel connecting it to the adjacent annex across Bagby St., their interiors “remain stripped, the walls peeling or patched with plywood, the wood veneers in one stairwell warped to mark the water line just below the annex’s first floor.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 1100 Louisiana St.: Hines
HOW TO PICK OUT THE RIGHT BOAT AND ONBOARD GEAR FOR HOUSTON’S NEXT FLOOD
“A good, 16-to-22 foot aluminum boat, it can take a lot of abuse if you were to hit a mailbox or something like that without doing damage,” says the Premiere Boating Center’s Mark Kuchera, speaking to Houston Public Media’s Gail Delaughter. He’s one of many exhibitors at the 4-day Houston Summer Boat Show where in addition to normal window shopping, many folks are either looking to replace boats lost or damaged in Harvey — or hunting for something that’ll do well in the next storm. Fishing boats are a good bet for floods, too, says David Christian of the LMC Marine Center (next door to Kuchera’s shop on I-45 near E. Airtex Dr.). Because your typical model is designed for shallow water, it “also happens to be what you need to float down a street.” Then there’s the equipment you’ll want to have aboard: “a spotlight and GPS are helpful for night rescues,” says Christian, and “A hydraulic jack plate can protect your outboard motor in shallow water.” Lower-tech devices aren’t bad either: “a long rod or stick can help you determine the depth of the water in unfamiliar places.” [Houston Public Media] Photo of Houston Summer Boat Show 2018: Houston Summer Boat Show
FIRST SEASIDE TEXADELPHIA SLATED FOR FORMER OCEAN GRILLE & BEACH BAR ON SEAWALL BLVD.
“Unobstructed Gulf of Mexico views,” will complement the food at the newest nearby location of Texas cheese-steak chain Texadelphia, situated right on the corner of Seawall Blvd. and 13th St. in Galveston, reports the HBJ’s Jen Para. The restaurant is picking up where Ocean Grille & Beach Bar left off in that spot when it shuttered 2 years ago, leaving behind a main building as well as the outdoor bar pictured above — and an even beachier Tiki hut structure with patio seating beneath it. How will Texadelphia make use of the existing amenities in this, its first ocean-adjacent spot? Its one corporate-owned, landlocked Houston location sprung up in Briar Meadow at 8383 Westheimer last October, bookending a 2-year hiatus the brand had taken from the city and its surroundings. It’s now mounting a three-pronged return: Earlier this year, it signed another lease for the spot in the Hawthorne Square Shopping Center that Yucatan Taco Stand vacated last year. [HBJ; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Ocean Grille & Beach Bar’s bar: Katya C.
NEW RESTAURANT COMES KNOCKING AT WAREHOUSE BY BBVA COMPASS
A TABC flyer up on the front door of 612 Live Oak signals some impending action for the brick warehouse building, one block east of BBVA Compass Stadium’s frontage on Emancipation and south of the light rail line along Texas Ave. Brass Tacks Workspace LLC is applying for both mixed beverage and late hours permits. Residential developer Bercon bought the 5,000-sq.-ft. parcel on which the building sits — along with almost the entire rest of the block — in early 2017. However, there’s nothing residential about the new owner’s plans for this particular structure: a permit filed for it last month — 10 days before the liquor sign appeared — included plans to turn the building into a yet-to-be-named restaurant. Photo: Swamplox inbox
NO HOUSTON SEARS AXED TODAY
Each and every Houston Sears location has survived this year’s second round of cuts — announced by the retailer’s parent company yesterday. 48 locations total will shutter, as well as 15 Kmarts — which are no longer native to Houston. Over the past 15 months, Sears Holding Company has closed 530 stores between both brands. In that same time frame, Houston lost 4 Sears: at 9570 Southwest Fwy., West Oaks Mall, Friendswood’s Baybrook Mall — and the oldest of the bunch — in Midtown. Three locations beyond Beltway 8 — in Baytown’s San Jacinto Mall and Humble’s Deebrook Mall, and the Pasadena Town Square — went up for auction in April, but all remain open for business. [USA Today; closures; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Sears at 4000 N. Shepherd Dr.: Eric B.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR COCA-COLA’S 6 SOON-TO-CLOSE HOUSTON FACILITIES?
Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages’ new million-sq.-ft. facility in Hines’ Pinto Business Park at I-45 and Beltway 8 won’t be complete for another 2 years — reports the Chronicle’s Paul Takahashi — giving the franchisee time to make plans for the 6 existing locations it’s looking to close as part of the consolidation. Among them: the 343,118-sq.-ft. bottling plant pictured above that’s stood at 2800 Bissonnet, 2 blocks west of Kirby, since 1950. Less than half its size is the bottler’s Pecan Park plant off the South Loop at Berkley St. Three smaller outer-Loop warehouse and distribution centers — in Conroe, Brittmoore, and Channelview — are also set to expire, as well as one off I-45 in Glenbrook. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 2800 Bissonnet St.: RoadArchitecture
HHA’S FIRST NEW MIXED-INCOME COMPLEX IN A DECADE DEBUTS AT CROSSTIMBERS AND N. MAIN
The Houston Housing Authority has finished building its first development in 10 years: the 154-unit Independence Heights Apartments. Situated at the southeast corner of Crosstimbers and N. Main St., the garden-style complex has units available to tenants who earn less than $41,500 per year and have qualified for public housing vouchers. (The median household income in Independence Heights is around $25,000.) Mayor Turner okayed the project back in November, 2016 — 2 months after he killed a similar mixed-income complex that had been proposed for Briargrove, in place of one of the housing authority’s own office buildings on Fountain View Dr. That decision prompted a federal investigation in which HUD eventually found that the city’s rejection “was motivated either in whole or in part by the race, color or national origin of the likely tenants.” Of the $45 million Houston has received from HUD since 2011 (in response to Hurricane Ike) only $12 million has been spent — all of it on this just-built project. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of Independence Heights Apartments under construction: Apartments.com
TAKING OFF FOR MEMORIAL DAY
In observance of this Memorial Day, Swamplot is tacking an extra off-day onto its usual weekend schedule. Come Tuesday, we’ll start getting our feet wet again with stories of Houston’s spacial scene. Feel free to pass the meantime by sending us a tip about something you’ve seen, heard, or smelled around town — or by reviewing the literature on such phenomena we’ve covered in the past. Photo of Memorial Dr.: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NARROW THE STREETS TO MAKE NON-DRIVERS SAFER
Looks like Montrose Blvd. needs some work—unsurprising, given it’s a street with a lot of combined foot and vehicle traffic, while being extremely wide with few obstructions to get motorists to slow down. Notice that Westheimer has fewer incidents even though it’s an even busier street with a lot more foot traffic. It will probably never happen, but Montrose Blvd. could really benefit safety-wise from much narrower lanes, and bike lanes and on-street parking substituted instead. It certainly has the space to do it, especially if you subtract the center turn lane in some places. [Christian, commenting on Your Map of Where Walkers and Bikers Have Been Run Over by Cars in Houston Over the Past 2 Years] Photo of Montrose Blvd. at W. Gray St.: Andrew Steffler [license]
WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO BRING SECURITY CHECKPOINTS TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL
Following up on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s suggestion of hardening security at Texas schools, Texas Monthly’s R.G. Ratcliffe does the math: “The price of walk-through metal detectors range, in general, from about $3,500 to $5,000 each. There are more than 9,100 public school and charter school campuses in Texas. If metal detectors cost $4,000 each, then the total price tag for equipping the state school buildings would run about $36.4 million.” The problem: that accounting only budgets in one metal detector per campus. Last week, Patrick argued for limiting the ways in and out of Texas’ schools because “There aren’t enough people to put a guard at every entrance and exit.” But, notes Ratcliffe, even New York-style frisk points at each door wouldn’t have defended against other school shooting tactics, like those of Adam Lanza, who “shot out a window made of tempered glass” to get inside the locked Sandy Hook Elementary School. When police arrived at that building, their only option was to bust open a window themselves to enter, momentarily delaying their response to the massacre — which “took about eleven minutes.” [Texas Monthly] Photo: Santa Fe ISD
WHAT LANDLORDS HAVE OUSTED THE MOST TENANTS AFTER HARVEY, AND OTHER POST-DILUVIAN EVICTION FACTS
Since Harvey, the odds of tenants beating their eviction lawsuits have doubled. But their chances are still pretty slim: landlords win 94% of the time (down 3.73% since August), notes Houston data analyst Jeff Reichman. His recent report on citywide eviction trends after the storm features a ranking of which landlords have kicked out the most tenants. (Although that accounting also includes owners of storage rental facilities.) Also in the report: a map (a preview of which is included above) showing post-storm eviction density by address, an analysis of the time it takes for evictions to get through Houston’s court system (an average of 20 days), and the months during which the most evictions have historically occurred (January, with subsequent high volume between June and August). [January Advisors] Map of evictions after Harvey: January Advisors
BUC-EE’S VS. CHOKE CANYON: BATTLE OF THE ROADSIDE MASCOTS
The jury trial began yesterday in a federal lawsuit Buc-ee’s filed 3 years ago against Choke Canyon, a rival, San Antonio rest-stop chain with a cartoon alligator mascot Buc-ee’s claims is too similar to its own trademark grinning beaver. Buc-ee’s’s lawyer Tracy Richardson (who’s also on the legal team for the chain’s other ongoing infringement suit against Nebraska-based Bucky’s), reports the Chronicle’s Gabrielle Banks, kicked things off with a digital slideshow that chronicled the evolution of Choke Canyon’s gator species over time: “‘They put a human hat on the alligator,’ he said, ‘they opened his mouth. Then they made him stand, which — I’ve never seen an alligator stand.'” Couple that with the animals’ big eyes, red tongue, yellow background, and associated aquatic environs — said Richardson — and the likeness is confusing. (“You’re driving down the road at 80 miles per hour and you see a sign,” he said. “Did you really see what the logo was?”) Also at issue: Choke Canyon’s use of Buc-ee’s-like design elements in its stores, including a vaguely Alamo-like parapet front, stone siding, khaki-colored paint, and oversized bathrooms. (“We have large, clean bathrooms,” said Choke Canyon’s lawyer. “The last time I looked that’s not illegal.”) The jurors will be asked to decide “whether Choke Canyon set out to or actually did confuse customers with the overlap.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Logos: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHO CARES HOW FAR AWAY YOU ARE FROM A DECENT GROCERY STORE?
“I live downtown and use Instacart every week. Saves a ton of time. I don’t understand the fixation about going to a grocery store in person.” [Matt, commenting on Comment of the Day Runner-Up: The Hole in the Donut] Photo inside H-E-B, 1701 West Alabama St.: Candace Garcia