Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate: The Official 2010 Ballot

It’s come down to this: the final category in the 2010 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. This time, we set about to choose the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate of the past year. The official nominees have now been posted. Now you get to pick the winner.

Remember, this year Swamplot is letting readers vote once using each separate approved method — that’s 4 votes in all for each award category. Declare your vote in a comment to this post, in an email to Swamplot HQ, in a Tweet, or on the wall of Swamplot’s Facebook page. The complete voting rules are here. When you vote, please tell us why you made your choice. We’ll include some of the best explanations for the winners when we announce them next week.

The official nominees for the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate of 2010 are . . .


1. Dynamo Stadium gets its go-aheads. April 13th. After several rounds of negotiations, separate votes by Houston’s city council and Harris County’s commissioners seal the deal: A new open-air, 22,000-seat stadium for the Houston Dynamo soccer team, on the East Downtown blocks bounded by Texas, Dowling, Hutchins, and Walker, just across 59 from Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown. The team plans to spend $60 million on construction, but the stadium will be owned jointly by the city and county, and it’ll sit on land jointly owned by both entities as well. The city and county will kick in $10 million worth of future tax revenues each for infrastructure improvements. The big orange blob, which will also be home to TSU’s football team, is being designed by the same Kansas City firm, now called Populous, that brought us Reliant Stadium, Minute Maid Park, and the Toyota Center. Expected opening date: June 2012.

2. Springwoods Village makes its debut. October 5th. A New York developer announces plans to build a giant eco-themed mixed-use community on 1,800 acres of pine forest near the intersection of I-45, the Hardy Toll Rd., and the future Grand Parkway, just south of The Woodlands. But who’s behind the deal, and why is it being planned now? Coventry Development senior VP Keith Simon says the landowner, Springwoods Realty, has been sitting on most of the property for 50 years, but he won’t identify the privately held umbrella organization that controls it. Are any of the mysterious entities involved connected to ExxonMobil’s rumored plans to consolidate its Houston-area operations in a brand-new corporate campus on 400 acres immediately northeast of the new community? Springwoods Village, its promoters announce, will be the first area development to build on the large-scale ecological principles pioneered decades ago with the founding of The Woodlands. But of course down here in Houston, we just want to know how the oil business will fit in.

3. Weingarten backs off its plans to demo the interior of the Alabama Theater. March 25th. Confronted with Swamplot’s discovery that a local construction firm was soliciting bids to demolish the interior of the 70-year-old Art Deco theater — using plans prepared expressly for Weingarten Realty by the company’s local architect and clearly labeled “issue for permit and bid” — representatives of the publicly traded REIT try to explain that really, they have no plans to destroy anything and no drawings have been issued for permitting. But who are Swamplot readers to believe, Weingarten or their own lying eyes? The bid documents call for a rather thorough gutting, complete with a new concrete floor to permanently encase the landmark theater’s original sloped floor. The company has hopes of luring office-supply retailer Staples to lease the vacant 13,000-sq.-ft. space — but after surveying the public outcry over the plans to gut the building, Staples announces it isn’t interested. A couple weeks later, a Weingarten executive tries to claim the demo drawings were part of an analysis of the property produced by Staples. (Funny, though: The demo drawings list Weingarten as the client, and make no mention of Staples.) The whole bizarre episode appears to shut down Weingarten’s aggressive plans for reconfiguring the popular building at 2922 S. Shepherd, which was home to the Alabama Bookstop bookstore for 25 years, and which remains vacant. Weingarten demolished a portion of the landmark River Oaks Shopping Center 3 years ago — in part to build a new building Bookstop’s owner, Barnes and Noble, could move to. “They made a calculation then that peoples’ upset feelings would not outweigh the financial benefit [of redeveloping that site],” wrote a Swamplot commenter. “Why do they care what people think now?

4. Walmart bags its first location Inside the Loop. June 11th. The story breaks on Swamplot a few weeks after Walmart outbids H-E-B for Ainbinder Company’s 16-acre parcel of former industrial land just south of the Heights, but it’s still before the national retailer can get its formidable marketing machine revving; madcap hijinks ensue. Compared to protracted battles the company has fought in other cities, Walmart doesn’t have too much of a problem winning the approvals it needs to build the exact new 152,000-sq.-ft. suburban-style store and 664-car surface parking lot it wants — just 3 miles northwest of Downtown, in the old West End. Along the way, Ainbinder even bags a tax agreement with the city worth $6 million — to cover infrastructure improvements surrounding the new strip centers the company plans to build fronting Yale and Heights Blvd. The developments’ organized opposition doesn’t appear to have come away with much of anything to show for its efforts. But for Houston, this kind of fight against a big-box chain retailer waged online, in the media, in rallies, and in city forums is a whole new thing.

5. Houston puts teeth in its preservation ordinance. October 13th. Revisions to the ordinance finally approved by city council after a months-long campaign spearheaded by Mayor Parker change a fair number of details about how historic districts and designated landmarks in the city are regulated. But the biggest change means owners of affected properties in historic districts whose plans for new construction, renovation, or demolition are rejected by the city will no longer be able to go ahead with their original plans after simply waiting 90 days. For the first time in Houston’s only occasionally preserved history, a “no” from the city’s historic commission will come with a lasting bite. Of course, what tiny percentage of the city will actually be governed by these new rules is up in the air at this point: Judging from yard signs, boisterous meetings, and a parade of comments on Swamplot, a fair number of residents of current historic districts hope to take advantage of the new law’s one-time-only “reconsideration” provisions. Depending on what and how many ballots property owners send back to the city over the next few days, as many as 7 of the city’s 16 existing designated historic districts may be reshaped or shrunk — or disappeared entirely.

6. Wind turbines at the top of Hess Tower start to spin. June 14th. Are those 10 dinky wind turbines framed and featured prominently at the top of the new 30-story building Downtown formerly known as Discovery Tower an important symbol of Houston’s early steps toward sustainable building practices? a small-scale technology demonstration? a marketing gimmick? — or all 3? Onlookers observe the twirlers in motion for the first time over the summer, more than 18 months after Hess’s announcement that the energy company will sign up as the first and only tenant of Trammel Crow’s signature spec office building, next to Discovery Green. The first Hessians won’t move in until sometime next year. (Don’t look now, but . . . um, the turbines appear to be out of commission at the moment. Maybe they’ve gone out on tour for the holidays?)

Those are the candidates! And now comes your great moment — to make your choice and vote. What’ll it be?

Images: Populous (Dynamo Stadium), Coventry Development (Springwoods Village), Heights Venture Architects (Alabama Theater), Moody Rambin Retail (Walmart), Planning and Development (518 Byrne St.). Video: Jackson Myers.

43 Comment

  • My vote goes to Walmart just for the giant shitstorm of panic and hipocrisy that ensued.

  • WalMart, absolutely, for laying bare the hypocrisy of the liberal Heights. T’was both appalling and amusing to note how many people had signs that were both anti-Walmart AND anti-preservation; don’t tell me what to do with my property but I’ll tell you what to do with yours.
    The misinformed arguments against the development reeked of elitism, but at least some McMansion and bungalow people found something to agree on.

  • Weingarten with egg on its hypocritical corporate face.

    As they systematically destroy our city’s heritage (legally), it’s nice to see Superman slip in his own bile and fall flat on his face…my only regret is that there’s no kryptonite in our hands for the future.

    First lie, then spin. FAIL this time, REIT-monster.

    (and thanks, Staples for a bit of help).


  • Walmart for exposing City hall cronyism and the power of PR on the suburban lemmings in Houston. In a time when the City is 30 mil short on its budget, the mayor pushed through a 6 mil gift to Ainbinder and Walmart. Ainbinder made it clear he could pay for any required infrastructure upgrades and would build without 6 mil of taxpayer dollars. But the City gave it to him anyway. If your property taxes go up in the coming years, you can thank Walmart.

    The accusations of elitism/hypocrisy were a convenient way to dodge legitimate concerns over traffic, drainage and safety that have yet to be addressed in any plans from the developer or Walmart. Instead, we hear the constant drone from the burbs that “Walmart is good for us, it must be good for you too.” When opponents point to the limited capacity of Yale St., given the additional traffic that will come in from the new I-10 feeder, the response is “you just don’t like people of color.” To date, no one has shown how the traffic can be mitigated on Yale. No approved traffic impact analysis. No traffic impact analysis even submitted. When the City said that the impervious cover would actually decrease with a giant parking lot instead of a dirt pipe yard, the response was “you all are just a bunch of elitist who want to deny low income people the ability to save money” (by far the worst argument given the new Walmarts at Silber and Crosstimbers). Where is the site plan and hydrology analysis showing the decreased impervious cover? So far, nothing. When asked how police would be able to handle the increased calls for service that Walmart’s always bring, the response was “you didn’t raise a stink about Target”. To this day, neither the City or County has said that it would be able to bring on additional police/constables to handle the increased demand. The fact of the matter is that there are serious issues with this development that have not been addressed thanks to a well played PR campaign by Walmart, the developer and the City. People in the burbs have bought hook, line and sinker into the idea that any concern over the Walmart development was nothing more than a pretext for racism and elitism. If the concerns over this Walmart were all pretext, then why didn’t the developer and Walmart show the community the traffic impact analysis, the site plan, hydrology studies and enter into an operating agreement to keep semis from rolling through at 3 am? The reason is simple. They didn’t have to because they were able to manipulate the public into hating the messanger instead of focusing on the message. The fight is not over. Aside from the 6 mil, nothing has been approved. Leasing at the development is going so poorly that Lance Gilliam tried to get the Stop Heights Walmart people to help him with ideas for tenants. Houston Heights is not going to roll over for Walmart. We got along just fine for over 100 years without Walmart and will do just fine for another 100 years without one.

  • @ Old school:


    One more vote for Walmart.

  • I am voting for Walmart for all the reasons exactly opposite to those espoused by Finess and Heights Guy. To call the “liberals” in the Heights “elitists” is (a) a gross overgeneralization, (b) smacks of reverse-elitism! So there!

  • @Old school – you said it better, brother/sister!

  • Historic teeth.

  • The Dynamo Stadium. While Walmart was definitely a conversation piece, there is nothing ‘great’ about this particular real estate moment as it pitted angry neighbor against angry neighbor. The three taboo subjects you should never bring up in conversation are now 1) politics, 2) religion, and 3) the Heights Walmart.

  • Elitism, snobbery yes. Parking and traffic are just residents drawing for straws, looking for something to hang onto. One more time, there is NOTHING there aside from that apartment complex. NOTHING.

    Get over it, build WalMart…

    My vote goes for the Alabama Theatre.

  • I am voting for Walmart for exactly the opposite reasons that Old School is. The pseudo progressive mob in the Heights have invented vastly disporpotionate vehicle trip numbers with abolsoutely no evidence to create the spectre of traffic chaos. This despite the fact that traffic on Watson in the Heights appears to still be perfectly manageable despite an almost identically sized Target. They have claimed that all support for the development must somehow be coming from outside the hood because surely none of their neighbors would be support of such a thing despite the fact that their yard signs are scarecer than Rick Perry signs in the Heights. They have claimed that no-one earning under $35k a year lives in the Heights despite that fact that over 90% of our schoolchildren in the Heights come from families earning less than $35k. They have claimed that Walmart is saturating the West loop whilst simultaneously cheering on Whole Foods’ significantly greater saturation of the same neighborhoods. Then they have had the gall to claim that none of this should at all be taken to imply that they are snobs.

  • Dynamo Stadium! Can’t wait to see this thing built.

  • #3. I love to see folks get caught in their lies and backpedal furiously into more lies. Great theater on a great theater.

  • walmart issue will go away in a year or two (as sad as that will be, as the rhetoric on both sides is amusing), so im voting for the dynamo stadium.

  • dynamo stadium is the greatest thing to happen this year, and I have ZERO interest in soccer or TSU football. I would go there for a concert, but I’m mainly pleased to see a catalyst for that neighborhood to evolve into an urban community with tons of tax revenue. Just don’t mess with the shop owners.

  • Gotta vote for Walmart. I love it when people vent passionately, especially when they’re so wonderfully wrong.

  • @jg, you do realize it will be years before there are any concerts in the Dynamo boondoggle because of the agreements related to the Rockets boondoggle Downtown.

    My vote goes to the disgusting preservation ordinance, the one where the City of Houston delcares it knows better than a property owner on building/maintaining property.

  • Historic District because, while all of those others will come and go, the new Historic Ordinance will be screwing people out of their property rights for decades to come.

  • I vote #3 Weingarten/Bookstop. That is real estate at its Houstonist.

  • I love how people like Old School think the city just up and wrote Ainbinder a check. It’s flagrantly misleading, but let’s not allow the truth to come between them and the bogeyman.

  • 5. Houston puts teeth in its preservation ordinance.

  • I vote for Walmart.

  • I’ll go with Dynamo. I can’t believe that there are people voting for Walmart as the greatest moment in Houston Real Estate. Come on people, it’s a Walmart…

  • Dear Old School – You point to many legitimate concerns, but none matter because this is Houston, where rolling over for real estate developers is how bidness is done.
    My objection is to the snug self-righteousness. People will fret about WalMart traffic yet gush over the tons of new restaurants on White Oak and Washington. The same people citing impervious cover concerns have postage stamp yards where every tree was removed to accommodate their enormous houses and hideous townhomes.
    And isn’t just “people in the burbs” who object to the hypocrisy. I have lived in the Heights since 1981. I am one of the people who has been working to improve and preserve this ‘hood for nearly 30 years.

    One time a guest on the Daily Show asked Jon Stewart if he was a Democrat or a Republican. He responded, “I’m against bullshit.” I’m in whatever party that is.

  • Dynamo

    And yes, it’s just a Walmart.

  • Alabama Theater, the epitome of Houston real estate shenanigans.

  • Finness: It is a good thing that Heights residents aren’t willing to roll over to developers like you are. I and many of my neighbors are well aware of the power developers have. But, unlike you, we are not afraid to stand up for what we believe is right, even if it is mission impossible. It is much easier to attack the messanger than to put in the time and effort it takes to bring about change. But that is just what Walmart wants you to do.

    Also, the hypocrisy you claim is so overwhelming that we must bow to Walmart is simply non-existent. White Oak is getting three restaurants in the place of vacant properties. All three were announced after Walmart (I guess there is such a thing as hipocrisy after the fact?). And the density of bars on Washington has been a major concern for the community. West Enders have been fighting with club owners and the City over traffic, parking and public intoxication for a few years now. And you must live in a box to think that everyone in the Heights that objects to Walmart lives in a giant, bungalow crushing McVic. It is sad that you are willing to turn your back on your community just because you don’t like some of your neighbors who built big houses or go to bars on Washington. If there are legitimate concerns about the development, you should stand up against it, regardless of whoever is the messanger. Chaulk another one up to Walmart’s PR machine.

  • And if there aren’t enough legitimate concerns then feel free to make some up. 8,000 car trips a day not scary enough for you? No problem, just start telling people that it will be 20,000 and that all of them will be coming down Yale. That’ll get their attention.

  • Walmart.

    Old School, FTW.

  • Alabama Theater, because civil discourse can affect the market! Here’s to hoping an appropriate development goes into the complex. I also hope such a development would become a cash cow for Weingarten and show that you don’t need to do suburbs box retail to be successful in the city core.

  • Noted that old school is pretty cool, right out of the 30’s..

  • It has to be the “preservation” ordinances, and not so much because of the immediate controversy that ensued within the Heights. (Besides, after Wal-Mart comes in, everybody knows that the Heights will all at once become blighted, choked with traffic and auto fumes, and suffering from a veritable nuclear winter of every day low prices. So sayeth the NIMBYs, and who am I to doubt them?)

    No… What will make the ordinance so impactful in the long run is that it can be so easily adopted by other neighborhoods and screw over people that might’ve thought that they were in the clear.

  • Old School- your complaints are brand-specific. If this was simply about traffic and flooding, the alarm would have been raised two years ago when the feeder extension was announced.

    And any time a topic devolves into personal attack, it is clear which side is winning the argument.

  • PS – The stadium people are right and if ground had actually been broken, I would have voted with them.

  • please do not make this into another walmart thread. take your arguments on both sides elsewhere.

  • Dynamo stadium, but from the list of choices, it was obvious 2010 wasn’t Houston’s best year in real estate.

    Anyways, I know nominations are over, but did anybody mention the topping off of MainPlace, or w/e its called now, seems noteworthy enough.

  • The preservation ordinance (much as I love the Alabama Theater)

  • #3, Weingarten/Alabama Theater

  • The Preservation Ordinance simply because it was a fast one that the mayor wasn’t able to pull off and one which her own neighborhood rejected by asking for “reconsideration” and while most expect the city will pull something and claim the “reconsiderations” were rejected by a majority, at least some did say “No” and probably will say “No” to her next November as well.