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?
- How To Vote in the 2010 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate [Swamplot]
- Swamplot Awards Ballots 2010 [Swamplot]
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.