COMMENT OF THE DAY: AN ALTERNATE ROUTE FOR CLEANING UP DOWNTOWN’S IMAGE “Well, if the problem is defined as ‘Pierce Elevated drivers see blight’ — then one solution is to get rid of the blight; another is to get rid of the Pierce Elevated. It’s probably obvious by now which is more likely to happen.” [_, commenting on Downtown’s Preeminent Dilapidated Hotel Tower Now Outfitted To Greet I-45ers with New Nametags, Fewer Window Panes] Photo of former Days Inn: Bob Russell
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE THAT DAYS INN TOWER FALLS ON THE HOUSTON ABANDONED HOTEL SPECTRUM “As much as I would prefer to see a building like this having some kind of economic use or value in its function, as long as it is not inviting of crime or danger, I don’t have issue with a building just sitting there — that is the owner’s prerogative. (Remember the Sheraton-Lincoln hotel? It sat vacant for years, graffiti-less and fully windowed; no one would have given it a second thought driving by.) In the past few months, the graffiti has exploded, and more and more windows are being broken out. I don’t know what happens when you smash a window 300 feet in the air, but I’m pretty sure those pieces come raining down near and around the building and onto the street. The owners need to do their part to keep the building secured to prevent the criminal activity, and prosecute the trespassers and vandals. Otherwise they are no better than the owners of the Southwest Inn.” [tmr, commenting on Downtown’s Preeminent Dilapidated Hotel Tower Now Outfitted To Greet I-45ers with New Nametags, Fewer Window Panes] Photo: Bob Russell
Artist and regular neck craner Bob Russell took a moment this week to capture the various works currently on display to Pierce Elevated drivers on the south side of the 30-story highrise at 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy. (former host of a variety of hotels and Vedic teaching initiatives before the building entered its more recent era of abandonment and creeping decrepitude). The uptick in broken windows in the last few months doesn’t appear to have much of a connection to the most recent plans for the stripping and remodeling of the building back into some flavor of hotel, as proposed this time around by SFK Development. As far as other signs of change, the name scrawled across the facade’s central panels has been edited since another tipster’s drive-by back in February:
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So how was the Halloween party at the “haunted” murder mansion at 3015 Fuqua St. off Almeda-Genoa in the south part of town last Friday night?
The Twitter reviews — and party photos — are in!
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Haunting Haunted Houses
Will all the gawkable dark mystery disappear from Downtown once the last few long-abandoned towers standing get cleaned up or knocked down? Maybe, but in the meantime we have these latest events to consider, around and about the former Heaven on Earth Plaza Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. (at Travis), which was operated by an organization affiliated with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for most of the nineties (before the city shut it down, in 1998).
A couple of readers have reported seeing some recent activity in and around the 31-story building, which was built as a Holiday Inn in 1971 and later converted to a Days Inn — before taking a different spiritual path:
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Falling to Earth from Heaven on Earth
COMMENT OF THE DAY: MAKING THE WHEELS SQUEAK “. . . It sounds like a total douche move, and I guess it is, but if the property really is blighted, you can use the City to coerce them to sell. Keep reporting the property to 311. Code violations are largely complaint based in Houston. so if people make a stink, the inspectors will be out there issuing red tags. Are there crimes occurring on the property? Report them to HPD and the Harris County DA. Graffiti? Report it. Get neighbors in on the complaints, too — the more the better. Keep at it. Eventually it’ll be such a pain in the ass for the owners to keep the property that they’ll be eager to sell.
Just be forewarned, it can be a long process. We were at it for over half a decade with a slum lord who owned most of a crimeridden, gang-infested, horrifically blighted condo complex. It wasn’t until someone found evidence of possible fraud on the condo HOA’s books — and he was looking at possible jail time — that he gave it up.
I know people will react angrily to what I’m saying here. It’s a really horrible thing to do — I admit that. But Texas Law doesn’t give us many other alternatives. And when it’s real blight — dragging down whole neighborhoods, costing the City tons of money and ruining our quality of life — most neighbors would argue that it’s worth it.” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day: Prying Dilapidated Properties from Shy Owners] Illustration: Lulu
Following his report earlier this week on a newly proposed city program that would provide tax incentives for the redevelopment of dilapidated properties, the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris put together a couple of maps identifying all Houston structures with existing “repair, demolish, or secure” orders issued by the city’s Buildings and Standards Commission. The zoomable and clickable map of commercial properties — including apartment buildings of 4 or more units — is shown above. Properties marked with the pin-shaped tags had orders filed in 2013 or 2014. That means redevelopment of those properties would be more likely to qualify for the city’s new tax break — because in order to be accepted into the program, applications would have to be filed within a year of the property receiving a repair-or-demolish order. (The intent is “to prevent slumlords who have sat on shoddy buildings for years from qualifying,” Morris explains.)
The tax-break program isn’t intended to cover residential properties tagged with orders to raze, secure, or bring up to code, but Morris put together a second map showing residences of 3 or fewer units that had received the same kinds of notices from the city:
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Repair or Demolish
COMMENT OF THE DAY: PRYING DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES FROM SHY OWNERS “I’ve spent some time in my career tracking down the sort of person that doesn’t like paying bills, receiving official notices or summonses, or anything at all like that. And yeah, it’s usually some individual or a tight family, often living out-of-state. A big corporation could never pull it off so easily.
Even if the City levies fines against the owner and eventually forecloses the property and sells it at a constables’ auction, the title is still marred because the previous owner might come back to challenge the sale over issues of notice. That doesn’t happen terribly often, but it does happen and it’s in the back of any would-be bidder’s mind at the auction. Of course, that means that the risk and the back taxes are already priced into a bid, that bids are often abysmally low, and that there’s not terribly much incentive for the City to throw good money after bad. It doesn’t mean that they won’t or shouldn’t. But I’ll bet that if they could recover more of what they put into it, that you’d see the City getting a lot more aggressive, right quick.” [TheNiche, commenting on A Tax Break for Replacing ‘Blight’; The Secret Bar Above Clutch City Squire] Illustration: Lulu
MAYOR PARKER ENCOURAGES NEIGHBORHOOD GROUPS INTO LAWN MOWING BUSINESS It’s worked for parents — why not the city? A new program will pay civic groups and nonprofit organizations $75 a pop to keep up overgrown lots abandoned by property owners in their neighborhoods. Mayor Parker announced the so-called Mow-Down Initiative yesterday in the Third Ward. How’s it gonna work? First, the city will come in with tractors and run over the big stuff, and then residents will take over, KUHF reports: “[Mayor Parker] says 100 lots around Houston will be included in the program to start, and she expects the city will save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs by engaging civic groups instead of hiring contractors.” Another nonprofit, Keep Houston Beautiful, says it will provide lawnmowers, trimmers, and other equipment for the work, free of charge. [KUHF] Photo of lot in East End: Allyn West
After waging a year-long “all out war” against this abandoned house near the corner of Prospect and Live Oak in Riverside Terrace, a Swamplot reader declares “I feel like I won.” How? “The house went up for sale this past week, exactly two weeks after a yellow ‘Dangerous Building’ violation was nailed to the tree out front by the city (following one of several of my complaints to the city’s Neighborhood Protection office — previous complaints generated violations notices for weeds and trash).” The listing for 2536 Prospect features photos of the home’s foreboding exterior with clear warnings from the listing agent: “Dangerous Building — No access!” and “Do NOT Enter!” This hoped-to-be-vacant lot could soon house your dream home! Once it’s bought and the house gets torn down, that is.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: VIEWING THE PARK MEMORIAL CONDO POOL PARTY FROM THE AIR “On Google Earth’s time slider tool, the pool turns from a light aqua blue to a dark green pea soup between Jan. 2008 and Sept. 2008.” [Superdave, commenting on The Park Memorial Condo Wildlife Refuge]
THE PARK MEMORIAL CONDO WILDLIFE REFUGE A participant reports on a local running group’s visit last week to a thriving wilderness area off Memorial Dr. — otherwise known as the campus of the Park Memorial Condos: “We ran around the Rice Military area heading south, then ran into the parking garage under Park Memorial, winding our way into the courtyard gate and the path that leads to the swimming pool. [We] had a “beer check” (kind of like a water stop, but, you know, with beer) right by the mosquito-infested pool. This was about 8:30 p.m. and it was pitch dark (the moon hadn’t yet risen). It was creepy and also awesome. I was really surprised by how easy it was to get in there. We just walked right through the gate, then walked right back out. Several of the apartments’ doors were wide open too. It was rather spooky. I expected to see homeless squatting there but we never encountered anyone . . . . It was pretty cool to finally see what the inside of the complex looked like, but sad to see the state of disrepair they’re under.” [Swamplot inbox; previously]
TRACKING GALVESTON’S THOUSAND-PLUS ABANDONED HOMES City planning department officials have counted 1,078 homes in Galveston that are boarded up, look vacant and have unmaintained yards. Another 229 are boarded up but show some signs of maintenance. The city plans to use the data gathered from the drive-by survey to prepare for a code-enforcement blitz. “City staff blamed the abandoned homes on three factors: the high rate of absentee landlords and homeowners in Galveston; and the double whammy of Hurricane Ike, which flooded three-quarters of the island and damaged many houses that lacked insurance, combined with a national recession that forced many homeowners into foreclosure.
Of the houses city staff identified as being potentially abandoned, 760, or more than two-thirds, are east of 61st Street and many of those are in neighborhoods north of Broadway, particularly in the Lasker Park area, according to the city’s survey, which is still in draft form.” [Galveston County Daily News]