08/03/11 12:51pm

A TRADER JOE’S IN THE ALABAMA THEATER? 3 months ago, Trader Joe’s announced plans to build 10 stores in Texas. But where? A little bird tells Nancy Sarnoff that the California-born grocer is exploring the possibility of taking the vacant Bookstop space in the former Alabama Theater on South Shepherd Dr. No official comment from Weingarten Realty or Trader Joe’s, but Sarnoff notes the theater space’s listed 14,000-or-so sq. ft. is right in the target range for a Trader Joe’s store. The space has been vacant for almost 2 years. [Prime Property; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Chris Adams

04/09/10 12:04pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CHIN UP, WEINGARTEN! “I don’t totally understand Weingarten’s defensiveness here. After all, they totally earned the wrath of people in the community who would like to see older, architecturally significant buildings preserved in some fashion when they tore down the north side of the shopping center at Shepherd and Gray. They made a calculation then that peoples’ upset feelings would not outweigh the financial benefit. Given this, why do they care what people think now? Did the negative publicity before actually hurt them in any material way? (I’ve made a point of not shopping at the new B&N even though I am a compulsive book-buyer, but I have no illusions that me and people like me have any impact on their bottom line.)” [RWB, commenting on Weingarten Exec Blames Those Alabama Theater Demolition Drawings on Staples]

04/09/10 10:52am

Today’s Houston Business Journal features a rather surprising statement from a Weingarten Realty executive about the company’s recent plans for the vacant Alabama Theater. Late last month you’ll remember, Swamplot broke the story that a local construction company was obtaining bids from subcontractors for an extensive interior demolition of the vacant 1939 Art Deco movie theater at 2922 South Shepherd Dr. — using drawings prepared for Weingarten Realty by a local architecture firm.

Since that time, representatives of Weingarten, a publicly traded REIT, have been pushing back on the story to local reporters with a series of carefully worded statements. One such statement, delivered to both Swamplot and its readers the same day the story broke, by a spokesperson under contract to Weingarten, was typical: Weingarten, Swamplot was told, “can’t verify the authenticity of the drawings you posted on your blog one way or the other.”

Aw, shucks. And yet — if this statement in today’s HBJ is to be believed — it appears they certainly could have verified them:

Patti Bender, executive vice president with Weingarten, says the preliminary design that recently hit the streets was part of a site pricing analysis conducted by Staples.

Oh . . . does that mean Weingarten had no part in producing those drawings that showed exactly how the theater was to be gutted and its sloping floor encased in concrete? It was all Staples’s doing? Of course, those of you who have been following the story here on Swamplot realize there are just a couple problems with that statement:


04/07/10 9:53am

In a letter published in today’s Chronicle, the PR director for Staples goes beyond her previous “we do not have a lease” statement and says the national office-supply chain is done with the idea of putting one of its stores in the vacant former Alabama Theater on South Shepherd at West Alabama — for now, at least:

. . . we are not currently considering a store at this site. We typically don’t comment about sites unless and until leases are signed, but we understand that this property represents a unique situation of local concern.

So what prompted theater owner Weingarten Realty to have a local architecture firm draw up plans for a complete interior scraping of the 1939 Art Deco theater — and arrange for at least one local construction firm solicit demolition bids based on it?


04/02/10 2:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: STAPLES “NOT INVOLVED” IN THE ALABAMA THEATER “After writing to Staples PR this is their canned response: ‘While there has been speculation about Staples in connection with the historic Alabama Theater, we do not have a lease agreement at this location. Staples will continue to be a good neighbor that supports the communities where its customers and associates live and work as the company continues expanding in the Houston region. The rumors, however, have sparked a larger debate about the location. Therefore, we recommend that concerned citizens direct their letters and suggestions to Weingarten Realty as we are not involved in this development. Many thanks, Amy Shanler, PR Director'” [Andrea, commenting on Weingarten Realty: We Won’t Demolish the Interior of the Alabama Theater Until a Lease Is Signed]

03/31/10 4:19pm

The new owners of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema franchises in Katy and at the West Oaks Mall tell the Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff they’ve begun new talks with Weingarten Realty about turning the former Alabama Theater into the first Inside-the-Loop location for the dinner-drinks-and-movie chain.

Triple Tap Ventures partner Neil Michaelsen tells Sarnoff his group had held discussions with Weingarten about the former Alabama Bookstop location at 2922 South Shepherd more than 6 months ago — but “couldn’t come to an agreement” about leasing the space. Triple Tap announced its purchase of the two Houston Alamo Drafthouse locations — and plans to construct new cinema locations in Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, the Midland-Odessa area, San Marcos, and Houston — just last October.

Sarnoff explains that the Alabama Theater building isn’t exactly Triple Tap’s ideal location:


03/26/10 2:03pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT MAKES THE ALABAMA THEATER SO EASY TO LEASE “Sigh. I’ve been told in the past that Weingarten would like to have a restaurant in this location, but with a rent that is probably in the low-mid 30’s/sf, that puts the monthly rent at around $35,000 a month, which is out of the price range of many retailers and restaurateurs. Also, 14,000 sf would be a huge restaurant. One of the other little discussed obstacles in this building is the balcony, and the low headroom that it provides at the lobby entrance. Most of the building is concrete but I’ve been told that the balcony is in fact a steel structure. I would not be surprised if the balcony does not survive. Regarding the sloped floor, it is extremely difficult to rent sloping space like that in the age of ADA. Bookstop was constructed prior (1984) to the implementation of ADA. . . .” [mt, commenting on Weingarten Realty: We Won’t Demolish the Interior of the Alabama Theater Until a Lease Is Signed]

03/25/10 4:34pm

What’s the latest on those plans to demolish the interior of the Alabama Theater at West Alabama and Shepherd — you know, the plans already put out to bid to subcontractors but that owner Weingarten Realty can’t quite seem to verify are its own?

A spokesperson under contract to Weingarten tells Swamplot that the company won’t act on them before a lease agreement with a new tenant is signed:

I now have the okay to post based on your last blog entry to reassure your readers that WRI has no intention undertaking any pre-buildout of the interior prior to any lease agreement. And, there is no agreement currently and no buildout plan.

“Buildout,” of course, is the correct term for the interior demolition here. Because the demolition plans out to bid show that Weingarten intends to permanently encase the theater’s extensive sloped floor in concrete, like this:


03/25/10 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WE ARE ALL WEINGARTEN LEASING AGENTS NOW “. . . I’m not [against] historic preservation, but I find [it] silly and immature for people to attack Weingarten. If anybody could approach them with an idea or a plan to keep the theatre and turn it into a money making investment for any kind of use, I’m sure they’ll listen. If Weingarten could get a tenant without any changes to the space, wouldn’t you think they’ll go for that[?] They save a lot of money in that situation. They most likely looked into the gutting of the place since there isn’t much option for them. Saving a place purely on moral grounds that it is the right thing to do isn’t enough. It’s a place to start, but it’s a lot more that has to happen after that. In the end, a philanthropist or investor or a group of a combination of the two is needed. This group can either buy it out or develop a plan that Weingarten could get their rent and the place be saved. . . .” [kjb434, commenting on Weingarten Plans an Alabama Theater Demolition. Is Staples Moving In?]

03/24/10 3:56pm

Last night, a spokesperson under contract to Weingarten Realty writing on behalf of the company reported to Swamplot and its readers that the shopping-center owner “can’t verify the authenticity of the drawings” we reported on yesterday.

The drawings referred to are bid documents that Heights Venture Architects prepared for Weingarten detailing an extensive interior demolition of the 70-year-old Art Deco Alabama Theater at South Shepherd and West Alabama — more commonly known until its closing last September as the Alabama Bookstop bookstore.

Well, gee. Today, “an official” of Weingarten’s architecture firm isn’t having such a hard time with the verification process:

An official at Heights Venture Architects told CultureMap this morning that the company did submit plans detailing a near total interior demolition of the Alabama at the specific request of Weingarten (the company that owns the vacant building).

The official at Heights asked not to be named and said he had no speaking authority, but confirmed that the company had been asked to submit the plans, which Swamplot first published.

What a fun game! Now that this round is over, let’s jump to the next one: Okay, so maybe Weingarten did ask its architects to prepare demolition drawings. Maybe Weingarten is exploring all its options! Just pricing a complete demo for . . . say, comparison.

Here’s the same Weingarten spokesperson feeding this ruse:


03/23/10 3:16pm

Weingarten Realty’s director of investor relations Kristin Gandy tells the Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff that the owners of the vacant Alabama Theater building in the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center at the corner of South Shepherd and West Alabama do not have a deal for the space with any new tenant, including Staples. Swamplot reported earlier this morning that a local construction firm is soliciting bids from subcontractors for an extensive interior demolition of the 1939 Art Deco theater, which from the early eighties until late last year was the home of the Alabama Bookstop bookstore. Drawings detailing the demolition were prepared for Weingarten by Heights Venture Architects, and the bid documents included floor plans for a prototype Staples office-supply store.

Gandy tells Sarnoff

Weingarten has not signed a lease nor has any lease under (letter of intent) with any particular tenant at this time. We have several tenants that are reviewing, but we don’t have a definitive agreement in place.

Weingarten may not have an agreement in place, but the publicly traded company certainly has demolition plans in place, already labeled as issued for permitting. Which means either

How much does Weingarten want to demo?


03/23/10 8:15am

It looks like the former Alabama Theater — known since the early eighties as the Alabama Bookstop, and since last fall as that big vacant space for lease in Weingarten Realty’s Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center — is about to be gutted. A local construction company is currently taking bids from subcontractors for a rather complete interior demolition. The plans, prepared by Heights Venture Architects, show major alterations to the floor, walls, and ceilings.

The theater’s original sloped floor will be buried under a new concrete slab; wood floors inserted during the 1983 bookstore conversion will be removed. For now, the balcony will remain.

Here’s a little before and after to demonstrate:


08/17/09 11:07am

You were maybe planning to stop by the Bookstop in the old Alabama Theater on Shepherd for one last browse before the store closes on September 15th? Do a little clearance-sale shopping, grab a coffee up on the balcony and look out over that live-on-stage magazine stand?

It may be a little too late for that now. On the Houston Press Twitter feed this weekend, Katharine Shilcutt reported that the upper levels of the store are already cleared and closed . . . for good.

Photo: Houston Press

08/06/09 2:36pm

That summer clearance sale that’s been going on at the Bookstop in the Alabama Theater Shopping Center on South Shepherd is uh, final. The store will be closing for good on September 15th. The new Barnes & Noble in the River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray will be opening the next day (a bit sooner than was announced earlier), but no unsold books from the Bookstop location will be making the trip north.

So what happens to the Alabama Theater after then?


06/25/09 3:55pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BOOKSTOP FULL STOP “A few comments from a reliable source who actually knows a few things about River Oaks SC and Alabama Theater. 1. Barnes and Noble owns Bookstop. They are closing it to move to the new location at ROSC. 2. Weingarten has no intent of demolishing the Alabama Theater. They have been marketing the space for re-use. They intend to restore the facade when a new tenant signs on. 3. The new portion of ROSC was designed by Altoon + Porter (of the Fashion Show flying saucer mall in Vegas fame) out of Los Angeles. Weingarten did not want the usual EIFS crap that the Houston architects do. 4. Weingarten’s long term interest in ROSC is to achieve the highest and best use for this property. They want to bring a higher density to the center that they feel is appropriate for its location. 5. Before the crash last fall they were working on a plan to improve the walk-a-bility of the ROSC through landscaping and art. I believe the project is on hold right now. Its interesting how everyone is in favor of density (less driving and more walking) except when it affects something in your backyard. If you don’t like the scale of the building or the lack of protection of historic structures in the city, call the mayor and the planning department. Disclosure: I do not work for Weingarten and don’t always agree with their decisions, but thought that this info would be useful. Flame on everyone!” [mt, commenting on Coming Soon to the River Oaks Shopping Center]