SWEET MESQUITE REBIRTHING IN RAGIN’ CAJUN’S ABANDONED UNDERGROUND LAIR BELOW MAIN A sign advertising a new Sweet Mesquite Grill has appeared in the tunnel-facing storefront under the McKinney Place Garage where Ragin’ Cajun shut down a few months ago. The spot below 930 Main St. Downtown is scheduled to open in a month as a Sweet Mesquite do-over. The restaurant in the shopping center at 1570 S. Dairy Ashford near Briar Forest Dr. was a Sweet Mesquite Grill before it became Mesquite Cottage; the new tunnel location henceforth will be the only Sweet Mesquite Grill in town, but is expected to be a bit of a reboot from the original. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DOWNTOWN’S TUNNELS ARE THE SCENE “As someone who uses the tunnels everyday, I contest that they are glorious. My sweatless armpits and rain-free coiffure are a testament thereto.” [Superdave, commenting on Downtown Houston Is Now Down To A Single Street-Level Subway] Photo: Ed Schipul [license]
TACOS A GO GO IS A GO BENEATH DOWNTOWN Tacos A Go Go’s latest location is currently being set up in the tunnel spot beneath soon-to-be-Shell-free One Shell Plaza at 910 Louisiana St. The permitting process for the remodel of the space (centered roughly between branches of Murphy’s Deli, Starbucks, and the People’s Trust Co-op) kicked off late last year, around the time Tacos a Go Go’s third location opened in the now-thoroughly disguised former Roznovsky’s Hamburgers spot in Garden Oaks. The company’s website currently says the fourth spot’ll open Downtown later this month, operating on breakfast and lunch taco hours (from 7 to 3). [Previously on Swamplot; tunnel coverage] Image of One Shell Plaza leasing flier: LoopNet
THE TUNNEL BENEATH THE DEAD CHRONICLE BUILDING IS NOW OPEN AGAIN Management for 717 Texas (or Calpine Center, if you’re less of a fan of numerically-forward tower vernacular) just sent out word that the tunnel from that building to Chase Tower at 600 Travis St. is now open again. The route takes a turn beneath the pretty-much-done demo of the newly former Houston Chronicle headquarters, evidently still slated by Hines for surface-lotdom for now — plus whatever work the folks next door have planned below ground to tie their own development into the tunnel network. Meanwhile, another block southwest down the same tunnel system (as visible in the 90-degrees-or-so rotated schematic above), Skanska has just signaled the go-ahead on the above-ground section of its Capitol Tower; no word yet on whether that construction will have another round of tunnel closure associated with it. [Previously on Swamplot] Map of Downtown tunnel connections: Skanska
Ragin’ Cajun, likely Downtown’s most subterranean crawfish vendor, is packing up and crawling out of the tunnels beneath the McKinney Place Garage at 930 Main St., a reader notes this week. (That’ll leave its French-Quarter-evocative retail space open for more underground restaurant turnover; the garage most recently saw the swapout of a Prince’s Hamburgers branch for Time for Thai, amid other nearby culinary tunnel shuffles). The shop’s other locations are still open, per signage left behind at the scene.
The subterranean snapshot above comes from a reader roaming the Downtown tunnels, where a curved privacy-please construction barrier for a coffee-snacks-and-breakfast operation labeled Nosh now arcs around the spot formerly occupied by the ATM beneath 919 Milam. The change comes in the wake of other food-related shuffling beneath the 24-story tower this year; Genesis Energy also spread out onto another of the tower’s floors back in February.
Downtown Down Low
The company developing the block across Prairie St. from the Houston Chronicle‘s downtown ex-headquarters filed a lawsuit last week over the impending demolition of the paper’s former haunt at 801 Texas Ave. Theater Square, an entity connected to Linbeck, claimed in a Wednesday night filing that the upcoming demo interferes with its plans to build a tunnel through the former newspaper building’s basement to connect its across-the-street property into the broader downtown tunnel network.
The ex-Chronicle building (actually a collection of buildings later wrapped together behind a single facade) currently sits above a tunnel segment connecting the 717 Texas Ave. building (the office building formerly known as Calpine Center) sharing a block with the Lancaster Hotel and its new parking lots) to the Chase tower (south across Texas Ave., between Milam and Travis). Theater Square’s filing alleges that news corporation Hearst agreed back in 2007 to give the company permanent access to some underground easements for the purpose of building a new tunnel segment leading to the property across Prairie (currently a surface parking lot previously slated for the International Tower project). Theater Square also claims that the easement access agreements transferred to the next owner when Hines bought up the property last year.
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Downtown Tunnel Tussle
Here’s a fresh dispatch from Swamplot’s regular anonymous tunnel correspondent, who sends this photo-heavy update on the state of the Lamar Tunnel beneath the site of the former downtown Foley’s-turned-Macy’s building:
“The old tunnel to Macy’s from 1000 Main is now back open again. Despite what the sign says, it no longer leads to a department store — instead, you round a corner into the lower level of 1111 Travis, Hilcorp’s new (future?) headquarters: CONTINUE READING THIS STORY
News from the Underground
A reader sends the following report of openings, closures, swap-outs, and hanging question marks in the Downtown tunnel system’s restaurant landscape:
The Prince’s Hamburgers location at 930 Main St./McKinney Place Garage (and the associated taco establishment next to it whose name escapes me) both closed a couple of weeks ago. The former location of Mediterranean Grill House in the basement of 919 Milam St. is now a Dimassi’s Mediterranean Buffet. What was a Ninfa’s Express window next door still sports a sign stating a Bullrito’s is coming soon, while the restaurant space the sit-down Ninfa’s previously occupied remains vacant, with no indication of what may be coming.
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News From the Underground
Alonti Catering has done so well with the build-your-own burger spot it’s been operating in the Downtown tunnels since 2010 that it’s taking the concept straight to a feeder-road strip center — a mere 21 miles away at the intersection of Hwy. 290 and ring road FM 1960. The new eT Craft Burgers & Beer taking the place of Kim Kim Vietnamese and Paragon Pools in the end slot at 19841 Northwest Fwy. is scheduled for an official opening this Thursday, and will feature interiors by Uchi designer Michael Hsu and the entrance to the nearby Starbucks drive-thru around back.
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FM 1960 and Underground
A CHICK-FIL-A IS GOING INSIDE PENNZOIL PLACE If there’s gonna be a downtown office building collecting a few fast-food drive-thru franchises in its basement — minus the drive-thru parts, that is — it might as well be one with some street cred, right? Last year, a Sonic moved into the basement of Pennzoil Place, the Philip Johnson-designed double-trapezoid building pair on the block bounded by Milam, Rusk, Capitol and Louisiana. The building’s owners are now about to carve out more space for retail on the building’s lower floors — though only one of the added slots (at the corner of Rusk and Louisiana) will actually have direct access to the street. Joining Sonic in the building’s underground tunnel zone — along with an expanded eating area, revamped escalators, and a few more lease spaces — will be downtown’s fourth Chick Fil A. But don’t line up quite yet: The projected $1.2 million in renovations necessary to create the new spaces won’t be complete until early next year. [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot; more info (PDF)] Photo: Flickr user telwink [license]
A Downtown office building named after an oil company featuring a new drive-in in its basement? Well, minus all the close-in parking spots. Swamplot reader Doug Gober sends pix showing signs advertising a new Sonic Drive-In plastered earlier this week on the darkened windows of the spot occupied until a few months ago by a General Joe’s Chopstix — in the tunnel-access basement space of Pennzoil Place at 711 Louisiana. Walk-in seating for underground customers is already available, but you’ll probably have to place your order inside.
Photos: Doug Gober
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: IF WE SHUK UP THE DOWNTOWN TUNNELS “We need to turn the tunnel system into a public souq, similar to those in many Arab cities. A cool, covered area connected to the city streets that acts as an open market for various vendors and restaurateurs. Replace the bland tunnel surfaces with quality materials, carve out small market stalls, and offer them cheaply for any kind of business use. Connect the tunnels to street level every couple blocks. Each entry area could also house market stalls to offer a transition into the tunnels. This would help provide the ‘street’ life that lacks in downtown Houston. Cheap rents could attract vendors from every type of ethnicity that has come to Houston. It would be a real attraction worth visiting.” [Carpetbagger, commenting on A Park-Size Tunnel Entrance Concept for Downtown] Illustration: Lulu
Provident Realty closed yesterday on the former Texaco Building at 1111 Rusk, catty-corner from BG Group Place, and says it will begin renovations and new construction on this Hnedak Bobo Group-designed residential highrise just as soon as it can get the permits.
Yesterday’s announcement doesn’t specify how high the new highrise will rise, but info that Swamplot published in May suggest that it could stand as tall as 38 stories. Houston Business Journal reports that the project, on the block bound by Fannin, San Jacinto, Capitol, and Rusk, will tap into the tunnels, and there will be 309 units in all, with a 550-car parking garage and 8,000-sq.-ft. of ground-floor retail.
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A reader sends these photos that show a new location — if in name only — of the Tex-Mex restaurant that couldn’t hack it up on the mean streets (and drives and boulevards) that’s getting ready to open in the tunnels Downtown beneath the First City Tower at 1001 Fannin. This would appear to be the 2nd of the version of Maggie Rita’s operated by Tony Shannard, who paid the original restaurateurs Carlos Mencia and Santiago Moreno to use the name; Shannard runs another Maggie Rita’s in the tunnels beneath the JPMorgan Chase Tower at 600 Travis; that’s about half a mile away from here as the mole scurries.