03/22/17 4:30pm

Crane at under-construction Capitol Tower, Capitol St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Another shot of that crane that took to the air this weekend by the economy-stalled stub of Skanska’s Capitol Tower comes from a reader peering over the site’s parking structure from Rusk St. yesterday. (That’s the neighboring Chase Tower looming over the scene in the background.) Bank of America was outed as being in talks with Skanska about leasing space in the tower (which might add the bank’s current home in Bank of America Center to the list of recent abandonments of Downtown office towers by their namesake tenants). The other sign of life on the site this year was the addition of a street-level mural to the parking garage’s corner, which was dry in time for the Super Bowl last month:

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Sprouting Downtown
03/08/17 11:00am

Closed restaurants in 811 Louisiana tunnels, 811 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Closed restaurants in 811 Louisiana tunnels, 811 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The latest report from Swamplot’s anonymous tunnel correspondent indicates that neighboring Asian fast casual and counter spots Thai Spice and Sidewalk Cafe appear to have both closed in the tunnel beneath 811 Louisiana (also previously and variously known as Two Shell Plaza or 777 Walker. Signage from the building’s management folks went up by the end of February, and the Thai Spice branch’s phone number is now out of service as well. An outdated leasing flier still up on the 811 Louisiana LoopNet page shows the layout of the spaces amid the rest of the tunnel stretch, between the Esperson building and the tower at 611 Walker:

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Out and About Downtown
03/07/17 11:00am

Tree drama at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002Tree drama at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

The ongoing saga of the Allen’s Landing trees coming down recently in bits and pieces — apparently the handiwork of an elusive Buffalo Bayou beaver or 2 — has come to a likely end with the non-rodent-assisted removal of the final stumps, Swamplot’s semi-regular Franklin St. correspondent and wildlife tipster notes. But life around the White Oak-Buffalo confluence goes on! Spring is here, which means the ducks have been out and about, while the cranes are busy pulling fledgling parking garage superstructures up into the air:

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Didn’t Leave It To Beavers
02/27/17 5:00pm

TXDOT TO PIERCE ELEVATED: YOUR YEARS ARE NUMBERED, PROBABLY pierce-street-45-downtownPending a vote next month by the Texas Transportation Committee, some early-stage projects connected to TxDOT’s plan to reroute I-45 and the whole downtown freeway exchange system could be getting started a few years sooner than TxDOT officials initially thought they would, Dug Begley writes in the Chronicle. (Those early stages include the reworking of the bottleneck on northbound US-59 where Spur 527 now peels off 2 of the freeway’s lanes just before SH 288 merges into the mix.) The first few projects “are incremental compared to the overall plan,” writes Begley, but “officials say [the projects] are important and send the clear message: The I-45 freeway is relocating and the elevated portion along Pierce will be abandoned and maybe demolished within the next dozen years. . . .Work on revamping the freeway intersections is slated for late 2020 or early 2021.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock

02/27/17 9:15am

FLOODED-OUT FLOODING SYMPOSIUM TO TRY AGAIN IN APRIL Flooding around The Halstead 4620 N Braeswood Blvd., Meyerland, Houston, 77096That January meeting of city officials, scientists, urban planners, business folks, engineers, conservationists, architects, and other flood-minded citizens — the one that was cancelled due to flash flooding — has now been rescheduled for April 5th. The symposium is still slated to take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center, and the same panelists appear to be on the docket. The event is free and open to all high water spectators, but you’ll need to register online by March 29th.  [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of flooding along Brays Bayou on April 17th, 2016: Chris Klesch

02/23/17 4:00pm

Demo of Houston Chronicle Building, 801 Texas Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002
Rendering of One Market Square Parking Garage

First on Linbeck’s docket for the block across Prairie St. from the slowly dissolving former Chronicle building: the 11-story parking garage rendered above. The structure is planned for the southern half of the block between Prairie St. and Market Square, which means the restaurant space depicted in the rendering will face Travis St. (presuming the retail spot is not just part of a clever disguise). The garage is being branded as One Market Square until such time as something a little taller goes up next to it and takes the name, joining Market Square Tower and Aris Market Square along Preston St. to either side.

Back across Prairie St., the wrapped-together collection of buildings formerly housing the Houston Chronicle‘s operations has been getting slowly disassembled since a judge ruled over the summer that Hines could carefully demo the structures. A couple of high-up shot from this morning (above, and below) shows the current state of affairs inside the rubble-in-progress:

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Rising and Falling on Prairie St.
02/22/17 2:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT’S GONE AND WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN ON LOUISIANA ST. Demolition of 517 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002“I just stumbled upon this today (having moved away from Houston in the early 90s.) Kind of breaks my heart to see it gone, having been the maître d’ and sommelier there in the late 80s and early 90s. . . . I still have dreams of a hidden cellar beyond the famous cellar downstairs.” [Kevin Metivier, commenting on Those 2 Century-Old Louisiana St. Buildings Being Demolished Now for Lancaster Hotel Parking] Photo of 517 Louisiana demolition: Jack Miller

02/21/17 5:15pm

Americana Building, 811 Dallas St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The 10-story tower segment of the Americana building at 811 Dallas St. is now undergoing disassembly, Nancy Sarnoff confirms this afternoon. A few folks caught sight of the tell-tale orange barricades and fencing around the base of the tower over the weekend; the view above was captured from Milam St. and shows the defunct former Subway on the Dallas corner of the block. Hilcorp, which owns the site (and also wrapped up its new tower across Travis St. on the site of the Foley’s blowup early last year), hasn’t yet announced further-down-the-line plans for the block. No explosives are part of the plan for this demo, however — the tower will be taken apart piece by piece, leaving the parking garage intact.

Photo: ThaChadwick

Laid Low Downtown
02/16/17 5:15pm

Excision of Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Field, Downtown Houston

Excision of Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Field, Downtown HoustonAstros historian Mike Acosta snapped some shots today and yesterday of the newly flattened corner of Minute Maid Park’s center field, where Tal’s Hill once sloped gently upward (as showcased in the legendary fan-on-the-field chase in the video above, from a game in 2011). The field’s lumpectomy was part of the plan that involved paring down the distance from home plate to the edge of center field from 436 feet to a still-over-minimum-requirements 409 feet, and adding more seating and concessions as per the earlier renderings from 2015:

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No More Climbing the Walls
02/14/17 5:30pm

Beaver traces by Buffalo Bayou, Allen's Landing, Houston, 77002

More splinters and shredded bark are the latest clues turned up by Allen’s Landing beaver scrutinizer Christine Wilson. The most recent denudation (shown above) occurred off the park’s walking trail, not far from the aftermath of the last rodent-related incident Wilson documented, just east of the Travis and Milam street bridges over Buffalo Bayou. Another shot from over the weekend provides a wider view of the increasingly sparsely-forested bank:
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Mammals of Allen’s Landing
02/13/17 5:00pm

houston-isd-outline

A letter up on the website of the Texas Education Agency — addressed to the HISD Board of Trustees and dated to last Thursday — provides what the state organization says is a preliminary list of the high-value Houston properties that might be detached from the district and tacked onto Aldine ISD. The transfer is the proposed response to last fall’s election by HISD residents not to authorize that payment of over-the-per-student-cap property tax revenue to the state for redistribution to other districts. Campaigners had hoped the “no” vote on the resolution would cause the Legislature to look at reforming the state’s education funding scheme (which the state high court raised an eyebrow at last year, but left in place).

On the same day the letter was issued, the HISD board voted to call a new election on the recapture/detachment question; the TEA has also set a lower figure for the district’s initial required payment to the state, in light of the fact that HISD doesn’t collect some potential property tax revenue because of homestead exemption rules. The letter tallies up the marked-for-snagging properties at more than $8.024 billion in total assessment value, and includes the Galleria, the Williams Tower, a slew of downtown office buildings, the CityWestPlace complex near Beltway 8, and 2 refineries. The list itself mentions only addresses and parcel numbers, connected mostly to the buildings below and a number of their associated parking garages:

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Election Rerun
02/13/17 2:30pm

UNIDENTIFIED CHEMICAL STENCH, HAZE DRIFTING ACROSS TOWN OFFICIALLY NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN Albemarle Corporation Facility, 13000 Bay Park Rd., Pasadena, TX, 77507Suggested and mandatory restrictions on hanging around outside were issued by the Memorial Village area’s fire department and by Katy ISD respectively for a while this morning, in response to the acrid odor and haze blowing in some 40 miles across the city from somewhere near the Ship Channel. The Houston emergency response folks say that their monitoring has turned up no air quality red flags, but that anyone who can avoid the stink should probably do so just in case. The particular origin and composition of the odor also still seems to still be up for debate this afternoon: The Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd. (shown above) called into the CAER hotline this morning to report that they might be releasing natural gas odorizer throughout the day as their gas facilities got worked on, and LyondellBasell’s Sheldon Rd. facility also sent a message to the CAER line that they would be conducting flaring today in response to a “unit upset,” but no official suspects have been named by the city.  The extent of the odor’s inland spread is notably broader than last month’s quickie Valero tank overfill stench incident in Manchester: KHOU reports that some of its viewers on the southeast side of town started calling in about the smell around 10 am, and that “by 11 a.m. the smell and an apparent haze covered most of downtown Houston and the west side, with some reports from as far north as Bush Airport.” [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd.: April R.  

02/09/17 2:00pm

HOUSTON LIGHT RAIL BEATS THE COMPETITION IN PEDESTRIAN, BICYCLE COLLISIONS PER MILE Metro Red Line, University of Houston Downtown, Downtown, 77002Following 2 deaths over the course of Super Bowl Week and Weekend resulting from cyclist-vs-light-rail collisions, the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley takes a look at how Houston stacks up nationally in terms of train-related accidents. The verdict, after a look through some National Transit Database data: Houston’s rail system has more walker and cyclist hits per mile “than any other major line in the country.” Houston breezes in at less that 100,000 train miles travelled per collision (compared to more than twice as many miles traveled per collision in Dallas, and more than 17 times as many in Boston). Metro CEO Tom Lambert tells Begley it may have to do with Houston’s high number of at-grade crossings and relative lack of barriers to keep people off the tracks. Begley says that the original decision to build the train at-grade isn’t itself unusual given the cost of elevated rail, but notes that “few places outside Houston have built their lines in some of the most congested and pedestrian-heavy areas of their respective urban regions.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of light-rail train dressed for Super Bowl Week: Christine Wilson

02/08/17 12:30pm

Beaver traces by Buffalo Bayou, Allen's Landing, Houston, 77002Beaver traces by Buffalo Bayou, Allen's Landing, Houston, 77002

Downtown cellphone naturalist Christine Wilson sends some shots this morning of unauthorized tree remodeling on the banks of Buffalo Bayou east of Travis St. by Spaghetti Warehouse (across from the University of Houston Downtown building shown up top). Wilson says a chat with some Buffalo Bayou Park rangers confirmed the identity of the anonymous tree hackers as likely beavers. That aligns with a report from earlier this month from the folks at Save Buffalo Bayou of other activity in the same area by rodents of unusual size. More closeup shots of denuded trees below:

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Stumping Downtown
02/08/17 11:00am

HOW MANY DOWNTOWNS DOES HOUSTON HAVE? Williams Tower, 2800 Post Oak Blvd., Galleria Area, Houston, 77056The list of Houston neighborhoods with potential to be mistaken for Downtown by outsiders, Blake Mathews of KHOU writes this week, is long, and includes at least “Uptown (Galleria), the Texas Medical Center, Greenspoint, Greenway Plaza, The Woodlands and perhaps even Westchase.” So what makes a Downtown? Mathews runs through some factors for consideration, ranging from the city’s population density center (which falls somewhere west of Downtown) to total office space (Uptown has less than downtown Houston, but more than downtown Denver) to building height (with a specific shoutout to the Williams Tower, pictured here.) [KHOU] Photo of Williams Tower: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool