05/26/16 5:15pm

1301 Leeland St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

1301 Leeland St., Downtown, Houston, 77002From a largely-barren expanse of surface lot west of Toyota Center, a reader sends a few fresh images snapped during a street-level fly-by of the 1930s office building at the corner of Leeland and Caroline streets, where Texas Direct Auto has recently taken up both residence and a new advertising tack. Following in the wake of a previous foray into Downtown real-estate-billboard crossover, the company’s newest mural encompasses 3 of the 4 sides of the building (including the dog in an astronaut suit on the side opposite Leeland). Painting started in January, and a we’re-done-now party was thrown in early April. 

As was the case for the company’s red-tagged Main St. doggie-in-the-window signage, the newer mural incorporates some of the structure’s actual windows into the design — this time as a set of questionable-utility solar panel arrays on an artificial astronaut habitat:

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Leeland at Caroline
05/24/16 4:15pm

UH Downtown STEM Building Purchase

Outlined in red is the next addition to University of Houston Downtown’s campus, per last Thursday’s meeting by the UH system’s board of regents. The image above comes from a marketing flier included in the board’s agenda notes (as presented by board member and real estate reality TV star Tilman Fertitta). The 17-acre parcel on the north side of I-10 runs along the Daly St. student parking lot by the Burnett Transit Center light-rail station, and includes several areas west of N. Main St. already in use by UHD as faculty and student parking.

The land, bounded on the southwest by White Oak Bayou,  will likely house a new science and engineering building — though it may have to cozy up with some additions to the downtown freeway system still in the planning phase. UHD VP David Bradley tells Nancy Sarnoff that the parts of the tract that may end up inside the expanded right-of-way will hang around as green space until TxDOT’s map lines are firmed up.

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Rail Yard Revival
05/13/16 11:30am

WAXING POETIC OVER THE DEMOLITION OF AN ALLEN CENTER SKYBRIDGE Planned Remodel of One Allen Center, 1200 Smith St., Downtown, Houston, 77002“The age of confinement is over,” pens Realty News Report editor Ralph Bivins this week in his first foray into real estate poetry. Bivins was moved to verse by the details released last week on the upcoming redo of the 3 Allen Center towers at Smith and Dallas streets — more specifically, by the fact that Brookfield’s plans for the site includes the removal of one of the skybridges between One and Two Allen Center, as well as the earthen berm beneath it. The demo will turn the long-sequestered landscaped green space between the buildings into a street-accessible events lawn. The rest of the poem, entitled A quick verse by R. Bivins for Kenneth Schnitzer, Texas Eastern and the prior generation of downtown development, can be read here. [Realty News Report; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of planned Allen Center redo:  Studio AMD

05/13/16 10:15am

This week’s video release from hometown country singer Robert Ellis takes viewers on a forlorn wandering tour of Houston’s downtown and surrounding thoroughfares, sans all of those pesky people and cars. Iconic cameos include the AIA’s future headquarters on the corner of Franklin and Commerce streets, the WALD warehouse sign at Live Oak and Rusk streets, and Bad News Bar on Main St.; the video also includes a hike down a dead-empty I-45 and associated entrance ramps, several frantic light-rail stops, and a dramatic reunion on the pedestrian bridge over Memorial Dr. at Sabine St. 

Video: Robert Ellis

Musical Background
05/10/16 2:30pm

Amanda Parer's Intrude installation, 1600 Smith St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Joining the lunchtime crowd in front of the 1600 Smith St. tower today: the towering inflatable rabbits of Australian artist Amanda Parer. Brookfield Properties, which owns the downtown office tower complex where the rabbits are loitering, is sponsoring the leporine art installation’s 4-stop North American tour of other Brookfield commercial properties. The bunnies spent some time in New York City before getting transplanted downtown for a week; they’ll be hopping off to LA and then Denver after the tour’s Houston leg wraps up this Saturday the 14th.

The installation is called Intrude, an allusion to the rabbit’s time-honored place in modern Australian lore as an ecological disaster. Here are a few more daytime angles on the critters, which are also getting lit during their nights downtown:

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Downtown From Down Under
05/06/16 12:30pm

allen-center-remodel-2

One Allen Center, 1200 Smith St., Downtown, Houston, 77002Brookfield released a few renderings this morning of the plans to make over One, Two, and Three Allen Centers at the corner of Smith and Dallas streets downtown. The rendering above depicts the new plan for the greenspace between One and Two: to subtract 1 of the 2 second-story skybridges currently running parallel to Smith and add an events venue. The redo plans also include a major street-level change for One Allen Center, depicted above with a 2-story glass lobby running around corner in place of the current largely-bricked-over podium facade.

That tiny neon sign on the left edge of the turn-of-the-decade photo above once marked the location of Don Patron; the quarter-centenarian Tex-Mex lunch spot started to close in February and finished the job in March. The remodel plans swap it out for a higher-end restaurant, which will get some patio space along Smith St:

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1, 2, 3 Remodel
04/28/16 4:15pm

Proposed Prairie Tunnel Map, per Theater Square lawsuit filings

What led up to the neighborly lawsuit filed last week over the former Houston Chronicle building’s planned demolition? A pair of letters filed with the county clerk’s office as part of the suit sheds a little light on the back-and-forth between the building’s new owners and their new neighbors. Plaintiff Theater Square, a partnership controlled by construction and development firm Linbeck, is developing the downtown block marked SITE in the map above, immediately across Prairie St. from the former Chronicle property (bought last year by Hines entity Block 58 Investors). Theater Square wants to link its own could-be-a-Class-A-contender block into the Downtown tunnel network (traced above in solid black).

The company sued both Hines and Chronicle owner Hearst News last week to stop the demo, claiming that Hearst gave it property rights to build a new tunnel through the newspaper building’s basement (via the route shown in stripes above along Travis St.) and that the demo (as currently intended) interferes with that plan. Theater Square sent a letter to Hines on April 15th citing news stories about the impending demo and requesting both access to inspect the basement and assurances that the demolition would be carried out in a way that doesn’t harm certain existing structures that the new tunnel’s already-semi-permitted building plans depend on.

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Fight For The Right To Tunnel
04/27/16 10:30am

1836 Polk St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

A sign zip-tied onto the fence around the parking lot at 1836 Polk St. is currently announcing an application by FreeRange Concepts to sell mixed drinks at the spot.  Up in Dallas, the company operates bar-slash-bowling alley Bowl & Barrel, bar-slash-dogpark Mutts Canine Cantina, restaurant-slash-music-venue The Rustic, and slashless restaurant The General Public. Houston locations of Bowl & Barrel and The General Public are currently under construction in CityCentre.

It’s unclear whether FreeRange has cast the Polk location for a sequel to one of its existing brands, or for something new. The TABC notice is posted on the full-block parking lot bounded by Jackson, Hamilton, and Bell streets just east of 59 and just south of the George R. Brown Convention Center. That block has previously appeared in the convention center’s 2025 Master Plan, as a site of possible future expansion:

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Liquoring Up by GRB
04/26/16 10:30am

Former Houston Chronicle Building, 801 Texas Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

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
04/22/16 11:00am

900 Commerce St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

A charrette will be held at 9AM tomorrow for anyone interested in entering the design competition for the American Institute of Architects’s new Houston chapter headquarters, to be located at 900 Commerce St. across from Spaghetti Warehouse.  After being outbid on the blue mod Christian Science church on Main St. back in January, AIA and Architecture Center Houston are instead purchasing around 8,000 sq. ft. of space in the 1906 B.A. Reisner building, adjacent to the storied Bayou Lofts occupying much of the block. Part 1 of the competition will solicit ideas only for the 5,400-sq.-ft. storefront, 2,200-sq.-ft. boiler room, and some connections between the spaces; teams making it to round 2 will win a bit of cash and be asked to create detailed designs for the storefront and the building’s facade.

The view of the Reisner building above was snapped from Commerce looking south; below is a black-and-white shot of the building from further east across Travis, taken back in the days of its early-1900s employment by Southern Rice Products Company:

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Rice Roaster Reimagining
04/15/16 10:15am

If you missed the free Fallout Boy and Kendrick Lamar concerts during Final Four weekend, here’s your chance to catch both, condensed down to less than 5 minutes (no sound, though). This week photographer Geoffrey Lyon posted his time-lapse capture (from the upper levels of One Park Place) of Discovery Green filling up during the Friday and Saturday events held in conjunction with the college basketball championship finals; the park reached its maximum capacity on both that Saturday and the following Sunday and stopped admitting visitors. [KTRK; previously on Swamplot] Video: Geoffrey Lyon

Turned Up and Down Downtown
04/14/16 4:45pm

712 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002
The Chase-occupied former Gulf Building at 712 Main St. (above) and the 10-story Great Jones building tucked next to it on the corner with Capitol St. are getting made over and rebranded together as The Jones on Main. Planned updates to the 37-story art deco skyscraper, which between 1929 and 1951 housed the Sakowitz department store in its first 5 floors at the corner of Rusk St. and Main, include a de-conversion of the ground level at that corner from office space back to retail usage — here’s a look at the intended floorplan released by developer Midway this morning, with Rusk at the bottom of the frame:

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712 + 708
04/07/16 10:45am

Former Houston Chronicle Building, 801 Texas Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

A line of orange plastic barricades is now artfully wrapped around the base of the former Houston Chronicle headquarters at 801 Texas Ave., as is some construction fencing. Hines purchased the property last fall and is preparing to demolish the structure, which is actually an amalgamation of several slightly misaligned buildings wrapped up behind a single 1960s-or-so facade. The shot above looks down Texas Ave. from the corner with Travis St., with Calpine Center looming in the background between Milam and Louisiana.

Hines hasn’t said what it plans to do with the land in the long run, yet, and the company has other projects in progress at the moment — a block away on Main St., Hines’s 48-story 609 Main office tower is still under construction.

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Making Newspaper Building History
03/31/16 4:00pm

Dallas St. Improvements complete, Downtown, Houston, 77002

Beating the basketball crowds headed to Houston this weekend, the Downtown section of Dallas St. that’s been getting done over looks to be pretty much finished and ready for action. A reader took some shots looking both ways in front of the south entrance to the Four Seasons between Caroline and Austin streets — up top is the eastern view down Dallas, gazing toward the George R. Brown Convention Center and the catty-corner staredown between Hilton Americas and Embassy Suites from either side of Crawford. The new trees seem to line up with the spacing plans shown in the previously released project plans, which included knocking out a driving lane on the north side and turning it into parking (as the vehicles above are politely demonstrating).

Here’s the Four Seasons again from other direction — this time looking west toward Houston Center, with the First City Tower rising out of the frame on the right:

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Traveling Downtown
03/30/16 12:45pm

Foundation pour at 1111 Rusk St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Rendering of Houston Luxury Apartments, 1111 Rusk St., Downtown, Houston (3)

Above is the after shot of the foundation pour that wrapped up late yesterday morning behind the former Texaco building currently getting made over as The Star at 1111 Rusk St. The pour started around 10pm on Monday night, a reader reports from up above the scene, noting that crews have been laying rebar for the last few weeks. The square-ish foundation was put down on the western end of the rectangular footprint of the parking garage planned to run from Fannin to San Jacinto along Capitol St.; renderings released in 2013 show a residential highrise tower growing out of the top of that part of the structure.

Downtown Houston’s page on the project still shows a rendering that includes the tower, which was of undecided height (so long as it was at least 20 stories above the parking garage) as of 2013. The current project description makes no mention of the planned highrise, however, and the rendering of the project on designer Hnedak Bobo Group’s site, currently shows only the planned parking garage, with the parking capacity estimate bumped up to 750 spaces:

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Mat Pour On Capitol St.