05/21/18 4:30pm

Remember that North Canal that showed up in Plan Downtown’s maps and drawing last year and included a island in Buffalo Bayou? Well, TxDOT’s latest schematics for its planned I-45 reroute include a bypass and island as well — but in an entirely different location. The highway agency’s map above — with west facing up — indicates a new waterway draining into Buffalo Bayou right underneath the section of I-45 it plans to build in place of a portion of the Houston Housing Authority’s Clayton Homes neighborhood. How the canal gets there is obscured, but a straight course northwest appears to shoot the gap between 2 planned detention ponds and cross under the existing section of 59 (shaded gray), before linking up with the bayou again east of Elysian St. Marooned on TxDOT’s version of the make-believe, bayou-banked island the canal would create: a few of the houses in Clayton Homes.

As TxDOT’s caption makes clear, it’d be up to someone else to actually build the waterway. Doing so wouldn’t preclude the previously proposed North Canal from being dug further upstream. Plan Downtown’s less technical map at top shows that waterway beginning at White Oak Bayou and emptying into a bend of Buffalo Bayou just west of Elysian. In doing so, its course creates an exclusive new landmass home to the Harris County jail.

Road map: TxDOT. Downtown map: Plan Downtown

Offshored
05/14/18 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BLAME IT ON THE TUNNELS “If you’ll forgive a play on words, the tunnel system is undermining Downtown’s bid to become a livable, walkable destination. The restaurants and businesses that occupy the tunnels skim the cream of the workforce during business hours on weekdays, then are sealed off from the public on evenings and weekends. Given the price of real estate and rents downtown, and that street level businesses have to survive on the evening and weekend trade to [stay in business], and the fact that so many buildings are inhospitable to pedestrians (many have only two street level entrances on an entire block) — retrofitting Downtown into a livable space is not going to be easy. There are exceptions: Market Square and stretches of Main Street. But for the most part, that which has already been built is an impediment to filling this donut hole.” [Big Tex, commenting on Comment of the Day Runner-Up: The Hole in the Donut] Photo of Lamar Tunnel: Swamplox inbox

05/11/18 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: THE HOLE IN THE DONUT “I enjoy living downtown to be close to events, bars and work. But it is a major pain to not have a decent full-service grocery in walking distance. And all of the fast casual restaurants are closed on the weekends. And we desperately need something like a CityTarget or Walmart Neighborhood Market to get random everyday items. Spend all this money to be close to everything but still have to leave Downtown to do most shopping.” [JasperRasper18, commenting on Latest Downtown Houston Headcount; A Restaurant and Juice Bar for Houston’s First Whole Foods 365] Photo of Main St. at Commerce St.: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool

05/10/18 3:30pm

The Downtown Redevelopment Authority is kicking off the engineering phase of its project to run a 2-way bike path along the east side of Bagby St. The new thoroughfare — to be designed by engineering firm Jones Carter — would begin more precisely on W. Dallas St. by the Allen Center parking garages off I-45, then cross Clay St. and hug the curve shown distantly in the rendering above before heading 2 thirds of a mile north up Bagby past 4 adjacent parks. Also on the route: the Houston Public Library, City Hall (shown fronting McKinney in the view at top), the Hobby Center, and Bayou Place.

After crossing Buffalo Bayou, the path would make a right turn and continue east on Franklin St. Following one more right, it comes to an end on Congress, at an elevated drop-off point above the Buffalo Bayou bike trail that crosses through Sesquicentennial Park:

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Bayou Biking Connection
05/04/18 2:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DOWNTOWN APARTMENTS THAT RAN IN MY FAMILY “My uncle, J. Holly Brewer, bought the Plaza Court and Peacock apartments sometime about 1942. It was managed by his mother, Kate Lillian Brewer, and my mother, Edith Fox Bannerman, until J. Holly Brewer and my father, James Knox Bannerman, returned from service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. J. Holly Brewer then operated the apartments alone until his death in 1984. Edith Fox Bannerman and her sister, Frances Marion Marchiando, then inherited the property and jointly managed it. After Mrs. Marchiando passed away her son, Michael Marchiando, jointly managed the buildings with mom until 1995. At that point I, James Knox Bannerman II, and my mother, Edith Bannerman, shared the management of the buildings until we sold them in 2014. I felt it was time to sell them as [my] mother was 97-years young. Mother did not speak to me for a week after the sale. When she did speak her first sentence was, ‘You took my job away.’ Go figure. She is amazing. She drove the Houston freeways until she was 93 with never a citation or accident. Mom is 100 now and occasionally we drive her to visit some of the long-term tenants. These buildings have many stories to tell. I am delighted to see they are to be updated and preserved.” [James Knox Bannerman II, commenting on The Changes Coming to the Pre-War Peacock & Plaza Apartment Complex Downtown] Photo of apartment courtyard: LoopNet

05/03/18 2:45pm

THE CHANGES COMING TO THE PRE-WAR PEACOCK & PLAZA APARTMENT COMPLEX DOWNTOWN The new owner of the Peacock & Plaza Apartments at 1414 Austin St. — a 2-building, 32-unit complex that sports a colorfully feathered mosaic a block west of the Toyota Center — tells Swamplot what’s in store for a portion of the property: “We plan to heavily upgrade each unit in one of the two buildings. New plumbing, electrical, upgrade of HVAC systems, all new kitchens, appliance, bathroom.” In the other building: “We’ll clean the units up but we’re going to try to leave it somewhat original,” says the representative of the buyer, Fat Property. Before Colorado-based FVMHP took over the complex in 2014, it had been owned by the same woman for 80 years, according to the current buyer. Designed by Houston architect Lenard Gabert, its first building went up in 1926; the second followed 14 years later. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Fat Property

04/27/18 2:00pm

INDICTMENTS BRING LE MERIDIEN HOTEL RENNOVATOR’S INTERSTATE KICKBACK SCHEME TO LIGHT A construction boss who oversaw work to turn the Melrose Building on the corner of Walker and San Jacinto into the new-ish Le Meridien Hotel has been indicted for his role in a scam to embezzle $3.4 million from his employer — The Beck Group — during its renovation of the structure. “[Moses] Said was picked to manage construction at the Le Meridien Hotel from 2016 to 2017,” reports the Chronicle‘s Gabrielle Banks. “Prosecutors say he turned in fake invoices he had signed off on asking the Beck Group to pay for services that were never provided. After the fake contractors received money from Said, they kicked back some of the illegal proceeds to Said, according to court documents.” Also named in the indictment: 8 co-conspirators across multiple states who worked with Said as part of the scheme. The 225-room hotel opened in late 2017 after roughly 2 years of work. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Le Meridien Hotel: apvossos

04/26/18 4:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: MY SUITE CHILDHOOD YEARS IN A DOWNTOWN HOUSTON HOTEL “My dad was the innkeeper when the Holiday Inn opened, and we lived in the building for a couple of years. It was quite a place — with the Orbit Lounge, one of A. J. Foyt’s Indy cars in the lobby, and so on. But its day has passed.” [Patrick, commenting on Downtown Houston’s Foremost Abandoned Building Now Listed for Sale]

04/25/18 2:45pm

The Holiday-Inn-turned-Days-Inn-turned-Heaven-on-Earth-Hotel at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. has now been posted to CoStar by commercial broker CBRE following a 2-week period of higher-than-usual on-site cleanup activity. Crews removed debris from its garage and pool late last week; and just yesterday, 2 workers scaled nearly all 31 stories of its western face to take down the semicircular light box of the Days Inn sign that once hung near the top of it (see photo above).

The seller, SFK Development, bought the property in 2012 — becoming the building’s third owner in its post-Maharishi era. (The building — which for a time was home to a Vedic school run by the former Beatles spiritual advisor — was shut down by the city in 1998.) Since then, it has been fertile ground for numerous urban explorers, as well as the imagination of several would-be redevelopers.

The sale listing includes images of possible makeovers:

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Heaven On Earth Up for Grabs
04/23/18 12:00pm

Mayor Turner announced last Thursday that 115,000 storm drains would be put up for adoption as part of the city’s new Adopt-A-Drain program — already 5 have been claimed downtown by members of the public. (One of them — dubbed the “Director’s Drain” — is cared for by public works director Carol Haddock, reports the Chronicle’s Mike Morris.) The custodians Houston really wants to engage? “Schools,” as well as, “individuals, families, youth organizations, businesses (large and small), civic and non-profit organizations, fraternities, [and] sororities,” according to the website set up for the program. There, prospective adopters can view an interactive version of the map above showing what drains are and aren’t yet spoken for, as well as claim their own.

Then comes the responsibility: “Turner wants Houstonians to clear their drains at least four times a year, particularly when rain is in the forecast,” writes Morris. Although, the city adds, they should: “stop working and call the city’s 311 helpline if they encounter needles, construction debris, animals, firearms or chemicals.

Map: Adopt-A-Drain Houston

Adopt-A-Drain
04/20/18 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FROM THE DOWNTOWN DAYS INN WATCH TEAM “Before I left work, a guy was at the very top pulling a long rope he had tied to a wooden structure hanging on the corner of the building. It looks like a homemade trebuchet. I’ll keep posting updates if anything major happens; hell, it’s in my sight line all day.” [Kim, commenting on Cleanup Crews Now Polishing Downtown Houston’s Most Famous Abandoned Building] Photo of former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy.: Guy Mahaffey

04/20/18 11:00am

SHUTTERED LANCASTER HOTEL’S POST-HARVEY REDO HAS BEGUN The latest purchasers of the recently-renovated Lancaster Hotel hotel at 701 Texas Ave. had only owned it for about 2 months before 2 ft. of water entered its lobby — and 12 its basement — during Harvey, reports the HBJ’s Cara Smith. Its last redo in 2013 was along the same lines (“significant alterations to the lobby, guest rooms, suites and meeting spaces,” the HBJ wrote then) as what Magnolia Lodging has planned for it now: “a redesigned lobby, guest rooms, a new restaurant and bar, an indoor mezzanine, an espresso bar and a new cardio fitness studio.” The 92-year-old structure has been shuttered since the storm, leaving its 12 stories and adjacent parking lot (where 2 buildings were demolished on Louisiana in 2016) unoccupied. [HBJ ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: Jay H.

04/19/18 11:30am

CLEANUP CREWS NOW POLISHING DOWNTOWN HOUSTON’S MOST FAMOUS ABANDONED BUILDING A reader in the KBR Tower 2 blocks east of the former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. reports sightings of several different crews that have appeared outside the north face of the hotel within the past week. A pair of crane trucks have been parked at the foot of the hotel’s garage, and a swing-stage scaffold is hanging near the top of the podium. Also noted: Workers have cleared out debris from inside the garage, and accumulated trash has been removed from the pool of the 31-story hotel-turned-Vedic-school. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Kimberly Knight

04/04/18 4:00pm

Exterior renovations are nearly complete on the 39,213-sq.-ft. building Houston’s First Baptist Church took over from a local branch of the Communication Workers of America on the corner of Jefferson and Chenevert last year. The new location is number 4 for the church — existing worship centers include the flagship spot on the Katy Fwy. just outside 610, as well as other sites in Cypress and Missouri City.

Crews began whitewashing the brick walls adjacent to the curved entrance drive along the building in January:

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Downtown Christening
03/23/18 12:45pm

Workers are now applying paint to the 5-level garage stump of the former Americana building at 811 Dallas St. Over the last year, the 10-story office tower that sat atop the southern half of the garage was removed.

9-in. aluminum louvers were added to the portion of the parking podium pictured above on the corner of Dallas and Travis streets during a renovation in 2000. That exterior layer was stripped off as part of the recent work on the building, however, exposing the original clay block surface underneath.

30,000-or-so-sq.-ft. of ground-floor retail are also receiving touch-ups as part of the current work on the property.

Photos: Drew (parking garage); Boxer Property (Americana)

Clay Tile Refresh