10/13/16 1:00pm

CITY PLANNING APP TO REDUCE USELESS DOWNTOWN CIRCLING, $80 PARKING FEES downtown-parking-garageThe city approved $9,600 yesterday toward planning a system to help drivers (particularly out-of-towners) find parking Downtown, Dug Begley writes. The system would be designed to display prices and current space availability for 7-or-so to-be-finalized private parking vendors on a smartphone app, along with a series of electronic signs like the ones installed around the city’s airports. The city would pay for about 20 percent of the $4.1-ish million project, which would be mostly funded by federal money aimed at reducing air pollution (in this case, extra emissions from excessively long and looping parking space searches). Begley also writes that city leaders think the system could cut down on price gouging, noting that prices for recent special events, “especially near Minute Maid Park, have spiked to $80 as demand increased.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of downtown parking garage: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool

10/11/16 12:45pm

October 2016 look around Discovery Green and George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas, Downtown, Houston, 77010

Supercolumn Going Up on George R. Brown Convention Center, Downtown HoustonBob Russell sends a fresh slew of downtown updates, this time checking up on the state of the George R. Brown Convention Center area’s ongoing redo. The structure’s main entrance on Avenida De Las Americas has been getting a major facelift — the supercolumns installed last summer have since turned white, and the glassy  facade has stepped outward and dropped a few stripes, in line with the plans released previously by semi-public city branding organization Houston First:


Super Bowl Conditioning
10/03/16 5:15pm

Aris Market Square Tower, Travis and Preston Streets, Downtown Houston

Hines’s increasingly pointy 609 Main and flat-topped Chase Tower are visible to either side of the company’s Aris Market Square apartment highrise in this recent shot from Congress at Travis streets (sent in by a reader, who noted the top-out tree temporarily hoisted onto to the rooftop). Following the latest growth spurt, the tower has now gotten about as tall as it’s going to (and the newly-craneless Market Square Apartment Tower, now leasing across the eponymous Square, will always have 8 stories to lord over it). Here’s a closeup of the Aris’s Preston-facing facade, as the glass and exterior finishes start to creep up the sides:


Highrise Done Rising
09/21/16 3:30pm

MARKET SQUARE TOWER FILLING STREET-LEVEL RETAIL SLOT WITH A CVS Market Square Tower floor plan, 777 Preston St., Downtown, Houston, 77002At least a chunk of that prime ground-floor retail space at Market Square Tower is going toward a CVS Pharmacy, according to some new verbiage now up on the highrise’s website. The announcement notes that the store will carry produce, as well as CVS’s line of eat-it-from-the-box prepared food, but doesn’t say how much of the available retail space the store will be taking up, out of the 20,000-or-so sq. ft. shown as up for offer in current leasing fliers for the tower. At the moment the only other CVS inside the 45-59-10 triangle is the one by Main Street Square at the foot of 1001 McKinney, south of the Holy Cross Chapel and currently arted-up competitor Just a Dollar 19¢ & Budget Food Store. [Market Square Tower; previously on SwamplotSite plan of Market Square Tower ground floor retail space: Shelby & Estus Realty Group

09/20/16 3:15pm

SHELL’S DOWNTOWN OPERATIONS TO SHED OFFICES, SCURRY OVER TO LARGER WEST HOUSTON CAMPUSES One Shell Plaza Office Tower, 910 Louisiana St., Downtown HoustonMore than half a decade after the local fretting about it started, Shell has announced that it will leave One Shell Plaza, writes Cara Smith this morning. Moreover, the company will drop nearly all of its other Downtown holdings as well, including the previously announced removal of recently-ish acquired BG Group from BG Group Place. Smith writes that the only announced exception to the pullout is Shell’s trading group at 1000 Main; the rest of the company’s downtown workers will move by early 2017 into either the Technology Center at Hwy. 6 south of Richmond Ave. or into the company’s Woodcreek campus along I-10 (south of the Addicks reservoir). [HBJ; previously on SwamplotPhoto of One Shell Plaza: Antonio Foster-Azcunaga

09/14/16 12:45pm

The Texas Direct Auto signage outside that 80-sq.-ft. Main St. office asking Red Line rail passengers to sell their vehicles may have hit a bit of resistance, but the company is nonetheless now aiming its ad campaign even higher: The drone video above (posted yesterday) shows the roof of the company’s space-themed downtown building on Leeland St. is now fully decked out with the same all-caps appeal for car sales. As a commenter pointed out yesterday, the nearby Toyota Center also shows off a rooftop label to flying passer-bys — though the arena goes one step further and lights up at night, as well:


Direct Ask Over Downtown
08/26/16 3:30pm

ESPERSON, PENNZOIL, 712 MAIN TUNNELS TO REOPEN NEXT THURSDAY AROUND STALLED SPROUT OF CAPITOL TOWER Capitol Tower Tunnel ReopeningFrom the depths of the Esperson building, a reader sends a fresh shot of a sign announcing that tunnel connections from the building to nearby 712 Main and Pennzoil Place will be open again late next week. The phrasing implies that the connections beneath the site of Skanska’s planned-for-maybe-later Capitol Tower may not all be open by that time, but the Chase Tower (which itself connects to the lawsuit-embroiled former Houston Chronicle spot) will at least be accessible via a 712 Main detour. The tunnels beneath the former home of the previously-blown-away Houston Club building have been closed since 2014 as Skanska poured a tower foundation and built a parking garage; the company said earlier this year that it won’t be moving forward with the rest of the Capitol Tower until the market looks perkier. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: ThaChadwick

08/12/16 12:45pm

VACANT DOWNTOWN DAYS INN TO GET A TOTAL FACELIFT, BECOME WHATEVER HOTEL IT’S BECOMING 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy., Downtown, Houston, 77002SFK Development’s Nadeem Nasir tells Craig Hlavaty that the owners of the long-vacant hotel highrise at 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy. are, in fact, currently “in the process of rehabbing the building,” though they’re still “waiting to get on the same page as a hotel franchise.” Hlavaty writes this morning that the group won’t answer questions about which hotel franchise that might be, but that the structure will be getting a full strip-down and facial reconstruction as part of the process (in the face of a minimum $25-million cost to tear the structure down and build new). Swamplot’s reader on the scene sends fresh word from a worker earlier this week that the site may become a Sheraton — a story which matches up with a few previous rumors — but no official nods or confirmation have come from either the owners or the hotel chain. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy.: Garrett Robles

08/11/16 1:45pm

The Cheese Course, 1001 McKinney St., Downtown Tunnel System, Houston, 77002 The Cheese Course, 1001 McKinney St., Downtown Tunnel System, Houston, 77002Swamplot’s anonymous tunnel correspondent sends another dispatch from beneath the former City National Bank building at 1001 McKinney: chain cheesemonger The Cheese Course Bistro & Cheese Market is now open in the nook formerly employed as one of Subway’s more literal Houston locations. Following a spot in Boulder, CO, and another in The Woodlands, the Houston shop makes for chain’s 3rd foray beyond its native Florida.

The basement space doesn’t look to be offering wine pairings like many of the chain’s stores do, perhaps in connection to the shop’s pre-5-o’clock hours of operations; the store will open for breakfast at 7 am and close at 4. Here’s a look around the shop’s interior seating arrangements, allowing cheese-nibblers to see and be seen by the tunnel lobby set:

Underground Cheese Storage
08/10/16 1:30pm

801 Saint Joseph Pkwy., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Is this time the charm for the long-vacant all-but-freeway-side former hotel at 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy., on at least its 3rd round of intended redevelopers since it was vacated in 1998? The building began its career in the early 1970s as a Holiday Inn, later becoming a Days Inn before being turned into Heaven on Earth hotel by a group founded by embraced-then-renounced Beatles spiritual advisor Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That group eventually shut down their increasingly dilapidated hotel and turned the place into a Vedic school before code violations forced the structure’s not-just-for-summer vacation; the spot has been courted by fickle would-be-remodelers on and off ever since.

But some work permits have been issued this year to the most recent owner, SFK Development, which bought the site in late 2012 per county records, and Catie Dixon reported last fall that the building will be turned into a Sheraton (an assertion backed up by some more recent tidbits from the structural scrutinizers over at HAIF). Meanwhile, reader Garrett Robles reports that the site is now the most active he’s seen it in 5 years of wandering around the area. Robles sends this set of recent photos peering at, around, and into the ground floor of the structure:


Rebuilding Heaven on Earth
08/08/16 3:45pm

Empty 706 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Once again, 706 Main St. is clearing out — here’s a shot of the freshly unwrapped restaurant space in the base of the Great Jones Building. The light-rail-side storefront just south of Capitol St. was taken over in 2014 by Bombay Indian Grill (not to be confused with the nearby Bombay Pizza Co. 2 blocks to the south) in the wake of a string of restaurant turnovers averaging less than 2 years apiece of tenure.

A reader spotted someone boxing up the leftovers early last week, and sent the photo above this afternoon showing the space sans signage. The restaurant was previously marked in place in April floor plans from Midway, which is currently remodeling and repackaging the Great Jones Building together with the former Gulf Oil building as The Jones on Main:


Still Jonesing Downtown
08/04/16 4:30pm

THE ODDS ON A PIERCE ELEVATED COMEDOWN Map of Proposed I-45 Rerouting, Downtown HoustonWriting in the latest issue of Texas Architect magazine — which is now debuting a redone website with a new web address and a new all-articles-are-now free policy — Ben Koush surveys the prospects for the raised section of I-45 now dividing Midtown from Downtown: “While there have been some plans floated around to convert the decommissioned section of the Pierce Elevated into Houston’s version of the Highline, most people I spoke with didn’t think that was going to happen, simply because TxDOT needs the money it could get from selling that right of way to private developers. Some still hold out hope that at least some of the land or maybe even a small section of the elevated roadway could be made into a public green space.” [Texas Architect; previously on SwamplotPlan of “currently approved scheme” for I-45 rerouting around downtown, showing possible green space: SWA Group

07/28/16 11:15am

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

No wrecking balls are swinging this morning at 801 Texas, but a reader notes that some of the glass panels of the southern facade are being draped in long swaths of black material, while others have already been removed. What about that lawsuit over tunnel rights that forced developer Hines not to demolish the building back in April? Documents filed with the district clerk’s office show that plaintiff Theatre Square did get the court to issue a temporary stop on any work “demolishing, damaging, interfering with, filling in, impacting or otherwise physically impairing” that particular piece of the former Chronicle building’s basement (which Theater Square wants for the purpose of building a tunnel system connection to its own property across Prairie St.) The court chose to modify that order in mid July, however, to clarify that Hines can demolish, damage, interfere with, fill in, impact or impair the section in ways that are reasonably necessary to design and build a new building on the site.


Coming Apart At The Seams
07/27/16 4:30pm

Market Square Tower construction, 777 Preston St., Downtown, Houston, 77002Market Square Tower construction, 777 Preston St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The spindly yellow crane that has been dangling over the top of Woodbranch Investment’s Market Square Tower is coming down in pieces this afternoon, notes a downtown reader. The shot above shows the scene from the corner of Prairie and Travis streets, with the top edge of the still-standing-by-court-order former Houston Chronicle building sticking in from the left.

The 463-unit tower has been leasing spaces since April, with plans to open this fall. There’s still work to do on the building before then, though the support for the glass-bottom cantilevered rooftop pool that will hang some 500 feet above Preston looks to be in place. Here’s Jackson & Ryan’s rendering of what the space will look like once the water has been added:


Coming Down Downtown
07/26/16 1:00pm

Former Barbara Jordan Post Office, 401 Franklin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Barbara Jordan Post Office, 401 Franklin St., Downtown HoustonThe former Barbara Jordan Post Office campus at 401 Franklin St. is on its way toward a new career (as highlighted by yesterday’s news that trippy music and art festival Day for Night will be hosted on the property this year). The new stage name for the 16-acre planned mixed-use space near Buffalo Bayou isn’t quite set yet — PaperCity says that Lovett has been calling the property Central Post, but an active Facebook account using the name Post HTX (and staking claim to the 401 Franklin address) has been posting photos of the inside and promising updates on progress at the site.

Demo permits for some interior walls were issued back in October after the property’s summertime sale last year. Those concrete fins on the outside of the post office’s Franklin-facing midrise section are creating the stripy light pattern visible in the interior shot up top; here’s more of Post HTX’s photos of the building, pre-redo:


Franklin St. Remake