The Austin-based developer of 3 Houston apartment communities was arrested Saturday in Virginia for his role in a failed coup of the West African nation of Gambia. According to an affidavit prepared by an FBI special agent, Cherno M. Njie provided funds for the ill-fated venture, and was to have been installed as Gambia’s president if it had been successful. Prior to the surprise military venture in his native country, the University of Texas graduate served as the tax credit manager of the Texas department of housing and community affairs, which during his tenure awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits to developers of affordable housing. Njie resigned from the agency in 2001 following the bribery conviction of a board member and founded Songhai Development, whose later contributions to the Houston landscape include the Chelsea Senior Community (pictured at the bottom of this story) and the Little York Villas apartments near Acres Homes and the Langwick Senior Residences (pictured at top) near Greenspoint. He also served as president of Songhai’s sister company, CMB Construction.
In 2011, 3.2 acres of land Njie donated next to the Langwick project at Langwick Dr. and W. Hardy Rd. were turned into a park designed for senior citizens — named Ida Gaye Gardens, after Njie’s mother. (The photo at right above, posted on Songhai’s website, shows Njie at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park with Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition’s Regina Lindsey.)
Stoked by the success of the Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park on Sabine St., the City of Houston earlier this week broke ground that’ll soon be smoothed over by 72,000 sq. ft. of concrete; the 10-acre Spring Recreational Area in Greenspoint will feature what’s being billed as the largest skate park in the U.S.
Something like the rendering above is planned for the site on Kuykendahl, just west of I-45 and north of Beltway 8. It’s projected to cost $5.5 million. That cost includes the construction of “speed hips” and “flow bowls” and “a couple of backyard-style pools,” the Greenspoint District says — things any park worth its vert ramps needs to attract national competitions.
Skateboarders will share the acreage with Dylan’s Park, a “Park Without Limits” that will include equipment and implements designed for children with disabilities. Greenspoint District says the designs are done; the whole thing’s going to be ready in Spring 2014.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HEADING FOR POINTS GREENER “Unless I’m missing something, the whole thing seems like an egregious example of waste. You build Greenspoint 30 years ago and then for various reasons it’s no longer ideal, so do you improve it? Revamp it? No, you abandon it all and clear a new forest ten miles north for your new office park. And all the smaller companies that clustered around you there do likewise. And Greenspoint with its hundreds of acres of concrete just sits there like damaged goods.
So what happens in thirty years when Springwoods Village is no longer ideal, when the new wears off? Do you improve it and make it work, or do you jump another ten miles north where there’s another waiting forest and build your new campus there?
The irony is that I’m sure these buildings will be LEED-whatever certified and Exxon will tout itself as a great steward, but any environmentalist will tell you that the real way to conserve is to adapt & reuse, not just wantonly abandon & throw away.” [Mike, commenting on The Next Springwoods Village Rumor]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT I LEARNED EARLY IN THE HOUSTON REAL ESTATE BIZ “In 1993, I was with a firm that looked at buying many of the run down apartment complexes in Greenspoint. Our intent was to renovate them, thinking that the many class A office buildings contained many potential residents. Greenspoint was an enigma: awful multi-family and beautiful office development. You don’t often see the two side by side like this. When we got into town and started touring the area, we immediately saw the two critical falacies of our plan: 1. we needed to own and renovate all of the multi-family to turn the neighborhood. One holdout property would serve as a sanctuary for all that was bad about Greenspoint. Unfortunately, not every property was available for purchase. 2. Some of the properties, in particular those developed by Fred Rizk, were functionally obsolete. For example, sliding glass doors opening directly into parking lots–no way to easily dress this up. We never spent much time on the deals after that. On a more positive note, my boss at the time corrupted my by taking me to the St. James Club, and since that time I have considered it the best strip club ever.” [LandMan, commenting on Waiting for the Renaissance: What Could $32 Million Buy at Greenspoint Mall?]
The Triyar Cannon Group has been threatening to give shopworn Greenspoint Mall a $32 million makeover since 2006. Most of what appears to be planned shows up in this knock-’em-down video: a new outdoor plaza at the mall’s east entrance, and a connected 22-story office building off Greenspoint Dr., designed by Ziegler Cooper. Just last week, demolition began on the vacant JCPenney building, site of a proposed Premiere Cinema multiplex that’s supposed to share a new parking garage with the tower. Not in the plans, but already happened anyway: the closing of Sears.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE REPORT FROM GREENSPOINT MALL “. . . A huge swath of it is basically closed (the part near Dillards)– storefronts with lots of signs letting you know they are available. There are still quite a few mall staples, as well as an unusual number of mom-and-pop operations. I was there today just after 1 pm. There were people around, including folks apparently from nearby offices doing some lunch shopping or eating in the food court. But the number of people seemed sparse.
That said, it is a long haul to any other movie theater from there, and there are a lot of people who live and work in the area. And I’m fairly sure the mall is one of the safest places around–it has a large Harris County Sheriff/HPD station in the mall! The parking lot is full of police cars.” [RWB, commenting on Before the Movies Start: What’s Eating JCPenney at the Greenspoint Mall]
A new Premiere Cinemas multiplex is now under construction at Greenspoint Mall — if, that is, you count demolition as part of the construction process. Early this morning, demolition crews began their assault on the long-vacant JCPenney building standing rudely in the way of the new theater.
The new theater is expected to be part of a $32 million facelift for the mall. The Greenspoint District Facebook page reports that the original plans for the theater called for a total of 20 screens.
“The former six-screen AMC movie theater at 1100 Greens Parkway” just north of Beltway 8 at Ella, reports Nancy Sarnoff, “is becoming convention space that will house the International Faith Based Business Expo and the Vision Changers Performing Arts Christian Center.”
Globe St.’s Amy Wolff Sorter says the buyer of the foreclosed Greenbriar Park North apartments near Greenspoint has “a strong track record” of rehabbing complexes. That should help:
Wade Schmitz with Hendricks & Partners’ Houston office tells GlobeSt.com that CNC Investments was the former owner and like many owners during the mid-2000s, had bought too much with too much debt that couldn’t be refinanced. Schmitz, who marketed the asset for Bank of America adds that the 1980s complex at 818 Richcrest Dr. attracted a great deal of interest. . . .
“There were down units that needed to be brought back online,” Schmitz says. “The property had been neglected, and needed someone to take care of it.”
How neglected? Of 400 units in the complex, only around 60 are occupied.
Don’t want to miss out on all the foreclosed-apartment-complex rehab fun? Be patient, more is coming:
Diehard Modernist architect Charles Gwathmey, dubbed one of the “New York Five” (along with Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk) in the early 1970s, passed away yesterday in Manhattan of esophageal cancer. Gwathmey, who was 71, was probably most famous for his addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, which his firm, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, completed in 1992.
Gwathmey-Siegel was no stranger to Houston. In the late seventies and early eighties, the firm designed a series of 4 spec office buildings that line the south side of this city’s North Belt, just southeast of the Greenspoint Mall.