10/09/17 4:30pm

Here’s the backside of the 12-story former KBR office building that Midway has for the last week lit up with a new message in hopes of signaling to Amazon and avian passers-by that it buys into the concept underlying many of Jeff Bezos’s business decisions. Also: That the surrounding 150-acre property on the north side of Buffalo Bayou east of Downtown Houston that the company has renamed East River would make a fine second headquarters campus for the online and offline retailer. Day 1 is the name assigned successively to 3 different Amazon buildings in Seattle, the latest a new 37-story downtown tower that itself features a lit-up sign on its lower floors that reads HELLO WORLD. Day 1 is also a common catchphrase in the company, a reminder to itself, among other things, to focus on outcomes rather than process and to make decisions quickly, even if you have less information available than you’d like.

Day 1 for this Houston sign was October 2nd. As a reader reported last week, since then the vacant building has been sporting the company’s NASDAQ ticker symbol on the opposite side to match:

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Day 1 on Clinton Dr.
10/06/17 1:00pm

The tallest of the 5 vacant structures remaining in the 136-acre former KBR campus fronting Buffalo Bayou east of Downtown that new owner Midway has dubbed East River has been sporting a new night-time look as of this week. The lights in the photo above, taken last night by a reader, spell out the NASDAQ ticker symbol of Amazon — which has announced a nationwide search for a second headquarters campus.

Previously, the lights in the 12-story office building at 4100 Clinton Dr. in the Fifth Ward had been tuned to HTX:

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Hey Lookie Here!
06/22/17 11:00am

A congregation of relocated trees — many of which have been plucked out of the way of the bus lane work going on along Post Oak Blvd. in Uptown right now — was spotted this week by a Fifth Ward resident checking out the former KBR site along Clinton Dr. CityCentre developer Midway is gearing up the process of rebranding its new old campus along the industrial stretch of Buffalo Bayou as East River; early marketing materials now floating around say they’ve collected some 300 trees from the Uptown work and are saving them for later redeployment in and around the 136-acre development, as part of parks and streetscaping.

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Save the Trees for Later
03/01/17 1:30pm

Texas RRC Map of oil wells around Pierce Junction

Update, 6pm: UT announced this afternoon that the Houston campus plans are cancelled — more here.

UT system chancellor Bill McRaven objected in letter form this month to senator and Astrodome scrutinizer John Whitmire’s characterization of the 300 acres UT’s been buying in Houston as “a dump,” the Austin American Statesman’s Ralph K.M. Haurwitz reports. Excerpts from the letter assert that the property, nestled amid the industrial-residential jumble south of the Astrodome, has never in fact been a landfill. Sure, there’s a little bit of contamination from an old polymer facility that needs to be mopped up.  And sure, there may be a healthy smattering of old oil wells from the Pierce Junction boom days, as illustrated by the Rail Road Commission’s map of current and former wells drilled in the area. (UT’s new parcels are just inside the crook of the Holmes Rd.-S. Main St. elbow, to the northwest of the ring of wells drilled around the salt dome’s buried upper reaches.)

But Whitmire’s comments, McRaven’s letter notes, might “lead a listener to conclude that the property and the surrounding area are blighted and unlikely to ever be developed. In fact, the property is adjacent to apartments, neighborhoods, and commercial buildings, and it is highly likely that these adjacent developed lands had similar characteristics.” Meanwhile, the Wildcat Golf Course directly across Holmes Rd. from UT’s campus-to-be actually was a bona fide landfill; the only giveaway is all those rolling hills.

Image: Texas RRC Public GIS Viewer

What Lies Beneath
01/10/17 2:45pm

Tarkett Site, Katyville, Houston, 77007
Tarkett Site, Katyville, Houston, 77007This afternoon a wall of orange and white barricades along the edge of the Heights hike & bike trail just south of I-10 is hemming in the construction equipment recently migrated onto Tarkett’s former Texas Tile Manufacturing warehouse site. Permits for some earthmoving on the former industrial side were issued just before the close of the year under the name Lower Heights District, and the Katyville property showed up on last week’s city planning commission agenda for some preliminary approvals and flood-potential scrutiny. No official word yet whether the site’s owner’s previous mention of stacked big box possibilities is still on the table.

Reader and tower scrutinizer Lucky Gutierrez also took a closer look at the oil derrick hanging around next to the site, on the edge of the bike trail:

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Grading Katyville Heights
11/08/16 1:30pm

Hardy Yards, Near Northside, Houston, 77026

Not many signs of the buildings yet — but Chris Andrews notes the new benches, sidewalks, and railyard-themed signage recently installed in the formerly-a-railyard Hardy Yards site, along some initial roadways laid out for that planned mixed-use redevelopment complex. The signage above, complete with what appear to be segments of decorative rail track, is at the corner of now-extended Chapman and Leona streets.  Here’s a look at a new industrial-chic bike rack installed nearby, with a bonus glimpse of a few of the warehouses along parallel-ish Burnett St. visible to the north:

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Tracking Near Northside
07/07/16 2:30pm

MIDWAY: GIANT FIFTH WARD KBR SITE WON’T BE CALLED NORTHBANK BUFFALO BAYOU, BUT SOMETHING ELSE MIGHT Former KBR Campus, 4100 Clinton Dr., Fifth Ward, HoustonA representative from Midway tells Swamplot that, while the company has been working on a trademark for the name Northbank Buffalo Bayou, it won’t be used for whatever the company is planning for the 136-acre former KBR site in Fifth Ward (which was recently bought by a Midway affiliate). The name is actually connected to another project floating around on the company’s drawing board — no confirmation yet as to exactly where that development might be located, if it comes to be, but the north bank of Buffalo Bayou seems like a reasonable guess. Wherever the moniker is applied, the US Patent and Trademark Office lists the name as intended for use related to both commercial and residential real estate marketing and construction. Also on the list of things the brand could be used for: wine and food tastings, and presenting live musical performances. [Previously on Swamplot] Listing photo of KBR site: LoopNet

07/05/16 10:00am

Former KBR Campus, 4100 Clinton Dr., Fifth Ward, Houston

Whatever’s in store for the 136-acre former KBR site along the the Ship Channel at 4100 Clinton Dr., CityCentre developer Midway now looks to be involved. Documents filed with the county clerk’s office near the end of May reveal that Cathexis Holdings recently sold the site to KBRN, an entity connected to Midway through a recently minted corporate partnership (and officially located down the hall from Midway’s CityCentre office.)

And might Midway — which also heads the team that turned failed Downtown Mall Houston Pavilions into GreenStreet, and is developing the Kirby Grove park-and-office-building complex along the banks of the Southwest Fwy. in Upper Kirby — have some big office-shopping-residential-and-park-y plans in mind for this vast property, which lies about a mile and a half downstream from Downtown? A couple of clues are out there:

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Sold on the Ship Channel
05/05/16 2:30pm

WHERE THE HECK IS HOUSTON’S BIOTECH BOOM? TMC Commons Parking Garage, 6550 Bertner Ave, Houston, TX 77030Almost $3 billion in new construction projects are underway in the Texas Medical Center, says Roxanna Asgarian in last month’s Houstonia. The district is known as the world’s largest cluster of medical practice and research facilities — but “what the TMC is not known for,” writes Asgarian, “is turning that research into new drugs and devices . . . The situation is, in many respects, baffling. All the major building blocks for a thriving biotech industry exist here, including huge clinical and research institutions, world-renowned physicians and researchers, highly skilled engineers, and a bustling business community. So what’s missing?” [Houstonia] Photo of Texas Medical Center Commons parking garage at 6550 Bertner Ave.: Texas Medical Center

04/20/16 3:45pm

Sims Metal Management Proler Southwest Scrap Recycling Facility, 90 Hirsch Rd, Galena Park, Houston, 77052

Bryan Parras snagged some after-shots of Buffalo Bayou’s up-and-down number near Tony Marron Park just east of Hirsch Rd. this week, as the rain let up on Monday afternoon and again yesterday morning. Across the channel on the north bank is the Sims Metal Management’s Proler Southwest recycling facility, whose scrap piles shown above were still soaking their toes beneath the freshly-elevated water line at the time of the Monday photos.

Below is a view of both the park’s trails and the Sims facility, looking east from the Hirsch bridge across the bayou’s confluence with somewhat-redecorated Japhet Creek from the north:

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Piled High in Fifth Ward
03/04/16 10:30am

hell-or-high-water-screenshot

Predicted Before and After Flood Map, 500 Year Flood Event

That’s Galveston Island going for a dip in the before-and-after captures above, from a set of interactive timelapse maps released by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica yesterday (along with several articles by authors Kiah Collier and Neena Satija). The new maps model flooding across the Houston region during Hurricane Ike — as well as what would have happened if Ike had actually hit just south of Houston, as meteorologists initially expected.

The maps are your chance to relive an old disaster, or to see how many of your neighbors you can take out with a hypothetical-but-not-unrealistic future storm: users can pick between Ike, south-er Ike, a storm 15% stronger than Ike (nicknamed Mighty Ike), and a modeled 500-year storm (which the article suggests may actually be a concern on the every-few-decades-or-so level; ‘500-year’ has always meant ‘a low probability in any year’, and climate change is shaking up old modeling assumptions). The graphics also include a few dramatic face-offs:  Mighty Ike and the 500-year storm VS. 2 of the miles-long multi-billion-dollar coastal protection projects being studied for the upper Texas coast.

You can even search for your home address in the map system to see what flood levels might look like in your own back yard. Here’s what the maps show happening to the Clear Lake, Seabrook, and League City areas at the peak of the 500-year storm model’s storm surge, which the article says is a “not if, but when” event:

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Hell and High Water
06/11/15 1:00pm

broadstone-tinsley-park-aerial

Former Brownfield Site at 801 and 1701 Gillette St., Fourth Ward, HoustonThe complicated transaction that allowed the city to sell the 10.52-acre brownfield site along Allen Parkway between the Federal Reserve building and Allen Parkway Village to an apartment developer was concluded in late April, the Houston Business Journal‘s Paul Takahashi reports. Alliance Residential paid $39.9 million for the property along Gillette St., where the city began operating a solid waste incinerator in the 1920s and later converted the site for use as its fleet maintenance facility. The company immediately sold the northern 6 acres to an unnamed private investor; Alliance now plans to build a 365-unit apartment complex on the southern half of the property, fronting Gillette and West Dallas St.

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Fourth Ward
03/27/14 11:00am

Phosphogypsum Hill Near South Phosphogypsum Stack Complex, Pasadena, Texas

Cite magazine editor Raj Mankad leads readers on a brief photo tour of “one of the most mind-boggling sites in the Houston area.” Hills, in Pasadena! “Many of the slopes are planted with grass,” he writes. “On one visit several years ago, I saw a horse grazing at the base of one. If I squinted, I could imagine myself in Montana, if not the Alps.

Better than a waiting-for-snow ski resort, though, these landforms north of Hwy. 225 inside Beltway 8 east of Red Bluff Rd. on the south side of the Houston Ship Channel are made of phosphogypsum. Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of the production of phosphate fertilizers, which took place on the site between 1960 and 2011, under the successive stewardship of a series of companies including ExxonMobil and Agrifos. Why was all this gypsum kept in mountainous piles instead of stuffed into wallboards or something? Well, the EPA doesn’t allow that if the material is too radioactive, which phosphogypsum generally is. So the glowy stuff has to be stored somewhere.

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There’s Glow in Them Thar Hills