Astros historian Mike Acosta snapped some shots today and yesterday of the newly flattened corner of Minute Maid Park’s center field, where Tal’s Hill once sloped gently upward (as showcased in the legendaryfan-on-the-field chase in the video above, from a game in 2011). The field’s lumpectomy was part of the plan that involved paring down the distance from home plate to the edge of center field from 436 feet to a still-over-minimum-requirements409 feet, and adding more seating and concessions as per the earlier renderings from 2015:
The Astros announced today that the team had received preliminary approval from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to knock down the banked bit of center field past the Minute Maid Park warning track known as Tal’s Hill. The graded area was named after the team’s former president, Tal Smith, who first suggested including an elevation change — a rarity both in baseball and in Houston — to the stadium soon to be known as Enron Field. The proposed renovations, priced at $15 million and scheduled to take place at the end of the current season, would also straighten out the center field fence and bring it in to 409 ft. from home plate (from the current 436 ft.). More important, the opened-up space beyond would allow room for 3 new bars and 4 new food-service locations, as well as a new group seating area at the field level, which conceptual renderings of the new design released by the American League team (above and below) appear to show tucked behind a new see-through portion of the centerfield fence.
Chiming in with this morning’s Demo Report, which more formally announces the departure of a couple of old single-story buildings at 607 and 609 Chenevert St., reader Jack Miller sends in this photo of the scene yesterday a couple blocks north of the George R. Brown Convention Center and immediately south of Minute Maid Park. At the far left, an excavator is seen assuring that the former Houston Professional Musicians’ Association and Houston Precious Metals buildings from 1949 will indeed get out of the way in time for the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage to be built on the site.
Is this yet another story of older Houston buildings making way for the new? Maybe, but at a larger scale, it’s partly the reverse: Two houses from 1904 and 1905 were moved onto a portion of Avenida de Las Americas glommed onto the site 3 years ago, on a spot across Texas Ave. from the ball park (behind and to the left of the camera). And the photo below includes a glimpse (on the far right) of the 1919 Southern Pacific 982 steam engine scooted out of the houses’ way and settled in along the light-rail line on Capitol St.:
Houston builders Westin Homes seems to be expanding into the luxury replica spaceship playhouse market — at least this summer, anyway, hooking up with HomeAid Houston to imagineer something like what you see here and display it this June and July at Minute Maid Park. (That’s Astros mascot Orbit peeking out, as though a tad reluctant to deboard.) Of course, the playhouse isn’t just for show: It’ll be raffled off, with proceeds going to HomeAid, and it’ll eventually find its way to someone’s backyard, where the lucky winners will enjoy its
. . . space-themed amenities such as a cockpit complete with swivel seats, ‘rocket booster’-framed windows, a 32” wall mounted LCD TV, an XBox, an MP3 player, an iPod docking station with speakers and interior detailing . . . air conditioning and electricity.
It doesn’t appear that the playhouse will be suitable for actual space travel — but there’s always next year. (As Astros fans well know.) Most recently, the nonprofit HomeAid started construction on those 8 single-mothers’ duplexes on W. Bellfort in Meyerland on St. John’s Presbyterian property.
The latest creation of Julia Gabriel, Houston’s favorite doomed-building-backpack artist, focuses on the long-vacant Ben Milam Hotel at the corner of Crawford and Texas downtown, left alone as a long-foul-ball target outside Minute Maid Park since — well, at least since the days of Enron Field. Before then, Gabriel notes, it was Houston’s first-ever fully air-conditioned hotel, the first in the city to have a TeeVee in every room, and the first to feature a rooftop swimming pool.
The artist’s rendition of a now-vanished Westheimer duplex-turned-antique store (featured on Swamplot last month) required just a single bag with straps. But to capture the ghostly spirit of the Ben Milam at 1717 Texas Ave., she needed 13 separate packs, bags, totes, and purses. Pinned to a wall, they follow the contours of a photo Gabriel snapped of the structure’s north face back in March (at top). Attached to the backs of you and your dozen-closest friends, though, who could figure out that secret history? Here’s a video of Gabriel foreshadowing the inevitable demolition of architect Joseph Finger’s 1928 creation, by showing how her own assemblage comes apart, bag by bag:
A bit more detail on those new Downtown apartments developer Marvy Finger wants to build on the site of the Ben Milam Hotel designed in 1929 by architect Joseph Finger, a block beyond the leftfield fence of Minute Maid Park. The long-vacant hotel, which sits past the foul line at the corner of Texas and Crawford, is toast, Finger tells the Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff. But the demo site will make up only a portion of the property.
What’s getting in the way of county commissioners extending the clear zone around Minute Maid Park with a much-needed 27-car county parking lot at the corner of Texas Ave. and Austin St.? Well, there was the owner of a Galena Park chemical business who shouted from the back of the room at yesterday’s commissioners court hearing that he wanted to buy the building sitting on that land — the 1923 Hogan-Allnoch Dry Goods Building at 1319 Texas Ave. — and turn it into a nutcracker factory or something. Plus, darn it, the building is getting less valuable as time goes by!
The building has gone to auction twice. In 2007, the minimum bid was set at its appraised value of $3.25 million. For a September auction, the appraised value was lowered to $1.98 million. There were no takers at either auction.
Lawrence Chapman of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance said the most recent auction used an outdated 2008 appraisal and that a new appraisal would bring in an even lower price tag that could save the four-story building from demolition.
Art Storey, the county’s public infrastructure director, estimated the building would cost $150,000 to demolish, but as much as $5 million to restore.
And so the latest delay: Commissioners voted to circle the block for another 3 months — and get another appraisal in the meantime.
Chronicle reporters say they know where the new Dynamo Stadium is going . . . and it’s on land the city itself will buy:
Earlier this week, city officials signed letters of intent to buy parcels of land just east of U.S. 59 and the downtown business district . . . City officials declined to identify the location, but a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed reports that the parcels are in a six-block area between Texas and Walker avenues and Hutchins and Dowling streets, just southeast of Minute Maid Park near the northbound side of U.S. 59.
This all sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? Within a few acres, there’ll be stadiums for three big-league sports teams, a convention center, a hotel, and a freeway overpass. Once the Dynamo stadium gets built, if this new growing complex really wants to be able to compete with Reliant Park, all they’ll have to do is wrap the whole neighborhood with a wide ribbon of surface parking lots!
A resident of the Stanford Lofts just east of Downtown writes in to make sure everyone knows, after all, that the building’s view of Minute Maid Park is not going to be obstructed by . . . a view of a new soccer stadium for the Houston Dynamo directly across the street.
No, no official deal’s been announced. But this tidbit from a Chronicle story has allowed condo owners to breathe a sigh of relief:
The Dynamo first set sights on land owned by the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority just east of Minute Maid Park and U.S. 59, but have since decided against the property, which the Astros lease for stadium parking.
“We know for a fact (the property) is no longer being considered,” said Sports Authority head Kenny Friedman, who added that the Sports Authority is not actively involved in the negotiations.
The team might be looking to purchase private land near the same general area as the county-owned property, although Luck declined to confirm or deny it, saying only that a downtown venue is still planned.
So where will the Dynamo stadium go? Keep reading below the fold:
The new stadium for the Houston Dynamo soccer team will likely be built downtown, on some surface parking lots across the highway from Minute Maid park. Negotiations between the city and the team focusing on that site are set to take place very soon. That’s big news for residents of the Stanford Lofts, until now a lonely building set a few blocks away from downtown’s hubbub. Miya Shay explains:
This is good news for sports fans, bad news for people who paid a premium for the Stanford Lofts. When those guys bought the high priced condos, they were told the parking lot in front of the lofts will NEVER be built on. Oh well, such is progress. Now, a portion of the parking lot will be used for the Dynamo stadium. No more unobstructed views of downtown!
Well, just wait until the new stadium plans are unveiled, okay? Maybe there’ll be a nice gap in the stands right at midfield, and the folks looking out their windows from the Stanford Lofts will have great views of all the games, for free. No lines at the restrooms, either.