A couple of simulatedfly-overs of a portion of a revamped Allen Pkwy., put together by consulting engineering firm Walter P Moore, show how the signature River Oaks-to-Downtown sorta-highway will look after a park-centered makeover is completed next summer. The projected $10 million redo partially answers the question popping up in many people’s minds after seeing all the new trails and structures and amenities and dogs going in along the bayou it lines: How are car-bound Houstonians supposed to get to the new Buffalo Bayou Park?
Part of the answer, of course, is by using 175 new angled parking spaces, most of them lining a new separate parking access lane lining the north side of Allen Pkwy. between Rochow St. and Eleanor Tinsley Park. As the video above (showing the journey eastbound from Montrose Blvd. to Park Vista Dr.) indicates, if you’re headed into Downtown, you’ll need to turn around and head in the opposite direction somewhere to park in one of them. Here’s a video view of the journey westward from Park Vista (across from Eleanor Tinsley Park) back to Montrose Blvd., along which the spots are angled for easy entry:
DISTRIBUTING DISASTER RELIEF FUNDS THROUGH TIRZ A reader has a question about a particular Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone in Houston: “In this example scenario, the city of Houston is giving [Hurricane Ike] money to a developer for infrastructure improvements on their lot (located in a TIRZ) but the requirement is that the developer must build some affordable homes on that lot.
The twist to this is that the city would give the developer money, but only if it is given through the TIRZ. Speaking with the TIRZ board, they said that they plan to distribute that money around the entire TIRZ and not just to that single development. This of course has the neighboring residents and the developer worried about how the funds will be given.
Is this the normal process for distributing Ike funding? And can a TIRZ take money away from the developing area?” Map of area Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones: City of Houston
The conquest of a long strip of land between Travis and Main known as the Midtown Superblock was completed last month, Shaina Zucker reports in today’s Houston Business Journal. The strip center at the corner of Travis and Anita once known as Liberty Square, and more recently for tenants Escobar and the Thien An sandwich shop, was sold to the Midtown Redevelopment Authority in September. Escobar, Thien An, and a second nightclub in the building will have until the end of the year to scram. The TIRZ plans to swap the land under the strip center with Camden Property Trust, in return for a couple of properties at the northern end of the same superblock.
That’ll give the Midtown authority a tiny bit less than 3 acres of land facing McGowen St., leaving Camden with the superblock’s slightly larger southern portion. The organization plans to build a park on its end — but one that includes 8,500 sq. ft. of retail space and 250 underground parking spaces, according to Zucker:
Friday is the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Fourth Ward’s new Bethel Church Park — though an eagle-eyed Swamplot reader noted workers from contractor JE Dunn getting a jump on things at the site of the former Bethel Missionary Baptist Church at Andrews St. and Crosby earlier this month. The Freedman’s Town church in the shadows of Downtown, portions of which date from 1923, was largely destroyed by fire in January 2005 after several years of sitting vacant. Its shored-up walls have stood mostly undisturbed since then.
A 20-or-so-acre piece of the 104-acre part-time parking lot across the South Loop from Reliant Park formerly known as AstroWorld has traded hands, a developer tells HBJ reporter Jennifer Dawson. But the buyer hasn’t identified itself, and Dawson couldn’t get any of the parties involved to tell her who it is (Dawson says she spoke to 15 people to report her story). Who owns the remaining 80 or so acres of the giant parcel on the south side of the South Loop, between Kirby and Fannin, at the end of the rail line? At last report, a partnership controlled by Fort Worth’s Mallick Group, who bought it in 2010 for $10 cash — and a willingness to assume the previous owner’s $74 million loan.
But a consultant who claims to be involved in redevelopment efforts on the property would only refer to the owner of the main portion of the vacant lot as “an out-of-state land investor” — who has now, she says, created a master plan for the site. Heather Schueppert tells Dawson that details of a proposed mixed-use project — probably combining office, retail, medical and hospitality components — will be revealed quietly in the next couple of months, but won’t be unveiled to the general public for at least a year.
DECODING THE CODE BUILDING SALE City council today approved the sale of Houston’s code enforcement building at 3300 Main St. to the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, for $5 million. The 57,899 sq.-ft. structure and parking garage on a full Midtown block, which also houses the city’s Green Building Resource Center, received several sealed private-sector bids before the February 17th due date. Last week, Mayor Parker declared that the Midtown TIRZ had submitted the high bid, but 2 council members disputed that, claiming the group hadn’t submitted a bid for the property at all. (One of them, Anne Clutterbuck, was the lone dissenter in today’s vote.) Chronicle reporter Chris Moran hasn’t been able to get a straight answer yet, but interprets a staff report to mean that the TIRZ did not submit a formal bid — the city simply determined a purchase from the government entity would be “the most advantageous.” What’s all the fuss? “The city built the sale of 3300 Main into its FY 11 budget, and it is now depending on that sale to help it bridge a $21 million projected budget shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30. There is still no information on what the Authority might do with the property, which remains off the tax rolls as long as it is owned by a public entity.” [Houston Politics]
An effort led by former Houston mayor Lee P. Brown to recruit wealthy Chinese investors for a proposed 1000-room East Downtown hotel project on the opposite side of the 59 freeway from the George R. Brown convention center appears to be picking up steam. Brown is listed as chairman of the managing general partner of the project, a company named Global Century Development. Brown and Global Century’s president, Dan Nip, hope to raise money for the $225 million project from investors who want to immigrate to the U.S. through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 Visa program. That program, established as a result of the Immigration Act of 1990, allows foreign nationals to obtain a green card by investing a minimum of $500,000 — and thereby create 10 or more jobs — in qualified areas with high unemployment rates. An East Downtown investment zone identified by Global Century Development in the area bounded by Preston St., the 59 Freeway, I-45, and Dowling is the only area in Houston that qualifies as a “regional center” under the program.
A Powerpoint presentation prepared by Global Century Development that appears to date from last year sites the proposed hotel on three adjacent blocks near Saint Emanuel and Polk St. But a report in today’s Houston Business Journal by Jennifer Dawson indicates plans for the East Downtown hotel are focused on only 2 of those blocks, which Nip controls: They’re bounded by Polk, Saint Emanuel, Bell, and Chartres. Dawson reports that a pedestrian bridge connecting the hotel to the convention center across the freeway is being planned, but a schematic drawing of a bridge featured in the presentation appears to show it only crossing Chartres St., requiring pedestrians to cross under the freeway:
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.
Whatever obstacles were standing in the way of county commissioner El Franco Lee agreeing to Harris County participation in the East Downtown TIRZ — the last piece of the funding puzzle needed for the Houston Dynamo to get its new soccer stadium — appear to have fallen. A number of votes will need to take place before construction can start on the site bounded by Texas, Dowling, Hutchins, and Walker streets just east of Downtown. But media reports indicate the long-stalled project now has sufficient government support to move forward:
The city and county have asked the [Harris County-Houston Sports Authority] to take over lease negotiations with the Dynamo, oversee the construction project and act as property manager upon the stadium’s completion.
If the authority approves the request, City Council is expected to vote on the agreement March 31, followed by a Commissioner’s Court vote expected on April 13. If all is approved as planned, the two parties would turn the land over to the Dynamo for construction on Oct. 1, and the stadium is scheduled for completion April 1, 2012, just in time for the Dynamo season to begin.
Will the Houston Dynamo get to build their stadium in East Downtown — or off Westpark, near the Galleria? So far, the odds are . . . neither. The final go-ahead for building a soccer stadium on the EaDo site will require county commissioners to formally join the new East Downtown TIRZ (boundaries shown outlined above). But they can’t vote on that proposal until commissioner El Franco Lee puts that decision on the agenda. So far he hasn’t done that — and he apparently won’t talk to the press or constituents about his intentions.
Meanwhile, over in Bellaire, city officials are rushing to put in some “stop-gap” zoning changes to the Research and Development District at the northern edge of the city. Most of the site of Midway Companies’ proposed Dynamo Stadium development there lies within Houston city limits, but a small portion on the east side is apparentlyin Bellaire’s RDD.
What sort of zoning changes are being discussed? Instant News Bellaire‘s Angela Grant explains:
The new Comprehensive Plan envisions the RDD as a mixed-used urban area that includes residential, retail and offices, along with METRO’s future light-rail station. But as the zoning codes are currently written, developers could construct car lots, warehouses or other things that conflict with the “urban village” idea. . . .
The main change would be that developers wishing to construct residential, commercial or mixed-use buildings would need to go before the city in a planned development process to have their ideas approved before moving forward. The city would get a chance to review the plans, consider whether they conformed with the Comprehensive Plan, and reject any developments that did not.