09/13/13 2:30pm

That retail task force that Mayor Parker put together about the same time that Macy’s announced it was closing the Downtown store came through with its first report yesterday, recommending that Dallas St. between Milam and La Branch — or between the hotels on the west side of Downtown and the hotels, Discovery Green, and George R. Brown Convention Center on the east — be prettied up into a kind of retail promenade. And the task force recommends that it happen sooner rather than later, in time to capitalize on the disposable incomes of the hordes coming to town for the NCAA Final Four in 2016 and the Super Bowl in 2017.

The rendering above, included in the report, shows a Kardashian body double strolling through the intersection of Main St. and Dallas; the Sakowitz building, catty-corner across from the to-be-demolished-in-a-week Macy’s, would pair with GreenStreet to anchor the linear district and provide similar photo opportunities. It appears that the task force hopes to lure national retailers and rally existing tenants and landowers, like Hilcorp, to the cause with tax breaks and other incentives, including waiving the city ordinance requiring that signage Downtown be no taller than 42.5 ft.


07/26/13 1:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S MASTER PLANNERS “. . . I’ve talked a lot about the bad way some developers approach growth in Houston. But neighborhoods are addressing it wrong, too. They’re too reactionary. They sit around doing nothing until a developer proposes something they don’t like, then they mobilize to try to kill it. They need to ask themselves ‘what do we really want in and around our neighborhood,’ and then create master plans to communicate it. (The master plans wouldn’t be enforced — that would be zoning — but they could be used by developers to get a sense of what the neighbors would oppose.) The Super Neighborhoods were supposed to be a venue where this could happen — they were originally under the auspices of the Houston Planning Department. But I’ve found that it’s actually the Management Districts that are doing master plans. It’s great that they’re happening, but Management Districts are paid for by and primarily serve businesses; and single family neighborhoods aren’t even trying to get in on the efforts.” [ZAW, commenting on Dogging the Morrison Heights Midrise with Doggerel] Illustration: Lulu

07/15/13 1:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: HOW AND WHERE HOUSTON’S GONNA FIT ALL THOSE NEWCOMERS More density is coming to the Heights and every other Inner Loop neighborhood, because the economic factors at work are unstoppable. Barring a disaster wrecking Houston (natural or otherwise) or an economic crash, more people are coming, and lots of them will want to live near the central parts of the city. All we’re debating is how that will happen. Will needed infrastructure improvements happen? Will there be better transit? Will the density be added in a way to preserves the original neighborhood, and what does that look like? I have no problem with this kind of development along Yale or Studewood. I think an ideal outcome is main streets with good transit access and dense housing, retail, etc. with historically significant neighborhoods preserved nearby. I think what Arlington County, VA has done along these lines stands as an excellent example. And the idea that renters bring a neighborhood down is just stupid. unless your idea of a dynamic Heights is one where the average age is 50.” [John (another one), commenting on A Second Midrise Alexan Planned Right Beside the First One on Yale] Illustration: Lulu

06/06/13 10:30am

Local planning firm Asakura Robinson has released a 250-page study on the past, present, and future — as they would like to see it — of the Washington Corridor. The study seems to stem from Better Block Houston, a kind of experiment the firm performed in a vacant lot near their mural-stained offices on Washington and Silver: The street was transformed into a pop-up plaza: Food trucks rolled in, bike repair stations set up, and local retailers spread out. The study imagines this kind of pedestrian life happening along the entire length of Washington, from Westcott to I-45 and between I-10 and Buffalo Bayou.


05/21/13 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BRING IT ON “As we all learned from the Ashby debacle, anyone who lives within a 2 mile radius of a proposed project has the right to go all NIMBY on it. Well, I live within a 2 mile radius of this project, and I’d like to declare myself to be a BIMBY — Build In My Backyard. I purchased inside the loop so that I could be in a dynamic urban environment; that includes high density housing options mixed in with single family; that includes the associated traffic; that includes noisy bars letting out at 2am right in the middle of neighborhoods; that includes Ferraris wailing at 120db at 7am on Sunday even if they’re only going 15mph. Bottom line, I’d love it if the Heights became more like Greenwich Village or Tribeca. While the Heights, or Montrose, aren’t likely to get there in the near future, projects like this (and Ashby) help get us just a little bit further in that direction. And I consider that to be a good thing. BIMBY!” [Walt, commenting on A Land Use Counterattack from the Yale St. Alexan Heights]

05/14/13 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: SAVING HOUSTON FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF NEWCOMERS “i’d just point out that Houston is a large and growing city. although the inner-loop is changing, so are all the other hoods within 20 miles of here. nobody says you have to live in the same ‘hood all your life and i’d even go so far as to say that to expect to live in the same neighborhood indefinitely without seeing major changes is just selfishness. i’ll gladly pick up and move once the montrose has finally been redeveloped for the $150K+ income bracket only. i think it kills diversity and character of the area, but i’m glad it’s growing and more people are able to live near work and greater amenities while providing a larger tax base to make this city better for all the areas . . . i think my fellow citizens deserve that at least. if it changes it changes, but there’s no shortage of places to move to. as long as it’s making the city better. move to a poor neighborhood if you don’t want to see any changes, there’s plenty around. and that’s the danger of giving neighborhoods rights over [what] can be developed. by nature they will only have their desires in mind, not that of the millions of others that could benefit from growth and new developments.” [joel, commenting on Comment of the Day: Who Cares What the Neighbors Think?]

05/10/13 1:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AN ATMOSPHERE OF MISTRUST “I’m inclined to believe the owner on this one. Who knows better what Sharifi plans to do with the property, than Sharifi himself? It’s not just that he said there were no immediate plans to develop the property – how many times have we heard that one — it’s the good brick award and the quip about townhomes that does it — for me at least. The real story here is the level of mistrust that exists between the public and the building community (developers but also architects, engineers, and contractors). It’s a nationwide phenomenon that’s especially strong here in Houston. There’s a common misconception that our lack of zoning leaves us more vulnerable. We’ve suffered a lot of bad development since the 1960s. It has made us paranoid. And with affordable garden apartments Inside the Loop falling one-by-one to luxury mid rises, it’s understandable that people in complexes like the Gramercy Place Apartments would be especially paranoid.” [ZAW, commenting on The Confusing Continuing Story of the Gramercy Place Apartments]

05/02/13 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: IS THIS A HOUSTON APARTMENT BUILDING BUBBLE? “. . . it certainly does seem like they are overbuilding. Only time will tell if that’s the case. If it is, it’s going to be a replay of 1982-3. The developers who got in the game early will have sold their complexes and moved on to the next hot market. The guys left holding complexes when the market crashes will lose their shirts. There won’t be a bailout. But a bunch of complexes will fall into bankruptcy. Rents will crash. Real estate values and tax revenue will plummet. Any semblance of maintenance, security, and tenant screening will fly out the window. Oh, and there might be a few half finished complexes that just sit there for a few years gathering graffiti and vagrants.” [ZAW, commenting on The Luxury Trackside Apartments Coming to Briar Hollow]

04/30/13 11:45am

BRINGING THE STREETS DOWNTOWN RIGHT INTO THE LOBBIES Why isn’t there more street life Downtown? A recent architectural exhibition suggests that one cause might be the sealed world of a tunnel system that’s accessed mainly through closed-off corporate lobbies: “[Rice University’s Bryony Roberts] argues that these [sites] provide opportunities for a new type of public space that would more effectively integrate street activity and subterranean circulation,” explains OffCite’s Helen B. Bechtel. Using studies of One Allen Center, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Reliant Energy Plaza, and Wells Fargo Plaza — imagined here to include ramp-like pedestrian feeders — Roberts shows how “otherwise segregated interior and exterior public spaces” might be linked. The exhibition’s on view — where else? — in the One Allen Center lobby at 1200 Smith. [OffCite; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Bryony Roberts via OffCite

04/22/13 10:00am

Architect John Kirksey has an idea for building a park on 36 blocks in south Downtown — just north of the Pierce Elevated, between Louisiana and Caroline. But he doesn’t own the land, and he’s not proposing to buy it up. So Kirksey’s plan isn’t for a single park space — it’s for a bunch of linear walkways. Okay, call it a series of extra-wide sidewalks on the east-west streets. Here’s how it might look, driving through:


04/12/13 10:15am

MAYOR PARKER’S PLAN FOR A BIGGER, FRIENDLIER UPTOWN TIRZ Why not both? Yesterday, Mayor Parker announced a $556 million plan that, if approved by city council on April 24, would fund the seemingly unrelated instead-of-light rail Post Oak BRT and Memorial Park reforestation: Uptown would annex 1,768 acres of property into the TIRZ, and a gradual increase in tax revenue over the next 25 years would help to keep the BRT operational and implement a program of park improvements. Those would include, says Houston Parks and Rec director Joe Turner in a city press release, “erosion control, removal of invasive non-native plants, the reestablishment of native grasslands and forests and facility needs.” Still: Only 36 acres of the property roped in for annexation would be taxable. And does this plan mean that BRT — first thought to be up and running by 2017 — will be delayed? Don’t worry, says Uptown Management District president John Breeding. Besides what will be generated by the more environmentally friendly TIRZ, money for BRT will come from TxDOT and — if approved by a vote on April 26 — Transportation Improvement Program grants from the Houston-Galveston Area Council. [City of Houston; previously on Swamplot] Drawing of Post Oak BRT: Uptown Management District

04/10/13 10:10am

CITY COUNCIL TO DECIDE WHETHER DOWNTOWN HOTEL REDO WILL RECEIVE FEDERAL DOUGH Houston Politics’ Mike Morris is reporting that city council will vote today to decide whether it will loan Pearl Real Estate up to $7.4 million toward the $81 million renovation and redevelopment of the 22-story slipcovered 1910 Samuel F. Carter building at Rusk and 806 Main St. What does Pearl have in sight? A JW Marriott. (It’d be across the street from BG Group Place.) Last summer, explains Morris, the city applied for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money that would be passed on to Pearl and ultimately paid back with interest — or that’s the idea, anyway. This kind of deal went off without a hitch in 1998, when the Rice Hotel paid back their $4.8 million right on time. But the city’s been kept waiting before: “In early 2005, it came to light that the Magnolia Hotel (which had gotten $9.5 million in 2002) and the Crowne Plaza (which had gotten $5 million in 2000) had never made a full payment to the city on their loans.” Though by 2012, Morris adds, those loans had been repaid. [Houston Politics; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 806 Main St.: Swamplot inbox

11/14/12 1:42pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: LOOKING AT OUR SPREAD “It’s interesting when friends from back east visit, because they almost universally observe that Houston is ’empty’ (to quote directly). Given the amount of space in this city, the idea that we need to build things far from everything (and then build more roads to get people to them) is really kind of bizarre.” [John (another one), commenting on Comment of the Day: Heading for Points Greener]

11/13/12 4:44pm

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]

09/20/12 2:34pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A CITYCENTRE IN THE CITY’S CENTER WOULD’VE MADE THE GRADE “. . . The Ainbinder/Orr/San J Stone sites represent over 30 acres of land being developed with only 280 residential units going up on the old Sons of Hermann site. About the same number of apartments were demo-ed for Ainbinder’s strip mall. That means 30 plus acres of land being developed with no net increase in housing or office space in an area that should be booming with that kind of development. There are no other 30 plus acre tracts west of Downtown that have the same development potential as this site did. It may be one step forward to replace vacant land with strip malls. But it is two steps back when you consider what a City Centre style mixed use development would have done for the area. It would have generated way more in tax revenue and made property values in the immediate west end neighborhood shoot through the roof. Instead, we are getting the lowest possible tax revenue generating development that will cost six million in future tax revenues. It is like being happy when your kid gets a C minus in school. It is better than getting an F and graduating is better than dropping out. But if your kid has the potential to do A plus work, then the C minus should be a huge disappointment. Those thirty plus acres had the potential to be one of the most significant developments in Houston. Instead, it is going to be the same development that gets put in on cheap land in the burbs when a new housing development goes in. If my tax dollars are going to be thrown at wealthy developers, I want to get every dollar’s worth and will not be happy with anything other than the most productive use of the land. Developers who will not deliver that can pay their own way.” [Old School, commenting on Shops Replacing San Jacinto Stone, Just North of the South-of-the-Heights Walmart]