COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DOWNTOWN TURNAROUND “I’ve always thought it was a little strange that the entire country has adopted a geographic reference specific to Manhattan to refer to the place in a city where the tall buildings are. Elsewhere in the Anglophone world, the terms ‘city center’ or CBD (central business district) are used, which makes a lot more sense.
In Houston we’ve gone a step further: we refer to a place 5 miles WEST of ‘downtown’ as ‘uptown,’ and the place immediately SOUTH (ok, southwest) of ‘downtown’ as ‘midtown.’” [Angostura, commenting on Comment of the Day: Downtown Is on the Edge] Illustration: Lulu
Here’s a concept that HKS came up with for a site just behind the Hotel Granduca, Montebello, and Villa d’Este towers in Uptown Park. The concept shows how it might go if you wanted to build a conference center and a combo hotel-condo tower on 14 green acres between Tilbury and N. Wynden off S. Post Oak, just west of the Loop. This rendering shows the boxy exterior of what appears to be the conference center flanking a linear park shooting off from the banks of Buffalo Bayou.
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Remember that unusable and really vague tip sent to Swamplot back in January? The one promising that a “major (non-residential) Houston property is about to make a significant change”? And it wasn’t Macy’s? Well, the in-the-know tipster now reports, we can let that cat out of the bag, since the Houston Business Journal and Houston Chronicle already have: The “Houston landmark” the tipster couldn’t tip us off about is the Galleria — which, it was announced yesterday by developer Simon Property Group, will be undergoing extensive renovations and partial demolition to create about 100,000 new sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space.
The plan calls for the Galleria III portion where Saks Fifth Avenue is currently located to be demolished — though the tipster says the Philip Johnson façade will be maintained — to make room for a bumped-out food court (shown in the rendering above). That freed-up Saks space will provide room for 35 new retailers and restaurants. Meanwhile, Saks will be moving into the Macy’s spot on Sage, and that Macy’s will be merging with the other Macy’s on Hidalgo. (Makes sense.) Also, a standalone box will be built in the parking lot for a few tenants who can afford to be more conspicuous to the stop-and-go crowd on Westheimer.
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This crosshatched highrise shows up in a recently published marketing video as a potential development to densify the low-slung Uptown Park. The 50,000-sq.-ft. site HFF and AmREIT seem to have in mind for these apartments-upon-retail is right off the Loop, across Uptown Park Blvd. from the Ziegler Cooper-designed 27-story Villa d’Este condo tower — a site occupied now by a 12,000-sq.-ft. 1-story building at the northern end of the low-density Euro-style shopping spread.
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Here’s another of the occasional photos a reader sends of the construction progress of the Whole Foods at the mixed-use BLVD Place just north of the Galleria. Thanks to the photos that span almost a year now, you can watch the development develop here at the intersection of San Felipe and Post Oak Blvd.: Witness the preliminary site work beginning last August to the installation of piers and rebar in October and the rising of the parking structure in February. So what else is new? That parking structure appears just about ready, and even more dirt has been moved around — where those cars are parked in the foreground — for the proposed Hanover apartment tower.
Photo: Swamplot inbox
A development report from Hines includes this rendering of what appears to be the new Apache Corporation headquarters planned for mixed-use BLVD Place just north of the Galleria. The report names the wafer-like building “Project Alpha” and describes it as 34 stories and 750,000-sq.-ft. of office space with a fitness center and cafeteria. Currently, Apache is headquartered at Post Oak Central.
FEDERAL MONEY ROLLS IN FOR UPTOWN’S POST OAK BRT One of the last few items on Uptown’s to-do list was crossed off Friday: The Houston-Galveston Area Council voted to allocate about $62 million in federal scratch to help pay for the construction of bus rapid transit along Post Oak Blvd. This money, along with continued revenue from Uptown’s recently enlarged tax zone, will fund the estimated $177 million project that, like light rail, will run 60-ft. buses in dedicated lanes between 2 transit centers. Uptown Management prez John Breeding tells the Highwayman that construction could begin as early as 2015. But one notable dissenter, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, doesn’t seem convinced this whole public-transportation thing is gonna work out: “I am afraid we are going to look up in 10 years and say ‘What did we do that for?’ I think I know Houstonians enough to know they are going to want to drive.” [The Highwayman; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Uptown Management District
And now that the former Art Institute of Houston at 1900 Yorktown and Inwood has been smashed to pieces, the Finger Companies can get going on these new apartments. Accurately, if not creatively named 1900 Yorktown, the complex will comprise 262 units spread out among 8 floors, whose shape seems to welcome a cat’s cradle of laundry lines hung above its U-shaped courtyard. In Uptown, this is just a few blocks north of the Westheimer bank building where Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is relocating from Richmond Ave.
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POST OAK BRT THAT MUCH CLOSER TO GETTING ITS MONEY After a month’s delay to take a longer look at the project, the transportation arm of the Houston-Galveston Area Council finally decided to go ahead and recommend that Uptown receive $62 million in federal funds to pay for the proposed Post Oak Blvd. bus rapid transit system. This is just a provisional step, of course, since 2 actual approvals, not mere recommendations, are needed — but it does move things along. Through tax revenue, Uptown is already paying for about half the estimated $148 million project. The Houston Chronicle’s Dug Begley is reporting that this federal money would help buy up $30 million of land so Post Oak could be widened for the bus lanes. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Drawing: Uptown Management District
If this deluxe 26-story residential tower is built, as proposed by Interfin and Pierpoint, it’ll add 44 new condos and 2 penthouses to Uptown’s deluxe stock. And it’ll come at a premium: The Houston Business Journal is reporting that the Kirksey-designed, so-called Belfiore will be built with just 2 4,650-sq.-ft. condos per floor, each going for about $600 per sq. ft. These pricey places are planned to start going up in 2014 on a site inside Uptown’s recently expanded tax zone, just west of the Loop on S. Post Oak Ln., near that horseshoe of Wynden Dr.
So the days are numbered for Ruth’s Chris on Richmond — that much is obvious. And a reader sends us this photo showing the steakhouse’s next location, in that Uptown pad site where Prosperity Bank used to be at 5433 Westheimer. (And you can see the aloft Hotel in the background.) A rep from Ruth’s Chris says it should be open by July. And marketing materials from building owner AmREIT seem to position the steakhouse as an anchor for a redevelopment project on this triangular slice of property bound by Westheimer, W. Alabama, and Yorktown: A flyer on the company’s website mentions “a renovated office building” that doesn’t seem to have had a named tenant since Prosperity moved out and took its logo away almost 3 years ago. There’s also a second, 3,000-sq.-ft. retail space that AmREIT’s advertising as available on that building’s first floor. Attempts to contact AmREIT for details about the project haven’t been returned.
Photos: Swamplot inbox
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
GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE WILLIAMS TOWER The $412 million sale last week of the Williams Tower seems to have provoked some curiosity in the Houston Chronicle’s Katherine Feser: Pursuing a lead from a retired employee that, were it not for those pesky FAA regulations, the record-breaking 64-story skyscraper would have been even taller, Feser goes into the paper’s archives and finds evidence that the tower’s slab was something to behold, too: ”The foundation pour . . . started at midnight Friday and was completed early Saturday night. The contractor, J.A. Jones Co., said it was believed to be the largest continuous pour ever made in Houston — more than 10,000 cubic yards of concrete. There have been larger pours but they have been completed in several stages. The area of the poured mat is 200 feet by 200 feet, almost an acre.” [Prime Property; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Russell Hancock
And here’s what BHP Billiton Petroleum’s new 30-story tower might look like. The company announced yesterday that construction will begin at 1500 Post Oak in November on the fifth skyscraper at Four Oaks Place; the proposed 560,000-sq.-ft. building, going up where a vacant 24-Hour Fitness now sits, will be connected by a skybridge to the company’s existing 1360 Post Oak building. BHP says that the twinnish towers are meant to consolidate the company’s entire workforce in Uptown.
Rendering: Houston Business Journal