HOUSTON’S UNACCOUNTABLE TIRZS AFFLICT BOTH THE POOR AND THE ULTRA-RICH “The TIRZ system benefits high-dollar commercial areas and essentially ignores poorer neighborhoods that are primarily residential,” writes reporter Steve Jansen in a longish article that attempts to explain Houston’s arcane and secretive system of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones. But there’s seething at the other end of the economic spectrum as well — especially over the Uptown TIRZ’s plan to install dedicated bus lanes down the center of Post Oak Blvd. Comments University Line light-rail and Uptown bus lane opponent Daphne Scarborough, who’s attended some anti-TIRZ gatherings, to Jansen: “I’ve never seen so many angry multimillionaires and -billionaires in one room.” [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Drawing of proposed Post Oak bus lanes: Uptown Management District
SAVING UPTOWN, HOUSTON’S MASTERPIECE, FROM THE SCOURGE OF DEDICATED BUS LANES The Uptown Property and Business Owners Coalition is out today with a new website (portrayed here) meant to drum up opposition to the Uptown District and Metro’s plans to install dedicated bus lanes down Post Oak Blvd. The lanes, the last vestige of what was once a plan for an Uptown light rail line, would run from dedicated bus lanes linking to the Northwest Transit Center all the way to the proposed Bellaire/Uptown Transit Center near U.S. 59 and Westpark, where they might someday intersect with a University Line traveling eastward from that point. But the team behind the website wants none of it: “Uptown is a Houston masterpiece. Why do they want to ruin it?” reads the copy on the home page. Meanwhile, an introductory blog post on the site encourages readers to attend a friendly “town hall” meeting, tomorrow night at the Uptown Hilton, in the company of “hundreds of angry business owners and Uptown area residents.” [Save Uptown; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THEY WON’T BE LINING POST OAK BLVD. WITH POST OAKS “So close! Just imagine how impressive it would be to have a forest of 800 post oaks on Post Oak Blvd. Unfortunately, post oaks don’t tend to transplant well compared to live oaks, which is why we use live oaks in our landscaping instead of post oaks. (Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)” [GoogleMaster, commenting on Boxed Forest of 800 Trees in Tomball Preparing for March Down Post Oak Blvd.] Illustration: Lulu
For Arbor Day, the Uptown Houston District is showing off the 800 live oaks earmarked for Post Oak Blvd. now being trained in Tomball for a life on the streets. The tree reboxers and transplanters at Environmental Design are breeding the trees on the company’s Tomball campus at 23544 Coons Rd.
“Remember, I’m the guy that took the old fire station and made it an aquarium,” Tilman Fertitta explains to Nancy Sarnoff. “I took the old Flagship and made it the Pleasure Pier. I took an old fishing village and made it the Kemah Boardwalk.” All of which might help explain the simple concept behind the Landry’s CEO’s latest venture: taking a surface parking lot next to the Landry’s corporate headquarters near the Galleria and turning it into a 35-story hotel-apartment-office-tower with a 2-story auto showroom in front, then filling out the rest of the 10-acre site with a parking garage and couple of pad-site restaurants facing the West Loop southbound feeder.
A row of 4 large lit-up diamonds facing east across the freeway will festoon the forehead of the Gensler-designed tower at 1600 West Loop South. Fertitta calls the not-really-a-sign a “subtle message.” It’s meant to stand in for the 4 diamond shapes in the Landry’s logo — dining, hospitality, entertainment, and gaming — though until a few pesky laws can be changed not all can be offered on site.
GALLERIA WHOLE FOODS MARKET OPENING NOVEMBER 6, WILL INCLUDE AUSTIN-IMPORT BEER-ON-A-TRIKE The long-awaited BLVD Place Whole Foods Market will finally open on November 6, reports the HBJ‘s Jenny Agee-Aldridge. And the grocery juggernaut has fed her another notable market-marketing nugget: Shoppers at the new 55,000-sq.-ft. store at 1700 Post Oak Blvd. will be able to make beer orders and receive deliveries while shopping — from a beer-toting store employee riding a tricycle around the market. The non-motorized alcohol delivery setup, Agee-Aldridge notes, is an Austin import. But the beer source is a Houston first: The store will be the first Whole Foods’ anywhere to have its own brewery on the premises, and will feature beer-themed breads and desserts as well. [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Russell Hancock
Landry’s is planning a multi-use development including a 30-story hotel, a parking garage, and a conference center for a site adjacent to the restaurant and entertainment company’s headquarters on the Loop 610 feeder road in the Galleria area. The proposed address for the new structures is 1600 West Loop, but the tower, conference center, and garage would be tucked back from the freeway toward Hollyhurst St., according to a site plan (above, tilted clockwise 90 degrees) submitted to the city. Along with it, the developers have submitted a variance application asking for a reduced setback for the development along Hollyhurst.
A Swamplot reader writes in with a report on the aftermath of last night’s collapse of a top-story section of the very long parking garage for the One Riverway office building north of the Galleria, on S. Post Oak just south of Riverway Dr. No one was hurt in the accident, which occurred before 8 pm, but abc13 reports that vehicles were still exiting the structure at that time. S. Post Oak Ln. is now closed to traffic while officials determine if the concrete structure is safe, and workers are already mourning the lost parking spaces.
ST. PHILIP PRESBYTERIAN IS NOT FOR SALE “The enduring themes of conversation here include traffic and real estate,” intoned Pastor John Wurster in his Easter Sunday sermon in front of the blue tiled chancel wall in the sanctuary of the St. Philip Presbyterian Church, which is sited on a prime slice of Uptown land at 4807 San Felipe St. “The real estate conversations seem to happen exclusively with those outside of the church. These are the people who call expressing an interest in buying the church property. I explain that we’re not looking to sell. Of course, you are. Everyone is willing to sell at some point. Just tell us what that point is. No, really, we feel like this is where God has called us. This kind of theological talk tends to bring no response beyond bafflement, as if it’s not possible that one could be in a place and not be willing to leave it if the price were right, as if it’s not possible that decisions and actions might be motivated by something besides money.” Saint Philip’s congregation merged with Central Presbyterian Church a few years ago, shortly before that congregation sold its Richmond Dr. facility to the Morgan Group. Central Presbyterian was torn down for apartments in 2011. [St. Philip Presbyterian; previously on Swamplot] Photo: church member Jeromy Murphy
Here are some of the purty watercolor renderings the Uptown District has been presenting of what Post Oak Blvd. will look like after the addition of 2 dedicated bus lanes down its middle. The proposed changes to the thoroughfare won’t take away any of the 6 existing car lanes or 13 existing left-turn-signal lanes. There’ll be a few modifications, though: new protected-left-turn signals will be put in at West Briar Lane and Fairdale, for example, and 3 median openings will be closed. The space for the buses and 8 transit stations along the Boulevard between the West Loop and Richmond Ave will come from acquiring 8 feet of right-of-way from each side of the existing street. The bus lanes and light-rail-style stations will go in the median:
The owner of Uptown Park, Houston’s favorite Europe-in-a-parking-lot shopping center, plans to add a sleek dash of density to the collection of stucco-and-styrofoam-fronted pad buildings. AmREIT has announced that it is teaming up with an unnamed “major national developer” to replace the parking-space fronted shopping island at the northwest corner of the complex with a “contemporary” highrise residential tower. Currently, Baker Furniture, Peluche Decor, and the Bella Rinova Salon occupy the single-story structure on that spot.
But the addition of residents directly above Uptown Park shouldn’t take away from the shopping opportunities below: Renderings included in a promotional video released by the company show that the tower will have replacement retail spaces on the ground floor, and possibly on a second level as well — though the shopping pod’s existing head-in parking and adjacent spaces would be replaced by a porte-cochère and garage entrance ramp.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DOES THE NAME STICK? “I believe the name of the neighborhood is actually Uptown. The Galleria is a mall.” [Jonathan Hansen, commenting on Houston’s Most Recognizable Neighborhood: The Official 2013 Ballot] Illustration: Lulu