03/13/14 3:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: PRYING DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES FROM SHY OWNERS Notices“I’ve spent some time in my career tracking down the sort of person that doesn’t like paying bills, receiving official notices or summonses, or anything at all like that. And yeah, it’s usually some individual or a tight family, often living out-of-state. A big corporation could never pull it off so easily. Even if the City levies fines against the owner and eventually forecloses the property and sells it at a constables’ auction, the title is still marred because the previous owner might come back to challenge the sale over issues of notice. That doesn’t happen terribly often, but it does happen and it’s in the back of any would-be bidder’s mind at the auction. Of course, that means that the risk and the back taxes are already priced into a bid, that bids are often abysmally low, and that there’s not terribly much incentive for the City to throw good money after bad. It doesn’t mean that they won’t or shouldn’t. But I’ll bet that if they could recover more of what they put into it, that you’d see the City getting a lot more aggressive, right quick.” [TheNiche, commenting on A Tax Break for Replacing ‘Blight’; The Secret Bar Above Clutch City Squire] Illustration: Lulu

01/07/14 10:30am

Central Square Plaza, 2100 Travis St., Midtown, Houston

Central Square Plaza, 2100 Travis St., Midtown, HoustonA new green-screened construction fence has gone up around the perimeter of the Central Square Plaza building at 2100 Travis St., a reader reports. But the barricades aren’t an indication of impending renovation or demolition work on the long-vacant property. They’re part of an effort to secure the buildings and keep taggers and other would-be occupiers out.

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Midtown Wrap-Up
10/09/13 10:15am

NO, THESE ARE ASTRODOME “IMPROVEMENTS,” SAYS JUDGE EMMETT Harris County Judge Ed Emmett plays a game of semantics with KUHF’s Gail Delaughter to try to clear up any lingering misconceptions and assert that the removal beginning this week of the Astrodome’s exterior features — ticket booths, grass berms, concrete ramps, substations, transmission lines, and stair pavilions — isn’t what it might seem to be: “I would actually like to call them improvements to the Dome rather than demolition to the Dome. This does in no way presage any demolition of the Dome. This is an improvement that had to be made, probably should have been made a long time ago, but we’re doing it now.” [KUHF; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Candace Garcia

10/04/13 10:00am

WHERE THE MONEY FOR THIS EARLY DOME DEMO WILL COME FROM The demolition of the exterior features of the Astrodome, expected to begin Monday, could take until June, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Kiah Collier — though it appears that the $8 million that will be spent knocking down the ticket booths, concrete ramps, substations, transmission lines, and grass berms is included in the bond measure that voters won’t decide to pay for — or not — until next month. At any rate, Collier adds that asbestos abatement and demolition of the stair towers aren’t scheduled until December, when it will be clear whether the Dome will come all the way down or be converted into a convention center. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: Candace Garcia

10/03/13 10:00am

Not the whole stadium — not yet, anyway — but Mark Miller, the general manager of Reliant Park, says that all the Astrodome’s exterior features will be knocked down as early as next week. And that appears to include everything that leads right up to the Dome’s walls: Not just the ticket booths that appeared Wednesday in the Daily Demolition Report, but also the concrete stairs, ramps, grass berms, substations, and transmission lines that you can see in the photo above.

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09/19/13 2:30pm

Note: Story updated below. And read more here.

Here’s a map from the city showing which streets will be closed Downtown this Sunday morning for the controlled demolition of the 10-story, 791,000-sq.-ft. former Foley’s and Macy’s. Unfortunately, the closures appear to hinder access to the best views of the falling 1947 Kenneth Franzheim-designed shopping box. In fact, the Houston Chronicle cites a fire department press release that might frustrate any interested parties: “[T]here will be no ‘safe viewing site lines’ to observe the implosion.”

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09/04/13 10:00am

Royce White might never have suited up for the Houston Rockets, spending most of his rookie season toiling in the D-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and — umm, tweeting, but it appears he has found a way to contribute to the city. Last week, White — who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder — announced that his foundation, Anxious Mind’s, which he started when he was playing college ball at Iowa State, will partner with Bee Busy Wellness Clinic to open a free mental health facility on W. Bellfort. The clinic will also provide dental services and primary care and will open this January inside the Rubik’s Cube-like former Frank Neighborhood Library at 6440 W. Bellfort, shown here, just west of Westbury and Meyerland. White played in only 16 games last season; he was caught up in disputes with Rockets management about travel arrangements — he hates to fly — and team doctors. In July, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Photo: Allyn West

08/19/13 2:15pm

USING PICTURES TO PICTURE USES FOR BUFFALO BAYOU’S BASEMENT There’s still no real plan for that 1927 underground reservoir along Buffalo Bayou near Sabine St. But, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray — one devoted parishioner of this “accidental cathedral” — there’s now a new technology in place that might help would-be entrepreneurs visualize the possibilities: “SmartGeometrics, a company whose main business is creating super-precise 3-D digital models of real places . . . will show video-game-like digital models to the public . . . and will explain how, soon, the data will be available to anyone who wants to plug it into his design software. . . . ‘This is a starting point for us,’ [Buffalo Bayou Partnership's Guy Hagstette] says. ‘We’re trying to decide on the big picture. What should the concept be? Is it environmental art? A giant nightclub? A parking garage?” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: SWA Group

08/12/13 12:05pm

THE GAS STATION COFFEE PATIO COMING SOON TO MIDTOWN The Houston Chronicle reports a few more matter-of-fact details about Retrospect Coffee, the cafe that Tacos-A-Go-Go owners are planning to open in — but primarily around, it appears — that oft-painted former gas station at the corner of W. Alabama and La Branch near HCC and the Station Museum in Midtown:It will serve beer and wine in addition to coffee. . . . The building will hold espresso machines and perhaps a counter for patrons. . . . Most of the seating will be outdoors. Furniture will be bright orange to represent the old Gulf logo that once hung on the gas station.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo: Allyn West

07/26/13 12:15pm

An intrepid Redditor recently explored the vacant Oakbrook Apartments and snuck away with these photos. The 222-unit complex, currently for sale, sits on 7.3 acres at 5353 De Soto St., east of Antoine and north of W. Tidwell, right up against White Oak Bayou. Writes the creative trespasser: “The majority of [the apartments] are unsecured at this point. There really didn’t seem to be much of anything left in any of the apartments, and I went in a lot of them. Most of the drywall is crumbling and you can smell the mildew from 20 yards away. Wiring and other appliances have been torn out in most of them.”

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07/25/13 4:05pm

SOME REAL-LIFE OCCUPANTS FOR GALVESTON’S LONG-ABANDONED BREWERY? The endangered historic Falstaff Brewery that once harbored a bunch of scared architecture students in a horror flick might become a real refuge for Galvestonians looking for cheap housing — or so Culturemap’s Tyler Rudick seems to think, divining a hint about Dallas developer Matthews Southwest’s plans for the property from the very title of the rep he interviews: “Company officials are unable to reveal the full details until a purchase is finalized,” cautions Rudick. “But [we] spoke with current project leader Scott Galbraith, whose position as Matthews Southwest’s vice president of affordable income development suggests the company’s larger plans for the complex.” Perhaps, but Galbraith is also quick to point out that Matthews Southwest is keeping its options open while studying the site; previous environmental investigations have found plenty of asbestos in the 313,000-sq.-ft. building and soil contamination around it. [Culturemap; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Candace Garcia

07/11/13 3:30pm

Though we still don’t know exactly what’s replacing it, the Macy’s on Main is now well on its way to becoming nothing. The Downtown block where the Kenneth Franzheim brick box stands is bound by Main, Dallas, Travis, and Lamar. That’s now owned by 1110 Main Partners, an entity connected to Hilcorp; a source there told Swamplot about a month ago that Hilcorp employees had been shown a rendering of a “a regular looking office building tower over 20 stories high” to be built here, but that rendering hasn’t surfaced — so far. This photo shows part of the former Foley’s overhang as though bitten into by a wide-mouth excavator. And a few more shots of the demolition:

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06/24/13 2:45pm

Sporting some of the more evocative ghost signage in Midtown, the vacant former Saigon Cafe #2 seems to be in the process of becoming the future Cafe Helene. This TABC sign is dated May 24, and a rep from the building’s leasing company says that the new sandwich shop should be open here at 3101 Main St. in the next few months. Located between the Ensemble/HCC and McGowen stops, the 8,000-sq.-ft. building dates to 1948, county records show, and it’s catty-corner from the not-quite-3-acre swath of the Midtown Superblock and that back-of-a-strip-center mural that was painted in April. For now, a thorough gutting of the building seems to be underway, at least judging from the size of the pile of scrap in the back:

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06/10/13 12:00pm

A source at Hilcorp says that the company has revealed what it’s planning to build in place of the soon-to-be-demolished Downtown Macy’s, vacant since closing in early March: And will the new HQ look anything like that mostly glass box from Munoz + Albin that appeared online a few months ago?

“Nope, nothing like it,” says the source. It’ll be “a regular looking office building tower over 20 stories high.” Though it doesn’t appear to take up the whole block: “I’m assuming there are going to be purdy trees and green stuff around it.” Employees were shown a rendering of the tower at a recent meeting, says the source, but it was quickly removed from the company’s online newsletter: “I guess because they didn’t want it out there.”

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06/07/13 12:00pm

SQUATTING AT THE SAVOY The news that Downtown’s old Savoy Hotel has been sold and will be converted into a Holiday Inn seems to have inspired some nostalgia in the Houston Chronicle’s Craig Hlavaty. Going back over the hotel’s past as housing for law students and even boarding for Lee Harvey Oswald, in town one day to apply for a job at nearby Conoco, Hlavaty also finds evidence that the supposedly vacant building was anything but: “In 2004, someone named “squatterkid” was posting on a Houston architecture forum about living inside . . . even getting phone calls there from people expecting to make reservations at the long dormant hotel. The number was still listed. At the time, he said that there was still electricity running in the place, too. The squatter, who went by Sean when he spoke with the Houston Press in 2007, said he and some homeless folks made the hotel their home using the leftover furnishings.” You can read more from “squatterkid” here. [Houston Chronicle; HAIF; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Allyn West