The votes have been counted. Now here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for — well, almost. It’s time to reveal the second-place winners of the 2014 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate!
Before we do that, a hearty thank you is due to all of you who voted, commented, nominated, campaigned, and cajoled in support of your favorite candidates. You make the Swampies possible.
The actual award winners will be announced in a later post, but now’s the time to let the second-place finishers shine. Several categories had close races; under slightly different circumstances, the candidates listed below could have been the winners. So let’s have a big round of pixelated applause for the 2014 runners-up in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate — the Swampies!
1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Second-place winner: The Townhome Farm.
The nomination: “The momentum of residential housing inside the Loop has finally started to push out many of the odd industrial sites that are sprinkled all over our Inner Loop neighborhoods, a task made easier by the lack of zoning. This has freed up properties inside the Loop that can actually be measured in acres. Of course, the townhome was the perfect way for builders to redevelop a single-family-sized lot or small strips of land inside the Loop and maximize the square footage within the space constraints. But what do developers do when these space constraints do not exist with larger lots? They just keep cramming them full of townhomes. The result looks like developers simply planted townhome seed on a large vacant lot and grew a crop of townhomes.”
- From Jennifer Mathis: “I cringe a little every time I see a Variance Application sign go up, because there’s a good chance it’s preceding another one of these.”
- From UTAlum: “They’re ugly and most look tacky and cheap.”
- From Market Economy woes: “On the bright side, their shoddy construction/permeable stucco facades will ensure their early demise at the hands of Houston’s brutally hot and humid climate.”
- From ShadyHeightster: “Before the recession these larger parcels used to sprout detached larger homes in a gated community (i.e. Heritage Creek on West 12th at Ella) or large deep but narrow faux-Victorians with a detached garage in back (i.e West 22nd at Couch). Now it’s just townhome boxes everywhere.“
- From alternativemike: “It’s like a cancerous growth popping up all over Houston. We can’t get enough of these, can we? A mediocre mash of 2-3 story cubes, quickly and poorly baked comfortably together en masse, cozied up with your favorite estranged and antisocial neighbors, iced with the developer’s choice of cheap siding or fake stucco, and wrapped up nicely in 3-4 appetizing variations of ‘tan,’ ‘grey,’ or ‘cream.’ Additional amenities include premium views of the garbage littered overgrown lot behind you, as well as prime location in close proximity to the recently constructed development on the other side of the fence line. Impress few — yet alienate no one.”
- From Craftsman: “. . . a perfect metaphor for profit over quality, sq. footage over aesthetic proportion, and developers over community.”
- From sjz1: “as common as cockroaches and totally unnecessary. I can’t imagine the type of person who looks at a complex of 50 town homes and gleefully slaps down hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to secure their very own 50×30 ft lot (or whatever it is). To be fair, I equally dislike single family home plots in the same format, just with a larger total area.”
- From Rob: “There’s the future of EaDo, y’all. Enjoy!!!”
2. Best Demolition. Second-place winner: The Houston Club Building, 811 Rusk St., Downtown.
The nomination: Rumors of this building’s impending disappearance have been swirling since 2010. But the multi-stage demo took its time completing various complicated redevelopment exercises: Building denuding, de-asbestosing, de-muraling, re-parking-garaging, and scratch-marking phases all took their time. And then there was the big bang (see video above) on a Sunday morning in October. Skanska’s new 35-story Capitol Tower will go up in its place once all the rubble is cleared. Bonus fallout: never-before-seen views of Pennzoil Place across the street are now available, for a limited time only.
- From JJ: “From a pure demolition perspective, it was the most technically difficult project on this list. To watch how the project progressed was really cool. . . . the demolition was impressive.“
- From BAL: “gets my vote for the most dramatic and technically challenging.”
- From Old School: “First, I went to a conference there and the food was lousy. Second, the building for me kind of marks the end of Houston’s golden years of architecture downtown. It was a very utilitarian building with very little style. It is as if Jesse Jones was showing Houston its architectural future. Third, whenever I was in that building, I always felt like I could hear the great movers and shakers of decades past plotting Houston’s sprawl and the destruction of the inner city through freeway expansion projects. For every tree they chopped down to build the burbs out to San Antonio and for every house the leveled to fill Houston with pavement, at least their little clubhouse is getting taken down.”
3. Best Body of Water. Second-place winner: Hermann Park.
The nomination: “Let’s define ‘body’ as a grouping, so we can get all the waterworks in and around Hermann Park collected as a single candidate — including the Mecom Fountain at the intersection of Main St. and Montrose Blvd. (at left). There are lots of cool fountains and water features throughout the area, including the rat-a-tat Gulf Coast-themed waterfall in front of the Museum of Natural Science. Just driving down Fannin you can see 3 fountains from your car. But get out and have a stroll around the reflecting pool, over to the spray area in the children’s play area, and McGovern Lake. Just thinking about all the water attractions is enough to cool you off on a hot summer day.”
- From Quantum: “Hermann park water features, including Mecom fountain, are the best in the city. I wish we had more large fountains throughout the city to be sure. Parque del Retiro or Cibeles in Madrid comes to my mind as what could be achieved in our city. However, I am quite proud of the beautiful and soothing water features provided by the Hermann-Mecom.”
- From tcpIV: “Where else can you watch ducks, nutria and homeless?”
4. Best Mobile Food Vendor Location. Second-place winner: Anywhere Downtown.
The nomination: “For certain mobile food vendors looking to set up shop Downtown, it’s been a long journey. Rules barring truck-kitchens powered by propane tanks — motivated, it appeared for some, by fears of food truck terrorism — kept the shifty-looking vehicles out of Houston’s central business district for decades. It took a campaign that lasted more than 2 years and an assist from the mayor (shown contemplating a burger but settling for brussels sprouts outside the Central Library, above) to change that. Downtown was at last made safe for the food cavalry — as long as the propane tanks don’t get too big — this September. Time to celebrate!”
- From bpalmer: “. . . food trucks are meant to be walked to — and they had to fight for it.”
- From Old School: “Can’t wait to go to the new food truck park just south of downtown. Just a few blocks walk from my office. Beats the crap out of Subway and Murphy’s Deli (and there are only so many days a week that one can eat at Treebeards).”
5. Best Sign of the New Houston. Second-place winner: The Construction Crane.
The nomination: “They’re visible everywhere. Currently out of my office window by Discovery Green I bear witness to 9 whole city blocks under construction. Add in the ones in the Energy Corridor, at the new ExxonMobil campus, along I-10, in the Galleria, in various Inner Loop spots and wherever else they have sprouted up and you certainly see signs of the ‘new’ Houston. Or the ‘old’ Houston getting a facelift. You choose.”
- From Becca: “Everything is under construction and the cranes create their own skyline.“
- From alternativemike: “Houston continues to be on the up and up! With so many projects starting off, midway or wrapping up, these things are popping up everywhere! It seems like for every crane that comes down at a completed job, two appear in its place elsewhere in town!“
- From Blake: “I see these everywhere I go around Houston. There’s a sea of cranes at the Exxon mega-campus. There’s a plethora of cranes out on the Energy Corridor. There’s a handful of cranes downtown. There’s cranes in the Galleria. There’s even cranes down on 288 South in Pearland. In addition to buildings under construction, there’s a slew of cranes used on the Grand Parkway project and the 290 widening project. Has there ever been a time with more cranes in Houston?”
6. Neighborhood of the Year. Second-place winner: Robindell.
The nomination: “So many young home buyers are snapping up homes in Robindell because where else can you find mid-century modest homes, mature trees, a neighborhood pool and dog park, and an active civic club and neighbors — just 7 minutes outside the Loop? Home prices are starting to reflect it, too. Back in 2009, when it won the Swamplot Award for Most Underappreciated Neighborhood, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a Robindell home for more than $180k. The past year has seen homes selling for as much as $300k — one was even priced for over $600k (though it didn’t sell). If you drive across the street, homes are selling for hundreds of thousands more. N. Braeswood ends at Robindell’s southern doorstep. The JCC is 3 minutes away. And you’re 3 minutes from the best bagels in town: New York Bagels and Deli on Hillcroft.”
- From a reader: “It’s such a warm and welcoming neighborhood. The people are great and so are the pets. We’ve been here a year and love how friendly folks are. Plus, it’s convenient to just about everything. All we need is one of those new HEBs and we’ll be all set.”
- From Gayle: “I’ve lived in the neighborhood, or ‘addition,’ as it’s officially called, for almost 30 years. We are like a small town in the middle of the city–not an expensive Bellaire, just an affordable, neighborly small town. We have an active civic club that meets monthly, a monthly newsletter and yard of the month award, a Facebook site with daily postings (people watch out for potential crime and wandering pets), a shared pool, a low crime rate, and a GREAT location. In the three decades here, I’ve worked in the medical center, Bellaire, downtown, Clear Lake, Sugar Land, and Westchase. The only times I have ever faced rush hour traffic on the freeway, I’ve gone against traffic — NO gridlock ever. It’s easy to meet your neighbors, and I have known and still know some of the original residents, who moved into their brand-new houses in the mid-1950s. And all this time, the neighborhood has maintained its property values and personality. Our deed restrictions and architectural control ‘rules’ are strict enough to help us maintain the integrity of the neighborhood but not so strict that we look like cookie cutter suburbia. We are truly a hidden gem.”
- From Suzy Lovejoy: “I moved here 5 years ago, have watched it change and I love it. It is a fantastic, dog walking, ice cream truck, 4th of July parade, kind of a place to live!!!!!”
- From movocelot: “Young homebuyers — snap up those older homes for you will reap the reward when developers come to call in a dozen years!”
- From LR: “Even some builders are starting to take notice!”
7. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Second-place winner: ExxonMobil’s enormous new Springwoods Village campus opens for business. April 9th.
The nomination: 7 years in the making, the oil giant’s used-to-be top secret campus-in-a-clearing project at the confluence of I-45 and the Hardy Toll Road still isn’t finished, but it opened for business earlier this year anyway, having left the transformation of a broad swath of North Houston in its wake. Credit the project for the completion of northern segments of the once-stalled Grand Parkway; for waves of new development in adjacent areas including upstart Springwoods Village and The Woodlands; for a huge uptick in home prices in Spring; and for the remaking of the company’s landmark former main building Downtown. The new campus, designed by Pickard Chilton, is meant to handle 10,000 workers,the company now reports — but they’re still moving in, bit by bit. By next year, the 20-building, 386-acre complex will bring together employees previously holed up in Greenspoint, Downtown, and a range of Houston-area sites, as well as Virginia and Ohio. The new campus won’t quite swallow everyone: Some employees will comandeer a satellite 2-building complex in The Woodlands’ Hughes Landing.
- From Carrie: “With the campus opening and EM closing all the other Houston campuses, it’s driven prices and development crazy. It’ll be interesting if lower gas prices affect the people they’ve forced to move to Houston from Baytown, Ohio, or Virginia.”
- From Chris Andrews: “It’s like a big magnet north of Houston, drawing everything toward the Woodlands.”
- From Angostura: “Nothing else has had as tangible an effect on Houston real estate this year.”
Congratulations to all! Coming up next: The Swamplot Award winners!
Photos: Swamplot inbox (townhomes on Clinton Dr. near Sydnor St.; ExxonMobil); Silberman Properties (Houston Club building); Hermann Park Conservancy/Fred Rogers (pedal boats); Flickr user Texas.713 (Mecom Fountain; license); Houston Public Media (Mayor Parker at the Modular); Russell Hancock (cranes); HAR (8705 Robindell Dr.). Videos: Culturemap (Houston Club)