02/03/12 11:33pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CLUE THEY’LL BE TEARING IT DOWN “The standard Texas Apartment Association lease does not give the owner the right to cancel the lease in the event of a sale. If the land value is approaching the as-built value, however, a smart landlord is going to put a clause in the lease that allows for a 30-day termination. At the complex I listed above, that was exactly what happened. The landlord had a cancellation clause in the lease for years before the property was sold to a developer. Some tenants may be turned off by it. It may have some affect on the rental rates. You have to weigh the pros and cons. Every situation is different.” [Bernard, commenting on New Owner Orders Everybody Out of the Greenbriar Chateau Apartments]

12/06/11 5:44pm

The request for a variance that would allow developers of the 3.68-acre property at the corner of Dunlavy and West Alabama to avoid putting in cul-de-sacs at the ends of Sul Ross and Branard St. — and that prompted the posting of signs around the Fiesta Food Mart on the property — isn’t the work of a new owner. It was submitted by the same owner who has held the property since the early sixties when the current shopping center was constructed.

So why the need for a variance that would only matter if the grocery store were redeveloped?


11/23/11 2:26pm

With $3.3 million already raised, Memorial Assistance Ministries began construction last week on the first phase of a $4 million, 17,000-sq.-ft. expansion: a new and bigger parking lot extending onto what used to be an open field. Early next year, the nonprofit, which helps out families in need and serves as a last backstop before homelessness for many of its clients, will begin adding 3 separate Kirksey-designed wings to the tilt-wall building the same architecture firm designed for it 6 years ago at 1625 Blalock, north of Long Point in Spring Branch. First up: filling in the building’s back yard with more administrative work areas, more warehouse space for the MAM resale store, and an enclosed courtyard. Once that portion is complete, builders from Brookstone Construction will move on to enlarge the resale store, add a new educational wing called the Center for Family Independence, and insert a drop-off area between them, closer to the new parking area on the north side of the building:


11/11/11 5:59pm

In a late-Friday afternoon press release that doesn’t mention Trader Joe’s at all, Alabama Theater owner Weingarten Realty is announcing that the company has begun construction on the landmarked 1939 Art Deco building at 2922 S. Shepherd to “create a more desirable space for future retail tenants.” What does that mean? Apparently, removing the few elements of the interior that made the building suitable as a movie theater: The entire screen wall along with the murals flanking both sides of the screen, and the auditorium’s sloped floor.


11/11/11 2:44pm

THE MAN WHO RESURRECTED THE GRAND PARKWAY As recently as the beginning of this year, 2 northwestern segments of the proposed fourth ring road around Houston were considered by many to be stalled projects — remnants, even, of an outdated dream to project sprawling, suburban-style development ever outward from the city. But by September, construction on the 15.2-mile Katy Prairie paving program known as Segment E of the Grand Parkway had magically begun; further north, Grand Parkway’s Segment F — the portion that would connect ExxonMobil’s proposed campus in Spring to western suburbs — now appears inevitable. How’d that happen? Reporter Angie Schmitt looks at the role of developer and TxDOT commissioner Ned Holmes in the startling turnaround, including the former banking executive’s remarkable ability to dig up a previously unnoticed $350 million deep in the books of the otherwise cash-starved state agency he oversees — in order to make the Grand Parkway happen. [StreetsBlog; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Rte. 99 ramp construction: Covering Katy

10/27/11 10:16am

A new report from Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability includes a few suggestions for the future of Galveston: step all development back from the beach in anticipation of continuing erosion; use a map of the island’s cataloged geohazards to guide where development should go; or permanently abandon the west end of the island entirely. That third recommendation comes with 2 possible natural enforcement mechanisms: a projected future hurricane headed for the western tip of the island, or a combination of sea-level rise and continuing retreat of the shoreline. All 3 scenarios encourage concentrating residents and visitors in the “higher, thicker, wider” East End. A collaboration between earth scientists and the School of Architecture chock-full of charts and diagrams, the Atlas of Sustainable Strategies for Galveston Island includes a series of large-scale design proposals cooked up by Rice architecture students.


10/26/11 10:55am

STUDEMONT KROGER 380 AGREEMENT PASSES By a 10-5 vote this morning, city council approved the mayor’s plan for a so-called “380” development agreement between the city and Kroger. Under the agreement, the grocery company would receive up to $2.5 million in sales and property tax reimbursements from the city in return for job-creation guarantees connected to a new store and gas station at 1400 Studemont St., just south of I-10. Also in the deal: a land exchange with the city to allow Summer St. to connect to Studemont through the company’s property. [Previously on Swamplot]

10/19/11 10:50am

NEW LAWSUIT SEEKS TO BLOCK WASHINGTON HEIGHTS WALMART TAX DEAL A nonprofit group formed to fight the proposed Washington Heights Walmart in the West End filed a lawsuit in district court yesterday, claiming that the tax reimbursement deal between the city and the project’s developer, Ainbinder Heights LLC, violates state law. Responsible Urban Development for Houston calls the $6 million agreement, in which the city promises to pay the developer back for infrastructure improvements, an “unconstitutional gratuitous transfer” that doesn’t meet state standards. The lawsuit also seeks to shut down all similar agreements established by the city, for “failing to provide sufficient controls to ensure that 380 agreements are not abused as either an end run around bond finance procedures or as political favors returned to well connected developers.” City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar agreement, for a new Kroger on Studemont just south of I-10, today. [Houston Politics; lawsuit; West End Walmart coverage]

09/30/11 10:23am

Okay, which one of you sneeze-and-greet types was the inspiration for a local real-estate development and investment firm to get into the hand sanitizer business? Yes, those little single-use rip-and-squeeze packets of B4 Hand Sanitizer you’ve seen at Eddie V’s and your favorite Sysco-supplied restaurants are the latest project of the Midway Companies, best known locally as the developers behind Town & Country Mall replacement CityCentre. Company CEO Brad Feels says it was a pre-dining encounter with an outstretched, just-sneezed-into hand that inspired him to create and market the product: “At that moment in the restaurant, I looked down and wished that there were hand sanitizers where the Sweet’N Low packets were,” he tells the HBJ‘s Allison Wollam.

The company’s next real-estate acquisition: shelf space at H-E-B and Rice Epicurean markets, where boxes of B4 packets will be stocked for sale in the next 2 weeks.


09/28/11 5:06pm

The development company behind a proposed 23-story residential tower at 1717 Bissonnet near Southampton known as the Ashby Highrise submitted its plans to the city again today, after taking a 2-year break. Buckhead Investment partner Matthew Morgan tells the West U Examiner‘s Michael Reed that the plans sent in today are mostly identical to those submitted in August 2009. Those plans, which the city ultimately approved, were for a version of the tower that axed some of the buildings’ commercial features, including retail and office space and a pedestrian plaza in front of the building. The lawsuit Buckhead filed against the city early last year, challenging the repeated rejection of its earlier plans for the building, is still pending in U.S. District Court.

There is one notable difference in the new plans: The units will be rented, not sold, Morgan says.

Rendering: Buckhead Investment Partners

09/12/11 9:49am

Tuesday morning, not far from the former grounds of Forbidden Gardens, its now-ransacked replica gravesite of Emperor Qin, and his army of one-third-scale terracotta soldiers at the stub-end of Hwy. 99 and Franz Rd., TxDOT and a contingent of public officials will gather to celebrate the groundbreaking of a notable project for Houston: the paving of a $350 million four-lane toll highway with “intermittent” development-ready access roads across an expanse of largely uninhabited prairie land that stretches between Katy and Cypress. When it’s complete, the 180-mile-long Grand Parkway will be Houston’s fourth ring road, cutting through 7 different counties. But none of the planned segments will forge so dramatic a path through undeveloped land as this particular north-south stretch, called Segment E.


08/10/11 11:33am

RIG VOTE IN LEAGUE CITY League City’s city council voted last night to double the minimum distance oil and gas rigs must keep back from most buildings, including homes. The new requirement is 600 ft., though some residents of the Magnolia Creek subdivision — right next door to one of 2 proposed new drilling sites in the city — had hoped to get a 1000-ft. buffer approved. [abc13; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: abc13

06/08/11 11:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: EXXONMOBIL TAKES THE FOREST “[It’s] awesome, but I thought the era of building suburban office campuses was close to gone. Not anymore, I guess. Just goes to show that there is still plenty a land for Houston to sprawl, and this illustrates no signs of slowing down. God that third outerbelt is just going to catalyze more of this crap (albeit ExxonMobil’s campus is pretty crap). I mean, if ExxonMobil really wanted to, they could’ve revitalized an entire swath of area in one of many industrial parts of Houston. No, but instead of utilizing an area that could be purposeful, they chose to destroy the environment. Yeah, Houston’s forests in the north are what keeps the area looking bad, but just a few more decades of this, and there will be nothing left to conceal this disgusting sprawl.” [Carlos, commenting on Welcome to the Land of ExxonMobil: A Tour of the Company’s New North Houston Campus]

06/07/11 9:24am

An email sent out early this morning to all U.S.-based ExxonMobil employees provides the first acknowledgment by the company’s management of what’s been a remarkably open secret: that the oil giant is building a giant new office campus south of The Woodlands. Actually, the email simply announces that the company is “proceeding with construction” of the project — a fact that should have been apparent to anyone who’s explored a Google map of the area recently, or driven past the small army of construction cranes visible from behind a mask of trees on the western edge of I-45 near the start of the Hardy Toll Rd. and the likely path of the Grand Parkway. (The reader photo shown above dates from several weeks ago.)


05/05/11 2:20pm

While thousands of ExxonMobil employees wait patiently to hear confirmation from the oil giant’s tight-lipped management about their rumored “possible” consolidation in a brand-new enormous office campus just south of The Woodlands, aerial photos that show work proceeding on the site have shown up in an update to Google Maps. The photo update appears to be relatively recent; it shows a level of clear-cutting similar to what was evident in the images leaked to Swamplot last month, which dated from March 12: