Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate: The Official 2011 Ballot

It’s come down to this: the final category in the 2011 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. Here, we set about to choose the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate of the past year. The official nominees, culled from your suggestions, have now been posted. You get to pick the winner.

Remember, readers get to vote once using each separate approved method — that’s 4 votes in all for each award category. Declare your vote in a comment to this post, in an email to Swamplot HQ, in a Tweet, or on the wall of Swamplot’s Facebook page. The complete voting rules are here. When you vote, please tell us why you made your choice. We’ll include some of the best explanations for the winners when we announce them next week.

The official nominees for the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate of 2011 are . . .


1. Metro Starts Laying Track Again. August 10. The end of Metro’s 10-year-long track-laying drought begins with an 80-ft. section put down for the 6.6-mile Southeast Line near Paige and Rusk streets, east of Downtown. Even better for rail fans: a few months later, $900 million in federal funding for that line and an extension of the existing North Line — delayed as a result of a procurement scandal — comes through, finally. Also in full swing now: construction for the East End Line, being built with local funds.


2. River Oaks Shopping Center Puts on a New Stucco Suit. April 18. Just another episode in Weingarten Realty’s strange continuing quest to vanquish that tired Streamline and Art Deco look from its historic Streamline and Art Deco commercial properties inside the Loop. But this one transforms the entire feel of Houston’s oldest shopping center. The low-slung, relaxed, black-and-white look is gone, pasted over with expanses of creamy stucco and decked out with an elongated forehead, flashy round corner turrets, and noisier signage. Suddenly, a familiar stretch of West Gray is relieved from the burdens of history, and newly outfitted with what looks like a stage-set version of the shopping center it replaced.


3. Phoenicia Specialty Foods Opens in One Park Place. November 7. After months of delays, the pitas finally begin puffing down the conveyor belt in the Downtown location’s 2-story space. Any grocery store would have attracted workers and residents in Houston’s central business district. But this full-scale eat-in, drink-in store with broad appeal right across from Discovery Green has already begun changing people’s perceptions of Downtown.


4. Woodland Heights, Glenbrook Valley, and Heights South Become Designated Historic Districts. June 29th. The long process of vanquishing the quirky wait-90-days-and-do-whatever-you-want exception to Houston’s pretty-please preservation ordinance began last year. But for individual historic districts, the battle to put the new rules in force plays out through a series of protracted public campaigns, city council votes, and neighborhood surveys in 2011. First up: a controversial “reconsideration” process for existing districts that results in only a single historic-district property escaping the strictures of the tightened rules. With this council vote at the end of June christening 3 new districts under the new rules, the battle appears to be over. 18 districts now have stronger preservation rules in place. But will any other neighborhoods want to join them?


5. Dynamo Stadium Construction Begins. February 5th. Recently renamed for Spanish mega-bank BBVA Compass, the blobby major-league soccer, concert, and TSU football venue is the first large-scale Convention Center-area project to slip past the Hwy. 59 barrier, and will likely spur additional new construction in East Downtown. A planned stadium light-rail station next to it will also serve as the junction of the new East End and Southeast light-rail lines. How much development — and what kind — is likely to follow?


6. West Ave Retail Opens. February 1st. A new retail development that isn’t some variation on the mall or strip-mall model opens inside the Loop. In Houston, this is big news. Upper-story apartments at Kirby and Westheimer began renting last year; this year the stores and restaurants on the first and second floors set out to prove that high-density, high-end retail can attract a local following — even if there isn’t a parking lot in front. Having remade the upper part of Upper Kirby, the concept is already spreading: Gables is getting ready to start construction on the second of 3 planned phases early next year — and promoters of similar mixed-use projects have begun referring to them as “West Ave-style” developments.


7. Houston Begins Charging a Drainage Fee. July 1. What would a huge new source of funding be without lawsuits, allegations of insider deals, embarrassing retractions of financial projections, billing surprises and adjustments, taxpayer disputes, and a healthy dose of general griping? Still, the $125 million annually the city of Houston is expected to raise from the Rebuild Houston initiative (approved by voters last year) for drainage and street improvements is likely to change the area’s urban landscape dramatically — for a few hours after one of those heavy, heavy rainfall events, at least.


8. ExxonMobil Announces Its New North Houston Campus. June 7. Details of the 3-million-sq.-ft. suburban-style office development the petrochemical giant had been sorta-secretly planning for a 385-acre pine forest along Cypress Creek near the intersection of I-45 and the Hardy Toll Road (and a stretch of the future Grand Parkway) had already been circulated widely by the time the company finally fessed up to its consolidation program. But the size, scope, design, and nature of the project still make a big splash when the company announces it, and it’s clear the ripples caused by the development will have a lasting effect on the region. Is this campus the only reason the once-left-for-dead Grand Parkway suddenly jolted back to life? The exodus of 16,000 employees from other parts of town to a new just-north-of-Houston, just-south-of-The-Woodlands hub will create yet another energy “center” for the city; doubling down on (and amping up) the tried-and-true model of just-outside-the-urban-area office parks will help reinforce existing development patterns.


Those are the candidates! And now comes your great moment — to make your choice and vote. What’ll it be?

Photos: Metro, Weingarten Realty, Flickr user L424ME (Phoenicia), KUHF News (Woodland Heights), Populous (Dynamo Stadium), West Ave River Oaks, Rebuild Houston (pervious cover map), ExxonMobil

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