This is it, folks. We’ve reached the final ballot in the final category of the 2013 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. The award for the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate is meant to separate those events that are especially noteworthy from those that were simply headline-worthy.
The nominees came from your suggestions. Now, we need you to pick the winner! Vote by adding a comment below or by email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can vote using all 4 methods — if you follow these rules. Tell us which of the following nominees represents the greatest moment in Houston real estate. And then tell us why.
Here are the nominees:
1. Foley’s Falls. September 22nd. Houston’s last remaining downtown department store — since 2006 known as Macy’s — went down in a cloud of smoke after a series of loud Sunday morning dynamite charges. The 10-story, 791,000-sq.-ft. all-but-windowless building was designed by Kenneth Franzheim for the block bounded by Main, Travis, Dallas, and Lamar 66 years ago, but suddenly it was a plume-of-dust-covered heap of bricks. The department store had announced its March shutdown at the start of the year. A structure once lauded as a model of postwar retail efficiency (PDF) quickly became a symbol of downtown redevelopment efficiency: Building owner Hilcorp now plans to build a 23-story headquarters building for itself on the site, which fronts the Main St. light-rail line.
2. Voters reject Harris County’s Bond Proposal to Renovate the Astrodome. November 5th. There were so many deliciously absurd Astrodome moments to choose from this year, it seems unfair to be forced to pick just one. There was the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation’s declaration of a deadline for private bids to redevelop the Astrodome when it hadn’t bothered first to request any; its decision to reject all submissions — which were restricted to private funding sources — in favor of its own publicly funded proposal; the demo work — excuse us: “improvements” — scheduled to begin before the public vote on the landmark’s future; the carnival-like pre-election sale and auction of stadium seating, turnstiles, and interior fixtures; and the late-night detonation of the Astrodome’s add-on ramp towers, which had made the upper decks wheelchair accessible. Alas, this is an award for great moments, so we’ll have to stick to just one: Any way you slice (or detonate) it, the failure of the $217 million bond measure that would have created a “New Dome Experience” was the biggie. Were voters rejecting any redevelopment efforts for the long-vacant stadium, or just the county’s continued bungling of the process? And how will we remember this moment, once the Dome is gone — or given a new life?
3. The moment between listing a property and getting a contract on it. All year. “That ‘moment’ might’ve only affected the buyer and seller, but it happened everyday all day all over Houston all year! Looking for a new home over this past year, I had to check HAR’s website daily. Often the same day something went on the market, a showing was scheduled immediately and an offer made; then word would come that there are 5 other offers, and then you’ve got to wait to see if you got it! Several times I didn’t get it, until finally I offered many thousands of dollars over the asking price. I got my house within 12 hours of it going on the market. A month later, I put a sign up in my yard, showed the house 8 times before dinner, took one of many offers that was shockingly over my asking price and that set a new record for my block, and walked around for days with a huge grin of disbelief on my face. The dust and smell from the Foley’s demolition wafted into my open Midtown windows for longer than the time it took to sell that home!”
4. Heights Blvd. townhomes collapse overnight. April 27th. They were on their way up one second, but gone the next. A couple of under-construction 4-story stick-framed townhomes on Heights Blvd. at E. 2nd St. straight-up topple and tumble into a spectacular woodpile. Was a big bad wolf to blame? The Keystone Classic Homes construction was a project of on-probation former Astrodome overseer Michael Surface. Fingers were quickly pointed at a storm that reportedly moved through the area earlier that night — a story the developer also stuck to, though others near the site hadn’t noticed anything especially gusty. The quick toppling ended up setting construction back about a week on the so-called Madison Park townhomes, both collapsed units of which had already been sold.
5. Urban Living sues a former customer — and loses. November 19th. Going after former clients who end up buying properties through other brokers after first signing a buyer representation agreement with Urban Living wasn’t a tough call for the Washington Ave real estate firm — it was how the company went about collecting a fair number of commissions. But Christopher Drummond claimed he didn’t understand what he was signing when the agreement was put in front of him, and complained his Urban Living agent never told him about the Magnolia Grove townhouse development he ultimately bought into through a competing agency. When the parent company behind Urban Living sued him for approximately $13,000 in commissions and lost bonuses, Drummond refused to settle. After testimony from a wide range of witnesses — including Urban Living owner Vinod Ramani, who told opposing attorneys he’d “spend $1,000 to collect $1” — a jury found that Urban Living had failed to comply with its own promises in the agreement, and ordered the real-estate firm to pay Drummond more than $150,000 to cover his legal fees.
6. Jury sides with neighbors in the Ashby Highrise case. December 17th. $1,661,993.62. That’s how much the jury awarded in damage claims to 20 of the 30 Southampton-area households that entered into the lawsuit against the developers of the 21-story apartment tower planned for 1717 Bissonnet. The developers would only be liable for payments if they go ahead with the project, but neighbors are hoping to prevent that next, with an injunction from the judge. Was the verdict another example of a wealthy neighborhood’s ability to rejigger longstanding development rules, a long-awaited rebalancing of power in the redevelopment game, a decision that’ll rattle developers for years to come, or all 3? Calling any final ruling based on that verdict a harbinger of “a dark era for urban growth and economic prosperity,” Buckhead Investment Partners says it plans to appeal.
7. Metro’s North Line extension opens. December 21st. Once trains can ride continuously from the Fannin South station south of the 610 Loop to Northline Commons north of it, the Main St. Red Line’s Sam’s Club-to-Walmart manifest destiny will have been achieved. Crews have been working for this moment all year. The first expansion of Houston’s light-rail system in its 10-year history is a big deal, but it’ll be an even bigger deal when 2 new east-west lines open next year.
8. The Grand Parkway connects Cypress to Katy. December 21st. Sure, it’s mostly Katy Prairie habitat around there now, but give it a few years to see what kind of sprawl blossoms along this 15-mile stretch of 4-lane tollway. The concrete and EZ Tag system are brand new, but segment E of the Grand Parkway has some history . . . um, underneath it too! The Katy Mills Mall–to–Houston Premium Outlets expressway opens this weekend.
A big round of applause, please, for all of these hard-working contestants. Now tell us: Which moment was greatest? Voting ends for this and all other categories on December 27th at 5 pm. Get your votes in now!
- How To Vote in the 2013 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate [Swamplot]
- Swamplot Awards Ballots 2013 [Swamplot]
Images: Christof Spieler (Foley’s); Jefferson Noxon (Foley’s video) The Sam Team (sign); Swamplot inbox (Madison Park townhomes, Ashby Highrise signs, Quitman Station); Russell Hancock (Astrodome); New Dome PAC (Astrodome video); Vinod Ramani (Urban Living); Hennessey Performance (Grand Parkway segment E)