We’ve reached the end of the line. Here’s your final ballot, for the final category of this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate: the award for the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate.
An annual fixture in the Swampies since the very first go-round in 2008, this award aims to honor the events that stand above all the rest. The nominees came from your suggestions. Your next job: pick the winner! Vote in this category by adding a comment below — or by sending us an email, or posting your preference on Facebook or Twitter. We hope you’ll include an explanation for your preference, to make the whole thing more fun. You can vote up to 4 times in this category — once using each method — as long as you follow these rules. A reminder: We’ll only be counting votes submitted via the first 2 methods from voters who’ve signed up for the Swamplot email list. (If you haven’t done so already, you can join it through this link — or the box at the top left of this page.)
And now please welcome the official nominees for Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate, 2014:
1. ExxonMobil’s enormous new Springwoods Village campus opens for business. April 9th. 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.
2. Construction Begins on the Village at Palm Center. December 3. This development by Port Arthur’s ITEX Group, about to go up on the 9.6-acre site of a shuttered flea market (and grocery store before that, pictured at right) at the corner of MLK Blvd. and Griggs Rd., is a rare bird for Houston. 90 percent of the 222 units (154 apartments, plus 68 adjacent townhome units) will be reserved for low-income tenants, but the mixed-use complex manages to include a long list of features regularly missing in more conventional apartment developments — including 14,500 sq. ft. of commercial space on the ground floor, a 4,000-sq.-ft. community center for residents, onsite daycare, a fitness center, and outdoor play spaces. The design by architects Humphreys & Partners is meant to focus attention on the busy streetcorner. Across it to the north, a new public library is planned; across MLK to the east is the new Houston Texans YMCA, and a short jaunt down Griggs Rd. is the furthest-out station of Metro’s new Southeast Line (now scheduled to open next April), providing residents an easy commute to UH, TSU, and Downtown. All these services are meant to help local residents stick around and weather an anticipated gentrification of their neighborhood. The $41 million budget for the project will be aided by more than $15 million in federal funds earmarked for Hurricane Ike relief passed through the city’s Housing and Community Development department, as well as housing tax credits from the state.
3. The Schroeders save the Weingarten Mansion from demolition. August 29. The stately MacGregor Way estate of former local grocery magnate Joseph Weingarten had all the trappings of a familiar Houston headed-for-a-teardown story when it went on the market back in July. Perched on 4.73 acres in Riverside Terrace just south of Brays Bayou (and a mile south of the University of Houston), the 1935 chateau-style structure by society architect Joseph Finger had been undermaintained for years, and had the wear to show for it. But the plans of a few redevelopment-minded builders were thwarted by Darryl Schroeder, the owner of Baytown offshore-drilling-rig fabrication company Lone Star Energy Fabricating, and his real-estate-agent wife Lori, who snatched up the property and a neighboring Ranch home for $2.75 million. The Ranch showed up a few months later on Swamplot’s daily demolition report, but the Schroeders announced plans to restore the mansion as their home (while enlarging its kitchen) — with the help of architect David Bucek.
4. Judge approves damage award, but refuses to block construction of the Ashby Highrise. May 1st. Late last year, some neighbors of the proposed 21-story apartment tower planned for 1717 Bissonnet St. scored a victory when a jury declared the unbuilt project to be a nuisance and awarded 20 of the 30 Southampton-area households in the lawsuit $1,661,993.62. But in his May ruling Judge Randy Wilson refused to grant the plaintiffs what they really wanted: an injunction preventing Buckhead Investment Partners from constructing the building at all. (He also cut out a quarter of the jury award.) Both sides in the epic 7-year-long development battle have appealed the decision, but almost 8 months later work has yet to begin on the 1.6-acre site (despite occasional reports of activity there), even though no legal impediments appear to be standing in the way of construction. Should the Judge’s decision be scored as a victory for the neighborhood or vindication for the developers? Or after so many delays, will new economic realities render the battle moot?
5. TV News Report Highlights Feng Shui Expert’s Complaint that a North Montrose Apartment Building Is Being Built Too Close to a Graveyard — the Night Before the Complex Burns to the Ground. March 24th. There was Trisha Keel on the teevee news, complaining to KHOU reporter Drew Karedes that the Axis Apartments, a 5-story, 368-unit apartment block going up at 2400 West Dallas St., was going up smack dab next to, you know, graves at Magnolia Cemetery — and that couldn’t be a good thing. (“The dead are NOT good neighbors! Their decaying energy feeds off your vital life force,” she had written in her Tumblr.) The very next day — through no fault of Keel’s — the wood-frame construction was on fire, sending giant plumes of smoke billowing above the neighborhood. Luckily (and thanks to a dramatic rescue effort — see below), no people were hurt in the blaze. Developer JLB Partners demolished the singed remains of the building, and later its parking garage, but still doesn’t appear to be consulting Keel over the proper placement of its do-over. Bonus fun fact: Among the folks buried in Magnolia Cemetery are a Halliburton or 2.
6. Dramatic Last-Second Ladder-Truck Rescue Saves Construction Worker from West Dallas St. Apartment Fire. March 25th. This 2-and-a-half-minute video uploaded to YouTube by Karen Jones (above; it’s still working after more than 7.8 million views) allows you to relive it as it happened: After flames engulfed JLB Partners’ Axis Apartments, which were under construction at 2400 W. Dallas St. in North Montrose, Houston firefighters Brad Hawthorne and Dewayne Wyble, operating a ladder truck from Station 18 on Telephone Rd., saved a trapped construction worker from an almost certain fiery death. The worker’s own daring balcony-to-balcony jump (pictured at left) brought him from the fourth floor to the third, and within range of the ladder; moments after climbing onto it, a portion of the fourth floor collapsed above him. Other than a cat who experienced burns but was expected to recover, no one was injured in the fire — though the apartments were a total loss. Jones captured (and commented on) all the action as she saw it from an office along Rylis St. in the adjacent American General complex.
7. Houston’s real estate boom and the price of oil begin moving in opposite directions. June 23rd. Oil prices began their several-month-long tumble in late June, after WTI prices peaked at around $107 a barrel; we’re now close to half that value. But Houston’s go-go real estate frenzy kept on going — at least so far as anyone could tell. Now, at the end of 2014, most forecasters are predicting some sort of correction for next year, but the city’s Wile E. Coyote-style suspended-in-midair moment appears to have lasted for several months so far.
Nice jobs, contestants! Now we need our readers to tell us: Which moment should go down as the 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 2014 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate [Swamplot]
- Swamplot Awards Ballots 2014 [Swamplot]
Images: Swamplot inbox (ExxonMobil); ITEX Group (Village at Palm Center); Real Estate Bisnow/Catie Dixon (King’s Best demolition); HAR (4000 S. MacGregor Way); Buckhead Investment Partners (1717 Bissonnet rendering); Houston Public Media (Ashby Highrise site); Judith (Axis Apartments fire); Axis Apartments fire rescue (Karen Jones); colonialsong (2111 Westheimer Rd. construction)