I-45 STRIP CLUB SAYS HPD’S 3-FT. DEAL WITH COMPETITORS IS DRIVING IT OUT OF BUSINESS
A new lawsuit filed by Fantasy Plaza — just south of North Bank Rd. at 8503 N. Fwy. — accuses the city and other strip clubs of working together on what Fantasy claims “amounts to a commercial bribery scheme.” Five years ago, 16 of Fantasy Plaza’s competitors — some of which had been accused of facilitating human trafficking — settled a series of lawsuits with the city. As part of the settlement, the clubs agreed to get rid of their “VIP rooms” and also “to donate annually to a fund that maintains a Houston Police Department unit dedicated to investigating human trafficking,” writes the Chronicle’s Francisca Ortega. The clubs now pool together at least $1 million each year for the fund. In return, HPD agreed not to enforce a law that prohibited topless dancers from coming within 3 ft. of customers — but only for the 16 clubs making payments. Fantasy Plaza wasn’t one of them. Now, according to the club’s suit: “Because Fantasy Plaza must abide by city law, Fantasy Plaza cannot compete for customers in the same manner as the Clubs. This has caused-and will continue to cause, Fantasy Plaza to lose business and ultimately fail.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Fantasy Plaza
The reader who sends this photo from this morning’s commute — on I-45 North near Canino — says it appears workers were “just putting up” this “Save the Dome” sign from OurAstrodome.org on the billboard this morning. “I drive by there every day and I don’t remember seeing it [before today],” the reader reports. The campaign ad in support of Harris County Proposition 2 on today’s ballot — which will determine the fate of the Astrodome — is visible going northbound on the freeway. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
THE LINGERING SOUNDS OF SELLING BY THE FREEWAY Almost a week after the daylong feeder road-side furniture sale they held on the abandoned grounds of the former Landmark Chevrolet next to I-45 North near the West Gulfbank exit, wacdesignstudio designers and guerrilla marketers Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz-Amaré Cartwright were still feeling the effects: “We were there for nine hours, thankfully it was cloudy… but the sound pollution really affected one of us to the point that even today our head and bodies still hurt… can you imagine how hard of a job road workers have when building or fixing the streets?” [Swamplot inbox; previously on Swamplot]
So much vacant freewayside selling space, there for the taking! At least temporarily. Alas, no pieces were sold in last weekend’s guerrilla furniture sale — an all-day event staged on the abandoned concrete campus of Landmark Chevrolet at 9111 North Freeway near West Gulf Bank. But wacdesignstudio‘s Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz-Amaré Cartwright came prepared for their Sunday digs:
Because the space was not rented, Scott and Jenny brought an envelope full of cash to pay off potential security guards (there were none), as well as food for any wandering homeless people. The crowd was a mix of architecture students, writers, and curious locals from the adjacent Hidden Valley ranch-style development located behind the dealership.
Well, you know those kinda folks are just showing up for the ambience and cheese anyway. Did you really think they’d be buying up the prototypes in your new furniture line? But hey — marketing is marketing! And look at some of the pix you’ve got to show for it:
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DESOLATE FEEDER ROAD CAR LOT LANDSCAPES What’s become of the 20-some Houston-area car lots dealers have shut down over the last year or two? Here’s a sampling: “‘My mother lived here 27 years, and we never had any trouble with Landmark Chevrolet,’ said Rhys Everett, who was cleaning out his mother’s former residence in the Hidden Valley neighborhood behind the defunct dealership. ‘But now it is filled with vagrants who have taken everything that wasn’t nailed down, and it’s a jumping-off point for crime in our neighborhood.’ The dealership, one of 13 outlets nationwide that Bill Heard Enterprises closed in September 2008, sprawls for blocks near the intersection of Gulf Bank and the North Freeway. It looks as if it had been hit by a cyclone. The main showroom’s exterior and interior windows are shattered. Ceiling tiles are torn away, exposing duct work that dangles like limp straws. Awnings hang in tatters. . . . The ravaged Chevrolet dealership’s antithesis can be found on Interstate 10 in Baytown, where the defunct Baytown Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealership is preserved in near-pristine condition.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot]
WHERE THE SIDEWALKS END “On Airline Drive, for example, up to 40,000 people arrive every weekend to visit flea markets that line both sides of the road. The neighborhood’s management district is gearing up to spend $2.9 million on pedestrian improvements, including two new, signalized crosswalks on Airline, as well as sidewalks on nearby streets that are heavily used by local residents. . . . [Harris County] has a policy of not installing sidewalks when it builds a new road, unless a group or city provides the extra money. ‘It’s an expense that doesn’t have to do with transportation,’ said Mark Seegers, a spokesman for Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. ‘The county does not do sidewalks; it’s not what gets cars from point A to point B.’ . . . In the eight-county region that includes Houston, an average of 100 pedestrians died every year between 2003 and 2008, and an average of 1,175 were injured, mostly within Harris County, according to statistics compiled by the Texas Department of Transportation. More than half of all pedestrian deaths occur on [high-capacity, high-speed roads called ‘arterials’], often as people are trying to cross to reach retail shops or bus stops.” [Houston Chronicle]
CLOSING THE GREATER GREENSPOINT SPRAWL GAP That 1,000-acre undeveloped green space south of Beltway 8 and just west of I-45 North will soon become Houston’s largest office/warehouse distribution business park: “The marketing package announces sites for sale within the business park ranging from five to 300 acres in size. A site plan indicates that Ella Boulevard, Greens Crossing Boulevard and Fallbrook Drive will be extended through the property. . . . Pinto Realty’s business park is comprised of 500 acres that have been owned by the Cockrell family for some 50 years, [Greater Greenspoint Management District president Jack] Drake says. The other 500 acres were used as a tree farm for many years before the Cockrells acquired that portion of the land from ExxonMobil Corp.” A unit of Sysco is completing a 585,000-square-foot distribution center on 50 adjacent acres the company purchased from the Cockrells 2 years ago. [Houston Business Journal]
AIRLINE: HOW YOU SAY WESTHEIMER IN SPANISH Stopping briefly at the Sunny Flea Market and the Cedar Lounge, and passing by Dance Town USA, John Nova Lomax decides a weekend evening on Airline Dr. is a familiar scene: “Even on a Sunday, the street is livelier than most in Houston – in fact, it reminded Beebe and I of nothing so much as lower Westheimer circa 1986, albeit en español. Teenagers still cruise the northern stretches of Airline in their cars, many of which sport speakers mounted in their grills, the better to share their norteño tunes with all those around them. (It’s loud, but since norteño is pretty much devoid of resonant bass frequencies, it doesn’t bulge glass or rattle your fillings.) There’s near gridlock at some intersections and the same sort of fleeting, duration-of-a-stoplight sexual tension (and thus its traveling partner — potential violence) ‘Theimer was known for back in its teenage hormone-drenched alleged heyday.” [Hair Balls; previously]
BILL HEARD BID HEARD The Sugar Land location of bankrupted Bill Heard Chevrolet has a new owner. And the new place is gonna be . . . a car dealership! “[Jean] Durdin, who owns Parkway Chevrolet in northwest metro Houston, outbid fellow Houston dealer Mac Haik for the Heard store in southwest Houston. Durdin added more than $7.7 million to Haik’s original bid to buy the store for $20 million, not including vehicle and parts inventory. Durdin also outbid two other competitors, but [turnaround consultant Fred] Caruso declined to name them.” [Automotive News, via Swamplot inbox; previously]
On the lot at the shuttered Bill Heard Chevrolet off the Southwest Freeway in Sugar Land Saturday: a couple of armed security guards, hired by GM to make sure nothing leaves the lot.
Inside the dealership’s main offices it looks as though the entire showroom floor was frozen in time. Deflated balloons hang off of cubicle corners and showroom models. A loan application sits on a desk, unfinished. A framed picture of a family going down a roller coaster at Sea World hangs above an uncleared desk, one of many family photos that indicate the suddenness of the announcement.
If you’re to believe one of the managers of this particular dealership, the employees stayed late into the night helping customers get their plates processed and out the door. Contradicting this is an article from Wednesday in the Houston Chronicle in which the operations manager of Bill Heard Sugar Land, Linda Patterson, claimed they were selling vehicles into the night and would continue to stay in business. But by the next morning it was announced they would be closing, possibly for good.
After the jump: More on Bill Heard’s collapse, plus photos from Jalopnik’s (how’d they get?) behind-the-scenes report!
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Car-shark favorites Landmark Chevrolet — on I-45 North near Gulf Bank — and Bill Heard Chevrolet — on the Southwest Freeway at 90 in Sugar Land — are both closing as part of a nationwide 13-dealership shutdown orchestrated by the pair’s parent company, Bill Heard Enterprises, which is based in Georgia. The move should make a lot of former customers very happy.
Available soon: A few more of those 9.9-acre stormwater-special feeder-road concrete lots?
Photo: Bill Heard Chevrolet
Fox TV reporter Isiah Carey breathlessly describes the scene yesterday at Airline Dr. and Hill Rd. — “probably one of the most dangerous areas in our city” — where he had stopped to plug a leaky tire:
In the 15 minutes I was there I witnessed 2 hit and run accidents. One truck hit a car and then drove off. The other was a car slamming into a SUV and the driver of the car also took off. In both cases the victims pursued the drivers who hit them. Then there was almost a third accident but the drivers managed to avoid hitting each other. But the fun didn’t end there. There was another instance where two people were driving down Airline and arguing from car to car. One passenger was hanging out of the window yelling at the other driver while pointing his finger very angrily. I asked the tire repair guy what was going on. He immediately blamed the flea markets just down the road. I still don’t get how the flea market can affect how adults behave on a Sunday afternoon. Anyway, when I left the tire repair shop there was like bumper to bumper traffic in front of those flea markets along Airline. I have never seen so many people out and about without a major concert. I almost hit a couple of them who just walked in front of my moving car to get from one side of the flea market to the other.