06/17/11 12:08pm

Update, 6/20: Hoang has issued a statement about his nanny.

Mayor Parker has requested a separate city investigation into whether council member Al Hoang forged the signatures of 16 neighbors in a bid to change the name of his street from Turtlewood Dr. to Little Saigon Dr. A petition requesting the name change was circulated among the residents of Turtlewood Square — a development of 47 nine-or-so-year-old homes located behind a Bellaire Blvd. strip center just west of Arthur Storey Park. A lawsuit filed by several residents of the development alleges that the when the petition was given to Hoang it didn’t have the signatures of the required 75 percent of residents. The lawsuit claims that by the time Hoang submitted the petition to the city, it had gained an additional 16 names — all forged. Hoang appears to have told 11 News reporter Jeremy Rogalski that he believes his nanny — who no longer works for him — was responsible for the extra names. After the allegations of forgery, Hoang submitted a direct request for the name change to the city’s planning department. The mayor has put both name change requests on hold pending resolution of the investigation.

Photo: HAR

03/03/11 11:14am

How long will the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema be sticking around at the West Oaks Mall, now that Regal Entertainment Group has announced it’s going to open a new 14-screen Edwards Theatre multiplex there in the fall of 2012? A spokesperson for Triple Tap Ventures wouldn’t say directly, explaining that the beer-and-movie house will remain open “throughout the planned construction and into the foreseeable future.” But the Alamo Drafthouse owner doesn’t appear to be looking as far ahead as the mall’s owners, who’ve already announced that the 6-screen theater will close after the new theater is opened.

The Edwards multiplex will go into the mall’s west wing, where Mervyns used to be. Next door will be a new plaza with 3 restaurants and outdoor seating. Triple Tap reports it is still looking to open new Alamo Draft House locations both inside the Loop and around the Houston area.

Photo: Joel Barhamand

02/14/11 2:20pm

That was fast: Yesterday, just a day before Valentine’s Day — and almost exactly 2 weeks after a seemingly candid photo of one of the home’s 2 full bathrooms gained attention all over the internet — the owner of this well-appointed condo in Crescent Park Village accepted a purchase offer. Congratulations! On January 30th, a photo that just happened to include what looked like a 9- or 10-inch uh, stress reliever mounted on the back of the toilet was taken down quickly — followed, in short order, by the entire listing. Really? Some sellers would do anything for that kind of attention. Well, maybe a different kind of attention. But with a new MLS number, the offending photo removed, and a sub-$70K asking price, this home still got noticed. Of course, we’re all hoping the buyer’s likely-to-be-very-careful home inspection won’t turn up any additional surprises.

For any of you who might have missed it the first time, Swamplot’s uncensored photo home tour from the original listing is reprised here:


01/31/11 12:27pm

It’s not clear exactly who it was that first noticed the oh, maybe 9- or 10-inch-tall object sitting upright in the background of a bathroom photo included in the for-sale listing on Cressida Glen Ln. in Crescent Park Village. The listing for the Alief property — just minutes from the Westpark Tollway! — was first posted 15 days ago, but it wasn’t until early yesterday morning that email and online discussions about it really got going. The photo caption read “Large master with jacuzzi tub” and showed the sink, toilet, and a bit of the shower curtain, but that’s not what caught your attention. “I called [the real estate agent] to give her a heads up and she hung up [on] me so I took a picture to post on the internet for eternity,” a Reddit user commented around 1 pm. An hour or so later, the photo was gone from the listing.

What photo? The NSFW one below:


05/10/10 5:45pm

University of Houston architecture professor Susan Rogers explores the Bellaire-Holcombe corridor from Highway 6 to the Med Center and finds a donut in her path.

For each census tract that intersects Holcombe or Bellaire Blvd., Rogers tallied the total number of residents born outside the United States and those residents’ country of origin, using 2000 Census data. The results surprised her:

Most of the action is in the zone between the Loop and the Beltway. “The diversity drops steeply inside 610,” she notes:

I had graphed the street from just 610 to Hwy. 6 for a talk on the links between Asia and Houston and then decided to add the rest as a potential “contrast” – what I found when I completed it absolutely astounded me – the absolute drop is so stark – and of course the income graph is nearly the exact opposite . . .

That graph showing median household income in the same census tracts:


12/23/09 3:27pm

Who was it again that bought the West Oaks Mall out of bankruptcy earlier this month, for the bargain price of $15 million? Just an L.A. investment group called Pacific Retail Capital Partners. That firm’s principals, then with a company called Somera Capital, are the same people who sold the 1.1-million-sq.-ft. mall at Westheimer and Hwy. 6 in 2005 to Investment Partners of America, the “investment” vehicle of high-rolling 1031 Exchange king Edward H. Okun, after a quick 2-year spiff-up.

Okun paid Somera $102 million. Yes, that Edward H. Okun.

This time, the mall’s a whole lot cheaper, but it’s not in such good shape, either. Mervyn’s and J.C. Penney are gone. The rest of the mall is at 60 percent occupancy. “Over the past couple of years, several tenants tried to renew,” Somera Capital’s (and now Pacific Retail’s) Stephen Plenge tells Globe St., “and no one would return their phone calls.” The new owners say the Mervyn’s wing is likely to be redeveloped.

Photo of West Oaks Mall visitors: Joel Barhamand

08/11/09 11:54am

High-stakes real estate swindler Edward H. Okun was sentenced last week in a Virginia courtroom to 100 years in prison for absconding with about $126 million in funds entrusted to his qualified intermediary company by 1031 exchange investors. Meanwhile, back on the corner of Westheimer and Highway 6, one of his former properties went up for sale.

Okun’s Investment Properties of America bought the West Oaks Mall for $110 million in 2005. The sellers of the bankrupt property might expect to get $20 million for the million-sq.-ft. mall today, reports Globe St.‘s Amy Wolff Sorter:

The mall’s anchors include Dillard’s and Macy’s, which own their own space, and Sears, which is on a lease. [Holliday Fenoglio Fowler’s Robert] Williamson says the Sears lease is up in 2010, but negotiations are underway to keep the retailer in place.

When Okun bought the mall from Somera Capital and CoastWood Capital a little less than four years ago, the asset was 95% leased, and sported $10 million worth of exterior and interior improvements. IPA had even larger plans for even more renovations on the 33-acre site, Williamson says.

Less than a year later, the owner was able to secure $86 million of permanent financing for the mall. Yet by late 2007, IPA had filed for bankruptcy protection to stave off foreclosure. Okun’s troubles and a failing economy dropped the mall’s occupancy to a little less than 70%.

How’s the mall looking these days?


05/08/09 10:05am

What’s a struggling mall to do these days? How about turning off the air conditioning . . . and hosting a comic-book convention! Robert W. Boyd reports from the scene:

Despite a great location [on Highway 6 between Westheimer and Richmond] and not bad interior, West Oaks Mall is plagued with vacancies. And unlike malls like Memorial City Mall, West Oaks is not able to hide the gaps. . . .

West Oaks needed to occupy its empty stores (even if temporarily), or at least cover them up. And it needed to get people in the mall who could at least potentially patronize the remaining stores. So that’s where Comicpalooza came in.


05/04/09 3:15pm

Many of the buildings on the campus were completed last August, but this weekend marked the official grand opening of “one of the largest Buddhist developments in the nation,” just northeast of Hempstead. The American Bodhi Center, a new retreat on 515 acres off FM 2979 in Waller County, was created by the Texas Buddhist Association — in part to relieve crowding at the 1,500-family-strong Jade Buddha Temple in Alief.

Among the new buildings: the Memorial Hall pictured above. There’s also a new Meditation Hall:


03/20/09 4:40pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FORMER WEST OAKS MALL OWNER TO RETIRE IN NEW HOME [Edward H. Okun] has been in jail since he was arrested by the Feds March 17, 2008. This week he was convicted in a Richmond, Va. Federal Court of 23 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, bulk cash smuggling and perjury the maximum sentence for which is 400 years so ‘Fast Eddie’ will die in a federal prison. All those charges related to his having ‘borrowed’ $126 million in 1031 exchange funds he was holding in escrow for 350 clients across the country. His cohorts and co-conspirators had previously pleaded guilty 10 years (Lara Coleman) and 5 years (David Field and Richard Simring) — all former employees (CCO, CFO and Counsel to) IPofA, Okun’s supposed real estate investment company. His defense tried to describe him as a business man with a plan that failed. West Oaks Mall would be just one example of Okun’s brilliant investment acumen. More indictments likely to follow.” [E. H. Callanan, commenting on JCPenney at West Oaks Mall: To the Bank]

03/04/09 11:49am

FORGET IT, JAKE. IT’S ASIATOWN The Chronicle quietly debuts that new, more inclusive name for the pan-Asian strip along Bellaire Blvd. between 59 and Highway 6 formerly known as Chinatown: Asiatown. A recent email describing marauding, gun-toting, and noodle-slurping gangs in the area is wrong: “Janet Chiu, manager of Tan Tan, one of the purportedly robbed restaurants, said the tales caused business to drop by 20 percent. ‘It’s more Dead Town than Asiatown,’ she complained, voicing a strident denial that her cafe had been robbed.” [Houston Chronicle]

02/02/09 12:17pm

Buyers didn’t show up for the latest sale at the old JCPenney building next to West Oaks Mall. So Wachovia Bank will foreclose on the property soon, the CoStar Group reports.

The bankruptcy trustee for the collapsed financial empire of Edward H. Okun had listed the vacant building, which Okun’s 1031 Tax Group had bought for $4 million. But no buyers were willing to pay even the amount of the financing, which was $3 million.

The Houston JCPenney building and a mall in Salina, Kansas — also now facing foreclosure — are Okun’s last remaining properties.

01/08/09 9:28am

The high point of River Oaks Examiner reporter Rusty Graham’s tour of Project Brays, where flood control is measured in Astrodomes: sheep — on an actual hill — overlooking Brays Bayou flood-reduction projects at the Eldridge Road basin.

The group arrives at the Eldridge detention basin, at the end of Westpark. Harris County Precinct 3 is developing Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Park at the facility, which is about 45 percent complete.

Eldridge is the largest of the four basins, with a total area of 337 acres. Eldridge will hold 1.5 billion gallons of stormwater when complete, or nearly three Astrodomes.

One of the highlights of the trip is seeing the sheep on a large hill on the west side of the Eldridge basin. The 60-foot hill is built from dirt excavated on site.

The sheep lived in the area before the site was purchased, says Heather Saucier, spokeswoman for the flood district. They’re tended by an area resident, although on this day they seem to be doing well enough on their own.

The hill’s summit offers a commanding view of the area, and is especially impressive looking back towards the Uptown area to the east.

Photo: River Oaks Examiner

11/06/08 12:59pm

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN ALIEF “I live in a piece of **** Apartment. It always has and will probably always be a grand royale of common apartment miseries. Drunken neighbors stomping around at all hours including 4am, another neighbor who likes to play his Tejano music really loud, stray dogs, animal abuse, street traffic. To name a few. . . . I persist on staying thinking it’ll get better but it doesn’t. This morning at around 4am, as usual, a steady stream of water came pouring out of our bathroom ceiling onto everything down below. A great way to start a Thursday. I think to myself this is nothing, just a little upset, there a people out there dealing with real issues in the middle of the morning, but what’s really going on is growing unseen to my tired eyes. It’s black, moldy, and by all means making me sick.” [Working On It]

10/09/08 2:36pm

DELINQUENT DEBT: WEST OAKS MALL SALE! Here’s another chance to clean up some of the wreckage left by mysterious investor Edward Okun: “West Oaks Mall in Houston . . . has $81.3 million in delinquent debt attached to it in the form of commercial mortgage-backed securities. Joseph Luzinski, the federally appointed bankruptcy trustee for West Oaks Mall, said he hopes to sell the mall by year’s end, though store closures continue to hamper its value. [The mall] . . . is about 80% occupied, having lost a J.C. Penney, Linens ‘n Things and Whitehall Jewelers. The mall recently cut a deal to keep its Steve & Barry’s LLC store open amid that retailer’s bankruptcy. The special servicer for the mall’s debt, LNR Partners Inc., attempted to foreclose in September 2007, but Mr. Okun forestalled the move by putting the mall into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the next month. A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Okun on fraud charges last March after his 1031 Tax Group LLP, a company that helped facilitate tax-free real-estate deals for small investors, collapsed into bankruptcy and didn’t return $132 million of investors’ money.” [Wall St. Journal; previously]