Yesterday afternoon’s news came couched in pillowy fluff: Houston’s largest news-gathering organization will be moving to an exciting new state-of-the-art facility in the Galleria area! No, the Houston Chronicle isn’t leaving the heart of the city it covers: Key reporters will remain downtown!
But here’s a rougher-edged reading of the newspaper’s apparent retreat: The Hearst Corporation is getting ready to sell off one of its most valuable Houston assets — a block and a half of prime Downtown real estate — so it’s telling Chron editorial staffers to find room for themselves somewhere in or around the austere 440,000-sq.-ft. concrete fort where the company’s distribution, circulation, local sales, and press operations have been camping out, on 21 acres in the lower right armpit formed by the intersection of Hwy. 59 and Loop 610.
The former Houston Post compound at 4747 Southwest Fwy. (above), designed by Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson in 1970 as a stark Brutalist follow-up to their work on the Astrodome, was part of the booty obtained by the Chronicle when it bought out its rival paper in 1995. The announcement calls the complex its “future campus,” but the extent of renovations or any new construction planned on the site is unclear.
What about that downtown foothold the paper is promising?
That would be easily fulfilled by leasing a smidge of office space in some other CBD building for what remains of the government-covering news crew. Doing so would free up the Houston Chronicle Media Group to sell all of its downtown holdings, which consists of an entire block of buildings at 801 Texas Ave. (or 416 Milam if you’re looking up county tax records) and its aging half-block parking garage, catty corner at 710 Preston St. When those properties sell, it’s likely the structures will be goners.
“The location is great,” a Chron employee tells Swamplot, “especially if that surface parking lot between us and Market Square Park really does become highrise residential.” (Or, more likely, an office building.) “But the Chronicle’s building doesn’t have much to recommend it: It’s really three very old buildings under a single, 1960s-ish faux-marble facade. (One of the three was an old vaudeville theater.) The place is full of walls in weird places and odd little half-staircases where the floors of the three buildings don’t line up.” In short, the complex has “all the problems of old buildings,” says the source. But”none of the charm.” The Chronicle plans to begin the employee-moveout phase of its Downtown exit in 18 months.
- Houston Chronicle to move into “state-of-the-art” facility [Prime Property]
- Houston Chronicle announces relocation and renovation [Houston Chronicle]