And here it is — the grand finale of the 2016 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. It’s time to announce the winners of this year’s competition!
This final unveiling caps a month-long process that began with calls for nominations in 8 separate award categories. Official ballots were assembled from reader suggestions, then opened up to voting by all comers. Now the final counts are in, all close races have been scrutinized, and the winners are clear.
What, exactly, does that victory mean? The Swampies recognize unique contributions to this city. It takes something special to stand out in Houston’s real estate landscape. Award winners: Houston real-estate fans have noticed you!
Also worthy of recognition: the many Swamplot readers who took time to nominate, evaluate, vote, and comment on competitors in each category. Your judgments, your descriptions, and your observations are featured below.
Does this honor roll of award winners — along with the list of runners up — provide an accurate snapshot of the year in Houston real estate? The lineup was determined by reader votes. It’s too late to vote now, but do let everyone know how you think it all turned out!
The winners of the 2016 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate are . . .
1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Award winner: Corner Tower Mortarboards.
The nomination: “Flat-top corner roof features. Also called sniper platforms.”
- From Chuck: “The overused mongrel offspring of false fronts and bell towers. Highlights the entrance of everything from sandwich shops to drugstores. May give the mistaken impression of a mini-mall inside, when really there’s just the one store and the one entrance.”
- From Courtney: “Those . . . things are everywhere right now.”
- From Superdave: “I’ve never noticed [them] ’til now . . . deserves more attention.”
- From ShadyHeightster: “The corner sniper nests are waaaay overused here . . . I don’t recall seeing that many when I travel to other cities.”
- From VMel: “With their exposed angled supports, [they] signal that your shopping center or apartment building was designed by a theater set designer and not an architect.”
Runner-up: The Retail-Corridor-Hogging Self-Storage Midrise. Other nominees in this category: Developer-Commissioned ‘Street Art’; the Lone Holdout; Lick-and-Stick Brick; Not-So-Lofty Loft Developments; the Top Floor Townhome Roof Patio.
2. Best Demolition. Award winner: Corporate Plaza Parking Garage, Kirby Dr. at Hwy. 59, Upper Kirby.
The nomination: “The one that fought back: Deconstruction work on the first few buildings in the Corporate Plaza office park at 59 and Kirby Dr. progressed slowly but surely from December into the spring. As the crew crunched its way through the complex’s 7-story parking garage, however, the last narrow slice of the doomed structure almost turned the tables, toppling forward onto a lone excavator as it attempted unsuccessfully to reverse out of range. The whole dramatic scene — including the settling dust cloud, the crew’s rush forward to the center of the collapse, and the operator’s emergence from the cabin of the excavator, apparently unscathed — was captured from a nearby office window in a profanity-peppered cellphone video (above) that made the national news. The new owner, California-based Triyar, has since put up a better fence.”
- From Rebecca D: “The [complex] on Kirby was Cat-colony and Great-restaurant-concepts-from-the-early-1990’s Central. It needed to go. The added flair of the video [of] the bulldozer-swallowing collapse that came out of the demo enhanced my love for this project.”
- From Urban Jungle Survivalist: “I loved riding by there each day to see how much more of it was gone. The highlight, of course, was when the wall came tumbling down.”
- From WR: “Because who doesn’t like a fast demo? It was almost as good as an implosion!”
- From Houstonreader: “For the horrific-spectacular (and unplanned) collapse of that wall.”
- From Memebag: “You would think everyone in Houston would know how to safely demolish a building by now.”
3. The ‘Where Are They Now?’ Award. Award winner: Abandoned City Water Reservoir, Buffalo Bayou Park.
The nomination: “This place made the jump from creepy bayou basement to earning notice on the international art scene: After passing 90 years almost entirely unseen (what with being underground and all), decades of disuse (thanks to an unfindable leak) and unfulfilled plans for demolition by the city, the reservoir has been scanned, renovated, and repurposed into one of the most interesting publicly accessible spaces in the city. It’s currently going by the grander nickname The Cistern, and hosting installation art.”
- From Chuck: “[It’s] just about the most peculiar and unlikely thing. In the long-term or bigger picture, if left as-is, the Cistern may end up no more significant than anything listed at RoadsideAmerica.com; it’s more a monument to engineering than anything else. Still, I enjoyed the tour at $2 a head . . . I think it’s got promise as a well-hidden and oddball art installation, which would definitely put it in good company in Houston (Orange Show, Beer Can House . . .). How do we end up with all these weird things? Is it something in the water?“
- From Houstonreader: “Amazing repurpose!”
- From BeerNut: “‘Discovered’ art space. Still haven’t been, but it’s on my short list.”
- From Quantum: “It may make an interesting restaurant space in the future.”
4. Best Industrial Incident. Award winner: Spring Branch Creek Turns Blood Red, May 5th.
The nomination: “Hey, maybe not as red as it could’ve: The poorly inventoried runoff from that burning chemical storage warehouse turned the water in a nearby drainage channel leading to Spring Branch Creek bright red, thanks to a petroleum additive that local cleanup folks tried to skim off — while whatever else was in the warehouse continued downstream, killing off fish and animals on the way to Buffalo Bayou. The county said Spring Creek was lucky, however — all that flooding right beforehand probably helped dilute some of the toxins.”
- From HouCynic: “Because blood red anything, and lots of it, gets people’s attention. Perpetual flooding of waste facilities, noxious odors, and burn-off just doesn’t seem to be sexy enough to trigger action.”
- From ksab: “While I do enjoy getting to the bottom of an interesting smell, any industrial accident reminiscent of a biblical plague gets my vote.”
- From Al: “Well, I wanted to be a contrarian, but this one seems to be head and shoulders above the rest here.”
- From UG: “The chemical spill happened because of the [chemical warehouse fire]. Put them together (as they should be) and we have a clear winner.”
- From TimP: “I’m with UG: why minimize the magnitude of the calamity?”
- From Chuck: “Why doesn’t the city council have a full report on the substances yet? Didn’t anyone get a sample?”
- From Lindley: “Saw this first-hand from Long Point, and it was apocalyptic!“
- From RE Nerd: “Nothing like a biblical-plague-level catastrophe going through your city.”
Runner-up: Holmes Road Recycling Plant Fire. Other nominees in this category: 4-Alarm Chain Reaction Spring Branch Warehouse Fire; Opening of the 26th TCEQ Investigation into the Shadow Creek Ranch Stench; Oil Drops Below $27 Per Barrel; Ambiguous Tax Day Wastewater Treatment Plant Flooding.
5. Special Achievement in Parking. Award winner: Parkside Parking on Allen Pkwy., Downtown Redevelopment Authority.
The nomination: “Opening up the green space by adding more gray space: Parking added to Allen Pkwy. has been a game-changer — the redo swapped out the eastbound de facto freeway frontage for a new west-bound stretch of 175 extra-long spots along Buffalo Bayou Park.”
- From Chuck: “Beautiful park, possibly the best in the entire city — but it really needed the parking.”
- From Rebecca D: “Also could be filed under ‘Duh, Why Didn’t Someone Think of That Before.’ Parking along Allen Pkwy. was a much needed addition to our newly-refurbished bayou gem. The placement and the plan fixed many, many problems, and created a much safer and more efficient Allen Pkwy.”
- From BeerNut: “I can park by the park now . . .”
- From RE Nerd: “Really looking forward to parking close to the big ditch.”
Runner-up: Astrodome Basement Parking Plan. Other nominees in this category: Heights Blvd. Paveover; Historic Flattenings on Louisiana St.; Parklet-to-Parking Conversion; Imitation Fig Leaf Parking Garage Coverup.
6. The Houston High Water Award. Award winner: Rosharon Man Blocks the Brazos.
The nomination: “Refusing to simply accept that his house was in the path of the record-high flood moving down the Brazos in early June, Randy Wagner took to the internet in search of possible solutions. He eventually found AquaDam — producer of giant rubber tubes ready to be filled up with water to create temporary dams, mostly for construction purposes. Wagner drove 500 miles round trip to Abbeville, Louisiana to buy one of the devices, which he deployed around his home (to the bemusement of his neighbors). While the floodwaters crept a few inches higher than the AquaDam’s stated design limits, the device held, leaving his house the envy of the neighborhood: the only property to remain dry.“
- From rental me this: “Rosharon man fights the mighty Brazos . . . and wins!”
- From Balthazar: “I think there’s a fable about an ant putting away grain for the winter while the grasshopper is laughing at his preparedness? Totally that guy!”
- From Pier and Beam for a reason: “He used tubes and water to outsmart the flooding. Congrats on his determination and grit. His insurance company should send him the mother of all popcorn/pecan tins for Christmas from now on!!!”
- From SC: “There’s someone who knows his environment, made a choice to live there, and found a good, sustainable way to deal with it. Good for him.”
- From HouCynic: “Should be in a new category . . . ‘Houston Holdouts’, ‘Fighting water with water’ or ‘Houston, we have a solution’”
- From BeerNut: “I can just imagine him setting up his dam, proudly waving his Come and Take It flag in defiance.”
Runner-up: The Addicks and Barker Dams. Other nominees in this category: Stock Photo Image of Houston Showing an Ethereal, Flooded Downtown; The Live-on-Teevee High Water “Rescue”; Freshly Re-Flooded Meyerland Remodels; The Armadillo Rescued During the Tax Day Flood.
7. Neighborhood of the Year. Award winner: Downtown.
The nomination: “Sure, Shell and Exxon have left, and there’s a lot of empty office space. But the transformations of the Market Square, Discovery Green, and Skyhouse areas of Downtown signal pretty significant progress away from the after-hours ghost town that Downtown used to be. I guess time will tell if all that new residential and convention-center-related construction was a bad investment — but if it holds on, it’ll really change the character of our downtown. Downtown could win every year through 2017 because of its incredible ongoing transformation. The energy and new development is setting up an incredible background for the Super Bowl next year (which I think will blow people away — both visitors and local folk who have generally avoided the area).
- From Chairman: “Downtown living as a viable and popular choice [will] be a game-changer for Houston as a world-class city.“
- From TheNiche: “Houston seems to have prepared well for [the Super Bowl]. Unsurprisingly, those efforts have centered on Downtown, especially around Discovery Green and the Convention Center. This is also a year during which high-profile projects that had been initiated in the last boom cycle are coming to fruition.“
- From Greg: “The transformation has been substantial and ongoing, and the number of available [residential] units is [moving] Downtown to ‘neighborhood’ status. The addition of the new rail line helped to unite downtown with UH. The convention center re-do complements Discovery Green. Lots of plusses. Would love to see White Oak Bayou naturalized at least to the North Loop — its merge into Buffalo Bayou could be more of a focal point.”
- From ShadyHeightster: “The residential component has been a long time coming. I’m hopeful this time the redevelopment sticks (unlike the late ’90’s when things were looking up, only to have the mayor let all the streets be torn up at once).”
- From Quantum: “Downtown continues its impressive trajectory [toward helping make Houston a tourist destination.“
- From kbates2: “The changes are phenomenal.”
- From Lindley: “The heart of H-town.”
- From BeerNut: “I [actually] want to go downtown after dark now.”
8. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Award winner: Oil Prices Slip Below $27 per Barrel, January 20th.
The nomination: “The oil collapse set the tone for the coming year in Houston real estate (and, perhaps, a few years to come) more so than any other event. All year, low oil prices were seen rippling through the Houston market, from cancelations of planned luxury condo developments to the flood of office sublease space in the Energy Corridor; from headquarters reshufflings and departures of big players in the energy industry, to the economic hurt that trickled down.”
- From Rebecca D: “The crash of the price of oil put the brakes on many projects, and caused many more to change hands. Rents are falling and concessions are now back in play. This, more than anything, changed the look of Houston’s real estate. Thank goodness for the hard fast deadline of the Super Bowl that saved many projects!”
- From BeerNut: “This threw a wet blanket on the real estate market.”
- From Chairman: “Sweeping effects in all parts of town.”
- From Old School: “[The oil crash] demonstrated that Houston is no longer a one-trick pony, and can ride out downturns in the energy market.”
- From TheNiche: “. . . With the caveat that we’re discussing the whole cycle of price fluctuations and economic prognosticating. Early on in the year, we witnessed the economy finally appearing to give way and scrape bottom; at long last were reminded and forced to come to terms with the possibility that Houston’s economy might actually be more or less a one-trick pony. We briefly had cause to panic. . . . We then watched as the oil industry nimbly restructured, got leaner, and re-wrote its own rules on the cost of producing oil . . . Any lessons that might’ve been learned were promptly forgotten. Then, to cap off the year, we witnessed the Republicans sweep the government, Rex Tillerson elevated to Secretary of State, and Rick Perry to Secretary of Energy. So here we are again: things look like they’ll be okay — if not necessarily booming again — and we’re all gonna sell some more swampy lots to all comers.“
- From Quantum: “This particular oil downturn has been unprecedented — and yet the city and its citizens continue unabated. I’d say the ‘mark left’ would arguably be the resilience of Houston.”
- From joel: “This will still be by far the most important topic in 2017 for the majority of Houstonians.”
Runner-up: Midway Snags the KBR Site in Fifth Ward. Other nominees in this category: The Mecom Fountain’s De-Restoration Is Reversed; Ashby Highrise Damage Award is Overturned; Mayor Turner Nixes Affordable Housing Project Planned for Briargrove; County Gives Go-Ahead To Turn the Astrodome’s Playing Field Into a Parking Garage; The Heights Votes To Loosen Dry Zone Restrictions.
Congratulations to these winners — and to all who participated in this year’s awards!
Photos: Buffalo Bayou Partnership (Cistern); Jean C. Giallorenzo (rendering of Rain: Magdalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern); Matthew Harkrider (red water); Garrett Robles (Skyhouses); NASDAQ.com (WTI graph)