Real Estate Confidential
The past year has been an exciting one in Houston real estate and development: The Houston Center for Ballet debuted its brand new Center for Dance and the latest outpost of Austin supermarket Whole Foods just opened in Montrose. But many of the most anticipated store and restaurant openings have not been located in downtown or the Galleria: Some of the most rapid growth is taking place in CityCentre, located on the southeast side of the Beltway 8 and I-10 intersection.
Some of the most rapid growth in Houston is taking place in CityCentre, located on the southeast side of the Beltway 8 and I-10 intersection.
In recent months, Cyclone Anaya’s, Flora & Muse, Sweet, Free People and Red Mango have set up shop in the popular mixed used development. Urban Outfitters is opening today, and the third office tower — CityCentre Three — is under construction in front of the Hotel Sorella, facing Beltway 8.
But the folks at Midway Companies have even more exciting things on the horizon this fall:
- Paper Source will open its second Houston area location, bringing an excellent selection of stationary and custom invitation design to outside-the-loopers.
- Fort Lauderdale-based G.R.E.A.T. Grille Group is about to begin construction on an 11,000 square foot upscale sports restaurant and bar on the south end of CityCentre, near Eddie V’s. G.R.E.AT. has won accolades for its six other U.S. locations, including Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 in Pittsburgh and Eddie George’s Grille 27 in Columbus. While officials report that the venture is currently unnamed, the website for Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 lists Houston Texans Grille as a location expected to open in 2011.
- The Hotel Sorella Meetings & Events Centre, anchored by a 4,000 square-foot ballroom and featuring four boardrooms that average 570 square feet, plans a fall opening.The team at renowned Brennan’s family owned restaurant Bistro Alex will oversee food and beverage operations.
And if that isn’t enough exciting news, construction crews will break ground on the fourth CityCentre anchor building in the fall. If you live outside the loop, it’s going to be a good several months.
Less than 50 percent approval
In an historic moment for historic preservation in Houston, City Council passed a resolution to designate three neighborhoods — Heights South, Woodland Heights and Glenbrook Valley — as the city's newest historic districts. After months of petitions, infighting and mudslinging, the areas' irreplaceable renditions of Arts & Crafts bungalows, Victorian manses and mid-century modern palaces will endure.
"I don't know where to start," Minnette Boesel, the mayor's assistant for cultural affairs, said. "It's a great day for preservation, and demonstrates the value of historic areas and what city council stands for."
Standing outside the council chambers, Boesel cited enhanced property values and tax cuts for proper restoration as some of the benefits residents of the three districts can expect.
In no-zoning obsessed Houston, the halt on thoughtless construction represents a monumental triumph.
"We've lost some incredible structures because the old ordinance had no teeth," said Woodland Heights resident Vicky Bettis as she celebrated the victory amid a handful of joyous, tearful preservationists from the Heights. With the passage of the resolution, the residents have spoken, communicating, "No more," to speculative real estate developers and their visions of McMansions and congested townhouses.
The three new districts will also benefit from the stricter preservation ordinance spearheaded by Mayor Annise Parker in 2010. Now, new construction, demolition, renovations and building additions must be proposed by property owners to the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission for approval based on the aesthetic of the surrounding homes, after which a Certificate of Appropriateness may be granted. In no-zoning obsessed Houston, the halt on thoughtless construction represents a monumental triumph.
City Council voted 9-5 in favor of Heights South and Woodland Heights and 10-4 in favor of Glenbrook Valley. In the period leading up to the vote, dissenting council members voiced rapturous concern over the designation process, which in the case of Glenbrook Valley, has incited face-offs between preservationists and non-native English speakers who felt confused or duped by the petition rally and the designation's provisions.
"This whole process reeks," said Jolanda Jones (At-Large 5), citing fuzzy math and the "tantamount" position of property rights in the U.S. Echoed a virulent Oliver Pennington (District G), "The procedures pit neighbors against neighbors," and C.O. Bradford (At-Large 4), argued that throughout the designation process, "fundamental fairness and due process have been breached ... This is not about historic preservation — some of us simply can't evade the path of duty."
After an original 54-percent approval via petitions, 155 residents retracted their votes, dropping the approval to 45 percent, below the 51 percent requirement.
"I don't understand how less than 50 percent, even 66 or 70 percent, can pass," Jones said. Still, the resolution succeeded following her testimony. Glenbrook Valley can now declare itself the first post-World War II historic district in Texas.
"I think the animosity was blown out of proportion," Heights South resident Greg Wright said. "The argument wasn't as much between neighbors as it was between realtors."
Don't expect exalted "Historic District" street signs to emerge in the three neighborhoods anytime soon. At $300 per intersection, the street pole revamp may have to wait until after the municipal government fully recovers from the economic downturn.
On the Market
Editor's Note: Houston is loaded with must-have houses for sale in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. Throughout the month of June, CultureMap Editor-at-Large Shelby Hodge snoops through some of our faves and gives you the lowdown on what's hot on the market.
Maybe it's because I'm just back from Paris and once again enamored of all things French, but I can't get this beautiful home with resolute echoes of la belle France out of my mind. I'm dreaming of having my espresso and croissant in the center courtyard so reminiscent of a quaint Parisian hotel that I'm flashing back to the Plaza Athénée.
Walk through: Curb appeal is huge for those with an appreciation of a decidedly European look — a thick bounty of rich fig ivy covers the exterior walls, leaving only the mullioned windows for show. From the beautifully landscaped auto court, one steps into the entry hall featuring polished limestone flooring and a curving stairway with decorative wrought-iron stair railing, once again recalling a Parisian residence.
To the right is a study with diagonally-patterned parquet flooring and to the left is the living room that stretches from the front to the back of this wing, floor-to-ceiling mullioned windows and French doors offering beaucoup light.
The living room overlooks the interior courtyard with its beautiful saltwater pool coated in shimmering blue glass beads. The pool terrace, newly covered in travertine marble, is wrapped on three sides by the house, the windows and doors draped in oh-so-French striped canopies.
The living room is connected to the back of the house via a gallery (parquet floors) that wraps down around the interior making an open flow plan from the study to the formal dining room and back to the living room. The family room at the back of the house is spacious and bright, overlooking the pool terrace. The linear kitchen is practical if not quite in tune with today's focus on home cooking (something most River Oaks residents are not attuned to, we are told).
The spacious (28'X16') master suite and a guest bedroom are at the front of the house on the second floor and have surprisingly contemporary baths and closets considering that the house was built in 1971. Two guest bedrooms share another spacious bath at the back of the house.
The wide open third floor is large enough to house, at the moment, a pool table, large wrap-around sofa, exercise equipment and an office desk. In other words, lots of space for many uses.
Bonus: The windows and French doors of the wrap-around first floor look onto the pool terrace with fountain, which at night features dramatic LED lighting. In fact, the house's exterior lighting is another glam factor that adds to curb appeal and to interior sophistication.
Drawback or no? The good news is that the garage is at the back of the house so no intrusive driveway at the front. Not such good news is that the garage entry is on bustling San Felipe, which during rush hour can be a tricky situation to maneuver.
Entertaining at its best: Because of the open flow and the spaciousness of this home, entertaining is a breeze. Current owners invited 150 friends and neighbors in for a holiday party this past Christmas and held a sleep-over for 10 friends for England's royal wedding.
Up to date: In 2009, the current owners completely refurbished the house which explains the feel that it is brand new. Even more recently, the owners replaced the roof.
Square footage: 8,357
List price: $2,895,000
Listing agent: Cathy Blum with Greenwood King Properties
Real Estate Round-up
Warning to apartment dwellers: Hold on to your checkbooks. Your landlord will be raising the rent soon — big time.
If your landlord is typical, your rents will be increasing 5.1 percent over the next year, according to MPF Research’s Greg Willett, one of the nation’s top apartment market analysts.
On a national basis, developers have not built enough apartments over the last three or four years to keep up with natural population growth and new household formation, as young people grow up and leave home. Plus, a lot of Americans just can’t buy a house right now.
Across the nation, droves of people are giving up on the American dream of home ownership and electing to live in rented dwellings instead.
The result: the national apartment occupancy is going to go up to approximately 95 percent by this time next year, Willett said. That means rents will be coming up also.
“It’s a rising tide,” Willett told the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ conference recently.
The apartment market is hot across the entire nation, with the exception of Las Vegas, Willett said. Texas, one of the few states with positive job growth, is registering strong growth in its apartment occupancy rates and rents.
Across the nation, droves of people are giving up on the American dream of home ownership and electing to live in rented dwellings instead, said Stan Humphries, chief economist of the Zillow real estate company.
Over the next year or so, between 1.2 million and 2.2 million people will be shifting from being homeowners to being renters, Humphries said.
With foreclosures still plaguing the housing market and consumers worrying about more declines coming in home prices, moving into rental housing is an appealing option. In addition, tighter lending standards at mortgage companies have been blocking a lot of consumers from being able to buy a home.
The strength of the apartment market has attracted a lot of interest from newcomers to the multi-family business, said Stacy Hunt of Greystar Real Estate, which manages 187,000 apartment units around the nation. Major home builders, including Lennar Homes, are getting into the apartment business, said Hunt, former president of the Houston Apartment Association. Earlier this year, the Hines development firm announced it was branching into the apartment industry for the first time since the company was founded in 1957.
The newcomers are staffing up with expertise from the apartment industry and should have little trouble transitioning into multi-family development, Hunt said.
Hunt said he does not expect the apartment construction surge to get out of hand because lenders remain “very cautious” about making loans for new apartment projects. The ability to finance apartment construction could be disrupted by proposed reforms of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which are being discussed in Washington.
Deal Making in Houston
The Allen Harrison Co., which was formed about a year ago, has been buying up apartments in the Houston area. The Houston-based firm recently purchased the 714-unit Villages at Meyerland apartments, the 86-unit Chalfonte in West Houston and the 92-unit Applewood Village community in Spring.
The company has several other acquisitions in the works, including targeted properties in Austin and Dallas, said Will Harper, a partner in the firm.
Harper said his firm is looking to buy apartments that are “distressed” and can be boosted with renovations and careful management. Allen Harrison plans to spend $7,000 to $10,000 per unit in making upgrades to the apartments it buys, he said.
But the fundamentals of the apartment market appear to be very solid for the next few years. Investing in apartments seems like a smart move for now.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is founding editor of RealtyNewsReport.com.
Old buildings die hard.
For weeks now, workers with bulldozers and wrecking balls have been chipping away at the historic Downtown YMCA building on Louisiana and Pease. Despite the daily blows, the grand old building has stood tall, like a past-its-prime heavyweight that staggers under a vicious onslaught but refuses to fall until it can no longer withstand the brutal pounding.
They don't make buildings like they used to.
The Y was special for several reasons. Designed by Kenneth Franzheim, a noted Houston architect who designed a coliseum for the 1928 Democratic National Convention in Houston, the iconic Gulf Building, the downtown Foley's building, and a host of distinctive River Oaks mansions, the 10-story building was a prime example of Renaissance Revival architecture when it opened in 1941.
Its interesting features — variated colors of brick, an Italianate patio, arched entryways, and roundel windows at the top — made it one of downtown Houston's most interesting-looking buildings.
It also served as a beacon for men with big dreams who came to Houston to make their fortune. When they were young, developer Gerald Hines and financier Fayez Sarofim were among those who found temporary lodging at the Downtown Y.
While nearly every other city finds a way to protect buildings of historical significance, officials in Houston continually say it would cost too much to renovate such structures, so they tear them down and (as in the Y's case) put up a parking garage.
But when officials decided to abandon the grand-but-faded old building for a gleaming new space a couple of blocks away (with no provision for temporary lodging), hardly anyone made a peep of protest. After all, this is Houston, where no one cares about saving the past.
While nearly every other city finds a way to protect buildings of historical significance, officials in Houston continually say it would cost too much to renovate such structures, so they tear them down and (as in the Y's case) put up a parking garage.
Every day, when I pass what's left of the crumbling building, I get a little sadder.
Granted, the new Y, where I occasionally teach exercise classes, is much more popular than the old building was in recent years. Classes are close to capacity and the rows of new cardio equipment, with individual TVs on each console, are filled with sweating hardbodies every night.
Even so, I hear the old-timers grumbling that the lockers are too small, the jet pressure in the whirlpool isn't nearly as forceful and you can no longer walk into the wet area nude because it's been moved to coed public spaces.
I miss the maze-like walkways of the old building, where it was still possible to make a wrong turn and get lost after two decades. I miss the big national racquetball tournament that took place every Memorial Day, drawing competitors around the nation. (It was dropped upon the move to the new Y because there aren't enough courts for such a big competition.) I miss talking with the temporary residents (some were crazy, some merely had fallen on hard times). But most of all, I miss my friend, Charlotte Fisher.
In the early '90s, I happened into an aerobics class taught by Charlotte on the third floor of the old building and made some of the most enduring friendships of my life. Charlotte dressed like the conservative lawyer she was by day but in the aerobics room she was a disco diva in bell bottom Spandex with more energy than anyone could ever hope to muster. She made exercise fun, executing the latest turns with panache and always bolstering those in the back of the room who were having trouble keeping up.
It's no wonder that she attracted a posse of enthusiastic exercise disciples whose tight bond extended beyond the Y. We partied with her at Numbers on Friday nights and had long brunches together at La Strada on Sundays. We gathered for pool parties in the summer and dance parties throughout the year. We enjoyed the thrill of new friendships, commiserated about lost loves and shared our dreams for the future.
We eventually grew up — Charlotte married attorney Norman Ewart and had two adorable babies, but she didn't really change that much. She was always the most fun person to be around a party and regularly hosted aerobics sessions in the garage of her home near Memorial Park, where she continued to draw an eclectic mix of friends and followers. So you can understand how shocked we were when she died earlier this year after complaining of stomach pains and entering the hospital for what was expected to be routine surgery. She was a week away from her 44th birthday.
When I drive by the old downtown Y and see the rubble of brick growing larger every day, I think of Charlotte and the good times the building represents and can't help but smile. Even though the structure will soon disappear, those memories won't easily be wiped away, although I realize they will fade away over time.
I'm not a lawbreaker by nature, but the other night I snuck into the rubble and took a brick as a tangible reminder of that special place.
CultureMap Emails are Awesome
Live on Live
If legendary Austin blues club Antone’s is your vibe, but the drive to Capital City isn't, you’re in luck. Antone’s Nightclub launched a new service for livestreaming its shows in November.
Kicking off with New Orleans-based funk and jam band Dumpstaphunk, for their special “Phunksgiving” show last month with Michael Hale Trio, the full lineup is delineated on the Antone’s website. Specifics were still loose before the launch, allowing the famous blues club to call the shots. The partner agency that created the streaming service, 3rd + Lamar, created the system to give Antone’s as much freedom as possible.
"Partnering with Antone's to build their livestreaming platform and produce each of their shows is an incredible opportunity for 3rd + Lamar," said the agency’s co-founder Nick Schenck in a press release. "The amazing talent that performs at Antone's – and their fans worldwide – deserve best-in-class live production quality, and we're thrilled to play a part in this operation."
Not that Antone’s needed to stand out more in the music industry (the nearly 50-year-old venue has always been one of the best places to see both local and national talent), but this achievement places it among relatively few venues across the country, especially those that operate their system independently.
The intimate Antone's shows are filmed by four Blackmagic 4K cinema cameras on tracks overhead, which ensure that the whole space is easily visible without having camera operators amid the audience.
“We did over 430 individually ticketed shows in 2019 and we felt like we were bursting at the seams,” said Antone’s owner Will Bridges. “Then when livestreams became more prominent during the pandemic we realized, this is our opportunity to take Antone’s outside of our four walls. … [W]e see people in the comment threads all the time saying ‘If I could only be teleported to Antone’s!’ Well now they can.”
The release emphasizes that the system means Antone’s “fully retain[s] ownership of their content, which can then be utilized at their discretion.” It also calls the service “an add-on option for all artists performing at Antone’s,” positioning the service as not just an audience luxury but a performer’s low-cost marketing tool. Suddenly, artists playing at Antone’s are afforded a choice without needing to be invited to record or pay an independent video team, while reaching even more viewers with no extra time spent advertising.
“Our ultimate goal is to make these amazing musical experiences accessible to everyone. Life is busy, but we want to give everyone the opportunity to participate no matter where they are or what they have going on,” said Bridges. “We want to make livestreams from Antone’s totally commonplace. When we announce our upcoming shows, fans have two options: watch it at the club our watch it at home.”
Livestreams are at antonesnightclub.com, and links also appear with each applicable event across the site. Prices are listed on the website, and livestreams start 10-20 minutes before each show.
one hot minute
One of alternative rock's most pioneering and enduring acts is headed to Houston to close out a highly anticipated North American tour next year. Red Hot Chili Peppers will play Minute Maid Park on Thursday, May 25, 2023 as part of a North American trek that kicks off in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 29.
Houston lands the honor of the closeout city for the North American tour (the band will also play a slew of dates in Europe). Effortlessly hip, celeb-fave modern rock band The Strokes will support the Chili Peppers, along with the talented bassist-vocalist Thundercat.
Tickets go on sale this week at 10 am Friday, December 9 online.
Houston fans who can't get enough can also catch the Chili Peppers when they hit The Alamodome in San Antonio on Wednesday, May 17 — the only other Texas date.
Aside from The Strokes and Thundercat, supporting acts along the way include Iggy Pop, The Roots, The Mars Volta, St. Vincent, City and Colour, and King Princess.
Touring in support of their two No. 1 studio albums released in 2022, Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen, the Chili Peppers have been played sold-out shows in London, Paris, Los Angeles, and more with major names such as Notable artists such as A$AP Rocky, Anderson.Paak, Beck, and HAIM.
The first rock band in 17 years to score two No. 1 albums in one year, the band has been red hot on the Billboard charts and at the MTV Video Music Awards, where they received the Global Icon Award and brought the house down with a performance of the No. 1 single “Black Summer,'' which also won the award for Best Rock Video.
Fronted by the impossibly chiseled and ageless (he's 60!) Anthony Kiedis, the Chili Peppers formed in 1983. Unabashedly proud of their LA roots, the band burst onto the scene with early singles such as "Higher Ground" and "Give It Away," both showcases of bassist Flea's slappin', funk-fueled basslines.
Throughout the peak of alternative music in the '90s, the band saw tragedy, personnel changes at guitar, and reinventions — Kiedes' rap-singing, Flea's bass grooves, and singalong choruses all constants over the decades.
While many '90s alt-rock acts fizzled, the Chili Peppers stayed relevant; the band boasts two anthemic singles with more than 1 billion streams — "Californication" and "Under the Bridge" — and more than 25 million followers on Spotify.
Expect this show to be packed with Gen Xers and new fans for what promises to be one hot minute.
Red Hot Chili Peppers 2023 tour dates:
- Wednesday, March 29 – Vancouver – BC Place
- Saturday, April 1 – Las Vegas – Allegiant Stadium
- Thursday, April 6 – Fargo, North Dakota – FargoDome
- Saturday, April 8 – Minneapolis – US Bank Stadium
- Friday, April 14 – Syracuse, New York – JMA Wireless Dome
- Friday, May 12 – San Diego – Snap Dragon Stadium
- Sunday, May 14 – Phoenix – State Farm Stadium
- Wednesday, May 17 – San Antonio – Alamodome
- Friday, May 19 – Gulf Shores, Alabama – Hangout Music Festival
- Thursday, May 25 – Houston – Minute Maid Park
enough (pizza) to love
Since its 2019 debut in Midtown, the Gypsy Poet has earned a devoted following for its wood-fired pizzas. The restaurant’s personal-sized, 13-inch pizzas exist somewhere on the spectrum between traditional Neapolitan and classic New York — too crispy for the Italians but not quite foldable like an East Coast slice. Options include a classic Margherita and the signature Fancy Backpacker, which is topped with prosciutto, truffle oil, and arugula.
Part of the restaurant’s appeal stems from its friendly service and easy going atmosphere. It regularly hosts informal musical performances and other artistic happenings.
Taken together, Gypsy Poet has earned legions on fans. Yelp users ranked it as Texas’s second best restaurant in 2021. More recently, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy awarded it a high 7.8 rating during a pizza review.
The restaurant opens at a time of transition for pizzerias in the Heights. Dallas-based Neapolitan restaurant Cane Rosso closed last year, and suburban favorite Crust Pizza Co. opened this summer in the former Mellow Mushroom space at N. Shepherd and 20th.
The Heights location of Gypsy Poet will be open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9 pm; Friday from 12-2 pm and 5-10 pm; Saturday 2-10 pm; and Sunday 2-9 pm.