This Chron editorial reviews the Weingarten/Alabama BookStop situation, and raises a pertinent issue:
Most cities aggressively protect the handful of places that make them special. Houston doesn’t. We offer incentives to make stadium deals work for sports teams. Why not make historic preservation more attractive to business? So far, Houston has taken only tentative steps in that direction. We need to do better. And we need to start soon, while there’s something left to protect.
Well, back in 2007, Council passed an ordinance that allowed for tax abatements for buildings that were granted historic status; they then followed it up in September by granting historic status to, among others, the Alabama Bookstop. Doesn’t seem to have had any effect on Weingarten’s behavior, at least as far as I can tell. I subsequently suggested a complementary approach, which would be to impose a tax penalty on anyone who tears down a building designated as historic. I still think that’s a pretty good approach to pair with the one Council has already taken, but it may be too late to do that in time to have any effect on the Alabama. Still, if we ever hope to actually preserve a building like this, some kind of economic incentive is going to be needed. We may as well get to work on it now.