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Dynamo Stadium

Meet the Houston Dash

They’re Houston’s newest sports team.

The Dynamo announced [Thursday] the launch of the Houston Dash, a women’s professional soccer team that will enter the National Women’s Soccer League as an expansion team for the 2014 season.

Owned and operated by the Dynamo ownership group, the Dash will begin play in April 2014 with the start of the second NWSL season, a 24-game schedule that includes 12 home games at BBVA Compass Stadium.

The NWSL is supported by the Canadian Soccer Association, Federation of Mexican Football and the United States Soccer Federation and is the top-flight women’s professional soccer league in North America, featuring many of the top players from the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as talent from around the world.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

The Dash join the league as its ninth club and first expansion team. The eight other clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash.

See here for the background. It originally looked like expansion wouldn’t happen next year, but apparently the timeline got moved up. There’s more in this story from the morning of the announcement.

The Houston women’s team will play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Sports Park. The Dynamo front office will operate the NWSL team, but the MLS and NWSL clubs will have different coaching and training staffs.

BBVA Compass Stadium sits about 22,039 for Dynamo games, but only about a third of the stadium’s seating capacity will be in use for NWSL games.

“We’ll make it a capacity of 7,000, which would be lower bowl, suites and party deck and open up the presidents club,” Canetti said of BBVA Compass Stadium. “We’ll go on sale with season tickets immediately after the announcement to Dynamo season-ticket holders.”

[…]

The Dynamo gauged interest in the NWSL a few weeks ago by asking fans to put $25 deposits on season-ticket packages for a prospective NWSL team, and more than a 1,000 fans put deposits on season tickets.

“We got over 1,000, and I think it was a powerful statement with four days and little to no promotion other than social media,” Canetti said of the season-ticket deposits. “With no name and no players, to do that type of business in four days was very positive.”

Indeed it is. I like that I will have the option to take my girls to a women’s professional sporting event in town, which had been lost to me when the Comets folded. Even better, we ought to be able to get to these games via light rail, though maybe not in the inaugural season. I don’t know that I want to be a season ticket holder, but I’ll definitely put a Dash game or two on the calendar for next summer.

Bringing the NWSL to Houston

I approve of this.

The Dynamo are in talks about securing an expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League, which features U.S. national team stars Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

The eight-team NWSL played its inaugural season in 2013 with a commitment from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican women’s national soccer federations.

“We’re involved in the initial stages of this process and hope to learn more about the league and the opportunity over the next few weeks,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “I’m a firm believer in women’s athletics. I think there is a place in the sports landscape for professional women’s sports.”

[…]

The NWSL’s 22-game schedule, which consists of 11 home games and 11 road matches, lasts from April to August. Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, New Jersey and Rochester have teams in the league. Houston would be the league’s first franchise in the Southwest.

If the Dynamo finalize their quest to land an NWSL expansion club, that team would play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Amateur Sports Park, just as the men’s club does.

Houston ought to be a good fit for the league, and I’m sure the Dynamo would like to add a few extra dates to BBVA Compass’ calendar. It currently looks like expansion is a no go for 2014, so don’t look for this next season. Maybe by the time this is all worked out the Dynamo (and the Rockets and the Astros) will be broadcast on a channel that’s available to all of Houston. We can dream, right?

The Summer X-Games

Another sporting event that could be coming to Houston.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority is making a bid for ESPN’s action sports event, an annual competition that began in 1995.

“It’s definitely another feather in our cap,” said Janis Schmees, the CEO of Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “It’s a useful event, it’s a great timing because we have a brand new skate park that we just broke ground on. There, it attracts a younger crowd. Even in the Olympics they’ve added snowboarding because they’re trying to keep the youth excited about the Olympic movement. I think that up and coming generation loves the X Games.”

[…]

The winner will host the event over a three-year span from 2014 to 2016.

“The three year model allows for the event to grow and develop in the region and identify efficiencies over the course of the hosting period,” said Deane Swanson, ESPN’s senior director of event management, X Games, in an e-mailed statement.

Representatives from HCHSA traveled to Aspen, Colo., last month during the Winter X Games to meet with officials of the games. ESPN representatives have also made a site visit. Reliant Stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium and the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark are among possible venues for the games.

Los Angeles, which has hosted several Summer X Games, saw a $50 million economic boon from the 2010 games, according to economic research and consulting firm Micronomics. That figure came from a $12 million influx from increased tourism, $6 million related to the television broadcast production and $12 million from direct spending associated with the games. It also factored in the monetary value of having 31 hours of live programming throughout the games.

Yeah, yeah, economic impact projections, ’nuff said. This would still be a cool thing to have. We’re in a much better position to compete for this sort of thing now, too. Final bids are due on April 2, and the decision will be announced in August.

Could this be the catalyst for Astrodome redevelopment?

Maybe.

A new beginning?

The city of Houston and Harris County are preparing to create a mammoth, two-part economic development zone covering more than 11 square miles along the South Loop and at the northeast end of downtown.

The plan stems from a deal the two governments struck three years ago to secure a new soccer stadium east of downtown for the Dynamo, and it could pave the way for long-discussed capital projects, such as the redevelopment of the Astrodome or a city-county inmate booking center.

[…]

Reliant Park will be included in the southern portion of the zone, which could pave the way for redevelopment of the Astrodome, which has not been home to a sports team in 12 years and has been deemed unfit for occupancy since 2009. Also within that portion of the zone would be the 104-acre former home of AstroWorld.

The northern portion of the zone includes an area near the current County Jail complex, where a joint city-county inmate booking center, rejected by voters in 2007, could be built.

[Commissioner El Franco] Lee said his colleagues on Commissioners Court first must agree to join the Greater Houston Zone but said the Dome may be the largest beneficiary if the plan is approved.

Every option to renovate the Dome, presented as part of a Reliant Park master plan earlier this year, ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Simply razing it would cost an estimated $64 million.

“The biggest issue was dollars, and that will remain an issue, so having a buildup of those kinds of dollars will make it just that much more attractive to do on a large scale,” Lee said. “This can be a source of funds that does not put a strain on any existing revenues to do existing things.”

Basically, this is a big TIRZ, and the genesis of it all is the Dynamo Stadium deal. City Council has to draw the boundaries under state law, and Council will take the first step on this plan when they vote on whether to set a public hearing to seek input on the plan. Once that happens, I figure things will move quickly. How long till the County is in a position where it can finally do something about the Dome, that remains to be seen.

Bring the USWNT to Houston

I’m in.

If you love the beautiful game, you should want to help Jen Cooper.

Cooper has been on a crusade for women’s soccer in Houston for almost two decades. She’s on a mission again.

Cooper is one of the key figures leading an Internet campaign to get Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and the rest of the 2012 Olympic gold medalists to Houston. A petition is available at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/houston-wants-the-uswnt-at-bbva-compass-stadium.

Former U.S. men’s national team forward Brian Ching, who was a member of the 2006 World Cup squad, has agreed to join the effort as one of several folks from throughout Houston participating in a video asking the U.S. Soccer Federation to add BBVA Compass Stadium as one of the 10 stops on the Fan Tribute Tour.

Dynamo president Chris Canetti said he and BBVA Compass Stadium general manager Doug Hall are eager to get the U.S. women’s national team to Houston.

“We think the fan base is very excited about this opportunity, and we would put on a great show and great event for U.S. Soccer,” Canetti said. “Hopefully the opportunity presents itself before the end of the year.”

The team was last here in Houston in 2004, and they drew one of the best crowds of the tour. We’ve now got a great soccer-oriented stadium, and a proven audience for soccer. This should be a no-brainer. Sign the petition and help them make the right call.

Les Alexander on the verge of buying the Dynamo

I like the thought of this.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the Dynamo and secure the 30-year lease and development agreement on BBVA Compass Stadium, three officials with knowledge of the process said Thursday.

The deal is not complete, but the sides are close, said the three officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Anschutz Entertainment Group owns 50 percent of the Dynamo. Oscar de la Hoya and Mexican billionaire Gabriel Brener own 25 percent each. AEG president Tim Leiweke’s spokesman, Mike Roth, declined to comment on the negotiations with Alexander. Brener is scheduled to be in Houston for the Dynamo’s game Sunday against Columbus.

The Dynamo are a good team, and Alexander is a good owner. The Rockets have had their share of setbacks in their effort to claw their way back to the elite of the NBA, but it’s not been the result of a lack of determination by Alexander and his crew. While the Dynamo aren’t exactly in dire need of a change of direction (that would be the Astros, though their recent change in ownership seems to have them on a better, if long and slogging, path) they could do a lot worse than having Les Alexander writing the checks. On a tangential and somewhat tendentious note, having Alexander and not Phillip Anschutz in control would make me feel better about buying Dynamo tickets since then my money would not be going to bad purposes. A win all around, as far as I’m concerned.

BBVA Compass Stadium

Dynamo Stadium gets a new name.

When the Dynamo first approached BBVA Compass before breaking ground on their new stadium, the two-time MLS Cup champions were looking for a loan to help finance the construction of the club’s venue on the East End.

Now, the bank will have its name and a note on BBVA Compass Stadium, which is set to open on May 12.

“I think the amazing thing is not that they financed it,” said Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner Anschutz Entertainment Group. “It’s not that they’re putting their name on it, but they’re the architects of how we ultimately figured out a way to pay for this without the taxpayers having to write a check. That’s where their real strength was.”

[…]

The Dynamo’s BBVA Compass loan covered the $20 million that was set aside through the inter-local agreement on the tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) for infrastructure improvements on the site, which the city bought for $15.5 million under Mayor Bill White’s administration. Because the $20 million from the TIRZ is accumulated over years, the team needed to take a loan on the money last February in anticipation of getting the funds in the future.

A little more than 10 months after securing that loan with BBVA, the organizations furthered their relationships by announcing a 10-year, $20 million naming rights deal Wednesday.

Good for them, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep calling it Dynamo Stadium. I’ve used that name for too long to change now. Be that as it may, congrats to the Dynamo getting this done. I look forward to their grand opening of the new digs/

The Bellaire “urban transit village”

Very interesting.

Nearly a year in the drafting, a sweeping change to Bellaire’s zoning laws creating an “urban transit village” where there is now a collection of nondescript warehouses will soon be before City Council.

On Nov. 1, the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend Council approval of the zoning ordinance they’ve has been working on since February with Gary Mitchell of the firm Kendig Keast, which had helped design Bellaire’s comprehensive plan five years ago.

Before the vote, the commission held a public hearing on the proposal. While members of the public were present at many of the marathon workshop sessions the commission held throughout the process, this was the first opportunity they had to speak directly on the proposal.

The warehouse district, previously called a Retail Development District in the city’s zoning plan, is a 28-acre area near the intersection of the Southwest Freeway and Loop 610. It includes a site where preliminary plans by Metro call for a light-rail station on Westpark where the regional transit agency hopes to connect the University Line with the Uptown Line leading into the Galleria.

This is the same basic location as the one-time proposed alternate site for Dynamo Stadium. The proximity of a future Universities Line rail stop was a key feature in that proposal as well.

Richard Franke, a Bellaire resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in May, said that the proposed ordinance was “an extraordinary effort.” Still, he peppered the commissioners with a list of questions he’d prepared.

“How will the legitimate interests of taxpayers be protected?.” he asked. “What if it reverts to an apartment complex? It’s clear that the residents of Bellaire clearly prefer detached, single-family housing.”

Responding to Franke, [Bellaire community development director John McDonald] said that while the quiet suburban lifestyle may have served Bellaire well in the past, recent trends in development throughout the greater Houston region have shown that a more “urbanized” form is beginning to take hold.

If Bellaire wants to attract new residents, particularly young professionals, it needs to seriously begin considering new forms of development, he said.

That’s almost shockingly forward-thinking of Bellaire. Who knew they had it in them? I hope Houston is paying attention.

HBU adds football, joins Southland Conference

Add another Division I football program to the city.

The holidays came early for Houston Baptist University and the Southland Conference as both crossed an item off their wish lists.

HBU joined a conference offering nearby members and a home for all its sports except men’s soccer, and the Southland added its first Houston member and an institution that will soon bring another football team to the league.

The Southland officially extended an invitation, effective July 1, 2013, to HBU on Monday.

The Huskies will begin a football program that will play in the Southland in 2014 and could compete as soon as 2013.

HBU’s Board of Trustees gave its approval to pursue football in June. Landing in the SLC, which is a much better geographic fit for HBU and which enables them to qualify for the SLC’s automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament, is a pretty good coup for them. It’s unclear where they’ll play as yet – Dynamo Stadium was mentioned as a possibility in the print version of this story, though oddly not in the online version – but in the end I suspect they’ll build their own facility. I wish them luck as they get their program off the ground.

Runoff overview: District A

I don’t remember there being a Chron overview story for the District A regular election, but now that it’s in overtime we get an overview story about the race between CM Brenda Stardig and challenger Helen Brown. Better late than never, right?

Just a few thoughts about the article. First, it’s a little silly to call this runoff a “referendum” on Mayor Parker. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we just had a referendum on the Mayor, and she passed, if just barely. A 5000-vote (if that much) Council runoff in a single district four weeks later isn’t going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. I’ve no doubt the Mayor is an issue in this race, perhaps the key issue, but let’s keep some perspective here.

Some of the other issues in this race are a bit curious.

Brown supports the repeal of Proposition 1, the voter-approved initiative that called for the creation of a monthly drainage fee. Stardig voted in favor of the ordinance that Council passed to implement it. Brown calls for the removal of George Greanias as Metro CEO because of his viewing of pornography at work. Like Parker, Stardig favors leaving that decision to the Metro board “until it impacts the actual function of the business.” Stardig favored the city’s approximately $20 million investment in infrastructure and land to get the Dynamo to build a $60 million soccer stadium downtown that the city and county will own. Brown argues that is an improper public investment in a private business.

I’m pretty sure Council can’t pass an ordinance that overturns a charter amendment that has been adopted by referendum – we do have to respect the will of the voters, right? – but I suppose they could vote to put a repeal referendum on the ballot. That is, if the Mayor gives them a repeal referendum to put on the ballot, which needless to say isn’t going to happen. Or there will be another petiton drive, for which the vote to put it on the ballot is a formality. Greanias isn’t going anywhere unless the Mayor wants him to, and she has shown no inclination of that. As for Dynamo Stadium, last I checked it was about six months from being completed. This Council did vote twice on aspects of the deal – both unanimous, for what it’s worth – but the vote to make the land available for the stadium was taken in 2008, which is to say before Stardig’s time on Council. And ironically, it was Annise Parker who ran an ad that disparaged the deal during the 2009 election. Politics does make strange bedfellows.

Not that there’s anything wrong with examining past issues. I certainly asked plenty of questions about what had gone on before when doing my Council interviews, and knowing how someone would have acted tells you a lot about what they’re likely to do in the future. Long as everyone has a realistic expectation about what a single Council member can do about some of these past issues, I guess.

Finally, I’ll say again that if this election turns out to be little more than a Republican primary, I don’t see how Stardig wins. She’s clearly lost a lot of favor among the activists. She needs the electorate to be bigger than that, which means she needs to convince some Democrats and independents to come out and vote for her. How she does that I don’t know – maybe point out Brown’s history lessons and hope for the best – but with early voting for the runoff set to begin this Wednesday the 30th, she better figure it out quickly.

Interview with CM James Rodriguez

CM James Rodriguez

CM James Rodriguez is running for his third term in District I. He was Chief of Staff for his predecessor, Rep. Carol Alvarado, so he has actually been serving the district a lot longer than that. Rodriguez has been in the thick of a number of things from the last few years, from Metro to redistricting to Dynamo Stadium, and his district includes the fast growing neighborhoods of EaDo. We talked about all of these things and more in our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

The State of the City 2011

It’s getting a little better, but we’re still not close to being in good times.

The city of Houston’s budget deficit for the coming fiscal year has been whittled to roughly $80 million from $130 million, Mayor Annise Parker said after her annual State of the City address on Friday.

Parker, speaking at a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon at the Hilton Americas Hotel downtown, warned of looming budget cuts while also touting efficiencies found and tasks completed in her 15 months in office.

The city still will face widespread layoffs, Parker said, but some programs that had been at risk will be kept, such as the Houston Police Department’s mounted patrol and K-9 divisions.

“A tight budget is a little like a corset — it holds some things in and it emphasizes other things,” Parker said, drawing chuckles. “This tight budget is going to have a good long-term impact on the city. … We’re down 500 employees since I took office, not because we couldn’t afford to pay them but because we found a better way of doing business.”

She cited the consolidations of the city’s human resources, payroll, fleet management and information technology departments and the use of Metro police rather than HPD officers to dispatch tow trucks to clear accidents.

“These are permanent changes that make sense,” she said.

You can read the full speech here. It touches on many subjects – Demolition Day (there’s one coming up in May), Rebuild Houston, Dynamo Stadium, sustainability, Hire Houston First, and on and on – but one that that wasn’t mentioned was the pension issue, other than to note that we won’t be doing more pension bonds. I guess since there are negotiations going on with the police and fire departments, this might have been too sensitive a topic. One thing that made me smile was this, from her look ahead at Houston five years from now:

We see advances in our use of technology. Just imagine taking a photo with your PDA, sending it to our public works department and receiving automatic acknowledgment and a work order number.

Indeed I can imagine that. I hope Mayor Parker will already be talking about how successful it is in her next State of the City address.

One more thing, from the story:

The $50 million decrease in the budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is due primarily to $16 million more in projected tax revenues, $13 million in savings from a new employee health care contract, $7 million in property sales and the movement of $7.6 million in utility debt service that will now be paid from utility revenues instead of the general fund, Finance Director Kelly Dowe said.

I don’t know what the formula is that’s being used to project future revenues, but it’s certainly possible that the economy will exceed expectations, with revenues doing better as well. Lord knows there’s plenty of people in Austin hoping for higher sales tax receipts than what they’re currently using for their budget. I also don’t know if the property sales include things like this or not. Point being, with a bit of luck the situation could be less dire by the time the city actually needs to finalize its budget. Here’s hoping for that.

The EaDo decade

Things are looking good for a wave of development in East Downtown, a/k/a EaDo.

Discussions are under way for a six-block-long linear park in EaDo, and there is talk, still in the early stages, of a 1,000-room convention hotel.

The area has already seen plenty of apartment complexes built in the past few years, and a music venue and bars have also popped up. But it also has its share of warehouses, vacant lots and boarded buildings.

The more residential density in the area, the greater the chance it will also produce a thriving entertainment district, [Anita Kramer, senior director of retail and mixed-use development at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.] said.

“EaDo has all the potential in the world,” said David Cook, executive vice president and shareholder at the Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm.

“I see the same kind of blossoming in EaDo as we saw in Midtown.”

EaDo is a triangle-shaped area bounded by U.S. 59, the Gulf Freeway and the Union Pacific rail line running from Cullen to Congress. The soccer stadium, clubs and the planned promenade and the hotel under discussion are in the section closest to downtown.

EaDo land prices have increased dramatically recently, Cook said – to the $50-per-square-foot range, about the same as in Midtown, from around $25 to $30. By comparison, Cook said, land is about $400 per square foot downtown.

The area has already seen fairly significant growth this past decade. I believe that it will see a lot more, and will establish itself as a significant population center. Proximity to downtown is a valuable thing, and while there are still corridors close to downtown that have room for development, EaDo has the most in one place. There’s one thing that might hold it back, however.

“A complete redevelopment in EaDo is likely more long-term than short-term, but all indicators are positive,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.

She added, “I do believe Highway 59 creates a visual and psychological barrier, and it is quite possible there will be a thriving downtown and EaDo side by side.”

The city will try to bridge that barrier with improved lighting and sidewalks and street signs to help people find their way under the overpass, she said.

Here’s a radical suggestion: Rebuild that stretch of US59 so that it’s underground instead of above it. You know, like it is from Midtown to 610, where you’ll note that neighborhood development is more continuous. It’s not a panacea – I-45 still serves as a barrier north of downtown even though it’s a trench and not an overpass; there is an alternate suggestion for that as well – but I’m willing to bet it would help. That would cost a boatload of money, of course, for which the federal government would need to pick up the tab, but why not see what support might exist for it? If it gets anywhere, maybe we can try to do the same for the Pierce Elevated next. It won’t change history, but it would still be a good idea.

Dynamo Stadium groundbreaking today

I presume things will be sufficiently de-iced for the ceremony today at 2 PM at the stadium site in the East End.

The stadium will have 22,000 seats, and the expansion capacity will be 30,000 over 340,000 square feet.

Populous, which was previously called HOK Sports, also designed Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and Reliant Stadium. Like those three stadiums, the Sports Authority will be the landlord for the Dynamo’s new stadium.

“Although (it’s) a very simple idea of a stadium, but it gives really sort of a dramatic punch,” [Populous’ Loren] Supp said. “And I think it really sticks out when you look at other stadiums that have been built both for other sports and for soccer worldwide actually.”

You can see pictures there, at Swamplot, and of course on the Dynamo website, where they have a Q&A with the architect. It all sounds quite cool. And someday, barring any malicious acts of Congress, you’ll be able to get there via light rail.

Council gives final approval to Dynamo Stadium deal

The last hurdle has officially been cleared.

With two unanimous votes at City Council on Wednesday, the Dynamo cleared the last public hurdles they need to build their new stadium on the East End.

“I think it’s a very important step in the right direction and brings us much closer to finalizing all the pieces to the puzzle,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “Our organization is very thankful to both the city and the county’s elected officials on the support of this project.”

The Dynamo will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday from 2-4 p.m. It was originally scheduled for last Saturday, but was postponed for a variety of reasons, including a potential conflict with the Houston Marathon.

The Dynamo are investing $60 million of the cost to build the $95 million stadium. On Wednesday, Council approved what is estimated to be a $3 million rebate for the Dynamo over 30 years on projected sales tax. Council also approved the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) that is part of the inter-local agreement between the county and city.

Apparently, the rebate deal didn’t cause any particular heartburn on Council, so either they had some idea it was coming or decided it was OK regardless. Congrats to the Dynamo, and I hope things warm up a bit for them before the groundbreaking.

The Dynamo Stadium rebate plan

Well, this is interesting.

The city is poised to strike a 30-year deal giving back $3 million in projected sales tax to the Houston Dynamo as they prepare to construct their $60 million stadium.

City officials say the tax rebate always has been a part of the deal that kept the team from leaving Houston, one that will make the city and county owners of a new sports stadium for which they did not have to pay.

The rebate will amount to $3 million over 30 years, said Houston Chief Development Officer Andy Icken, a primary negotiator for the city on the deal.

“This was viewed as a trade-off to get this much public infusion for a stadium that, in the end, is getting donated to us,” Icken said. “We were never going to go into this unless there was a substantial private investment in the project.”

Icken said the deal mirrors sales tax rebates the city gave the Houston Texans when it negotiated over the future Reliant Stadium.

[…]

Icken denied that the rebate is a new element of the deal, pointing to a December memo he sent City Council members in which he said council would be asked to vote “to reimburse the team for a portion of sales and liquor taxes collected by the operations of the stadium.”

Councilman Mike Sullivan, who voted for the main elements of the deal struck last year between the city and Harris County, said he did not recall any discussion of such a rebate. “I think this evolved as negotiations have taken place with the city and the county, and we’re really just now seeing the changes,” he said.

First I’ve heard of it, too. It’s not really clear to me what this is about. It’s still the case that the Dynamo are spending the vast majority of the money to build the stadium, and it’s still the case that the deal is a good one overall, but the timing on this is lousy. The only thing I can say in its favor is that at least it came out before tomorrow’s Council vote.

Dynamo Stadium groundbreaking delayed

Groundbreaking for Dynamo Stadium was originally scheduled for this Saturday the 29th, but due to a delay with City Council it has been put off till next week.

Because the city council has not yet voted on the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) that is part of the inter-local agreement between the county and city, the Dynamo’s owners weren’t comfortable proceeding with the ceremony even though councilman Mike Sullivan and other city officials were confident that everything will be approved.

“This date was a moving target from the day we penciled it into the calendar,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “We anticipated the possibility that it would change. We were pushing the envelope a little bit with this timeline, but we are not far off.

“We’ll set another date in the next few days. This does not have any impact on our construction timeline and planned opening of April 2012.”

Commissioner’s Court unanimously approved the TIRZ during Tuesday’s meeting, but the Dynamo were hesitant to proceed because the TIRZ issue wasn’t added to the City Council’s agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. The issue had to be placed on the agenda by last Saturday for this week’s meeting, but it will be placed on next week’s agenda.

Look for it to happen next Saturday, the 5th. Assuming the item makes it onto Council’s agenda and doesn’t get tagged, of course.

The Sports Authority wants you to know it’s working hard for you

I feel like the Chron should send a bill for its standard advertising rates to the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority for running this op-ed by its chair, J. Kent Friedman. It’s one part victory lap for negotiating the Dynamo Stadium lease and one part “Hey! Look at all this stuff we’re doing!” rah-rah. I like the Dynamo Stadium deal as much as the next guy, but the basic outline for it was in place long before the HCHSA got involved at El Franco Lee’s insistence earlier this year. As for the rest, nice work and all, but next time just send out a press release, OK?

On a side note, since the recent Port Commission kerfuffle, I thought it might be useful to examine the membership of the boards and commissions I happen to blog about. The Sports Authority board is thirteen members, six each chosen by Houston and Harris County, plus one – Chair Friedman – chosen jointly. Of the six board members selected by Harris County, five are white and one is African-American. Of the six chosen by the city of Houston, two are white, two are Hispanic, one is African-American, and one is Asian. Of the five non-white members on the board of 13, four were city of Houston appointments. Oh, and both of the women on the board – one white, one Hispanic – were City of Houston appointees. Just thought you’d like to know.

Dynamo Stadium lease deal reached

We didn’t get the World Cup, but soccer fans here had something to celebrate this week.

The Dynamo have agreed to pay $76 million to build a professional soccer stadium in downtown Houston and then lease it from the city and county for $65,000 a year.

The board of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, a joint city-county agency that acts as a pro sports stadium landlord, unanimously approved the deal Thursday morning. While the Dynamo will pay most of the cost of construction, the city and county will own the stadium.

Thursday’s approval sets the stage for construction to begin as early as next month just across U.S. 59 from the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The deal still has to be approved by Houston City Council and Commissioners Court, but I expect both to happen this month. Looking through the archives, the first mention I can find of “Dynamo Stadium” is just over four years ago, shortly after they had settled on the team’s name. You can’t say we’ve rushed this, that’s for sure. Construction is projected to take about 16 months, meaning the stadium may be open in time for the 2012 MLS season. In addition to being the home of the Dynamo and TSU football, the new stadium will also be a live music venue.

The Dynamo’s owners, entertainment giant AEG Worldwide, will be looking to book musical acts into the 22,000-seat stadium.

The Dynamo has worked out a somewhat informal non-compete clause with the Toyota Center, but there’s no such agreement with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

The Pavilion’s capacity is about 17,000; with field seats the new stadium could hold 25,000.

“We’re a larger venue…Our parent company is AEG, that’s their business, live entertainment and they do a lot of musical shows across the country,” Canetti said. ” So I suspect that we’ll be looking to do a handful of shows if not more in the new stadium.”

Canetti noted the Pavilion’s success. “I think they have a niche both in terms of where they’re located and the size of the venue and I think we’re going to provide something that’s just a little bit different for everybody.”

Sounds good to me.

Dynamo Stadium on the agenda

The Sports Authority will meet this week to try to hammer out a lease agreement for the Houston Dynamo in their future stadium.

The Sports Authority will meet Dec. 2, but it won’t meet again until February, which is partly why the lease topic was placed on the agenda.

[Sports Authority Chair Kenny] Friedman said the lease was put on the agenda to give the Sports Authority a chance to vote on it if all the issues are resolved in the negotiations between the Sports Authority and the Dynamo.

I figure it’ll happen in time for the meeting. Deadlines have a way of focusing the mind.

Dynamo “Your Name Here” Stadium

In a conversation with the Chron, Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner AEG, discusses the next big item on their to-do list:

The naming rights is the next task at hand and it will be a hot priority, but we expect to be under construction at the end of the year. And believe it or not we are hopeful to open June 2012.

[…]

The naming rights become key because without them we are going to struggle on this project. We have made a decision not to tie everything into if we sell the naming rights. So much of the risk is going to be dependent upon the contractually obligated incomes that we are going to create in the stadium.

We have all of the agreements we need to sign and we have all of the revenue that we need to lock in and that is going to be an important part. We are fortunate that we have a bunch of people interested (in naming rights).

A couple of them are based here. They see this as an opportunity to be a good corporate citizen and at the same time it makes good financial sense to them. I think because of the nature we are financing this unlike any other stadium that we have built, people like the fact that we are stepping up in the private sector and bearing most of the load here.

They see themselves here as aligning with the right kind of project that won’t have a lot of controversy. They certainly see soccer as the sport of the future because 45 percent of the fans are Hispanic so we have a few of the companies that are very focused on our Hispanic audience.

Anyone want to try to guess whose name will eventually get attached to Dynamo Stadium? Let’s just hope they have better luck with this than the Astros had.

Dynamo Stadium coming along

A very brief update from the Chron:

Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner AEG, told the Chronicle that the Dynamo’s negotiations for a new stadium are completed for the most part and that he expects to break ground at the end of the year for the East End stadium scheduled to open in June 2012.

For all the time it took to get to this point, they deserve to have smooth negotiations and hassle-free construction.

Dynamo Stadium design

Wondering what the new Dynamo Stadium will be like? The Chron has some early information.

“We hope to be on site with a shovel in the ground by the end of this year,” said Dynamo general manager Oliver Luck, who took the primary role in lobbying county and city officials to help fund the $95 million project.

[…]

More than that, the Dynamo are excited to be downtown. As far as they’re concerned, the East End is prime real estate as they continue their quest to cement the franchise in the hearts of Houston sports fans.

“I think it’s a great location,” [Dynamo forward Brian] Ching said. “I’m just extremely excited that we got it downtown. Give credit to Oliver. He could have made a decision to go to the suburbs any time, and he didn’t. Being downtown adds a little to the credibility of a professional organization being right there.”

[…]

The playing field is expected to be 13 feet below grade, and the lower bowl will be cast in place concrete. The upper bowl will extend above grade.

Also, like nearby Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park, the major concourse will be at grade. As Astros fans do when they show up for a home game, Dynamo fans will enter the stadium through the main concourse on ground level.

The Dynamo plan to have a roof canopy on the east and west sidelines to protect fans against the sun and rain.

I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. I plan to attend some games once they’re in the new location, which is something I haven’t done before.

The story is wrapped around the question of how the new stadium will benefit area businesses. I don’t think there’s any question that it will be good for them, it’s a matter of how much. Note that this does not in any way contradict the research of sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, as he focused on the economic impact of a metropolitan area. Given that one effect is to relocate economic activity from one area to another, it seems likely that businesses in that area will benefit.

One thing to keep an eye on, which is also something Zimbalist talks about, is how often this stadium actually gets used. Between the Dynamo and TSU football, you’re talking 25 to 30 games a year. That’s a lot of idle time to fill to maximize the value of the place. What other events can and will eventually take place there? Since the Dynamo will make the largest investment in this construction, they’ll have a strong incentive to find that out and make it work for them.

One last time for the Dome and the Dynamo

I suppose now that the Dynamo have finally gotten an official commitment from all relevant parties to go forward with their downtown stadium idea that it was inevitable the question of why didn’t they just use the Astrodome came up again one last time. The answers really should be obvious, but let’s go over them again for old time’s sake.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck answers the question with questions of his own: What conditions would be imposed by Reliant Park’s other tenants, namely the rodeo and the Texans? Are certain dates blocked? What’s the infrastructure like inside the domed stadium?

It costs money and time to get answers, and Luck said he would need to know them before addressing the biggest question of all: “Would $60 million get you anywhere with the Astrodome?”

Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which runs the Astrodome and the rest of the Reliant Park complex, said any conversion of the Dome would be “some multiple” of the $32 million still owed for the aging ballpark’s 1980s renovations.

“You’d have to consider it a substantial renovation project,” Loston said.

A building with 60,000 seats would need to be configured for 30,000 for soccer, turf would have to be installed and the building would have to be brought up to fire and building codes.

“It certainly is more than just hanging a Dynamo banner on the outside and starting to play games in there,” Loston said.

Right on queue, there’s a letter to the editor today from someone asking the “why not the Dome for the Dynamo” question. I’ve discussed this before, and to me it’s always come down to a simple question: Why would the Dynamo want to put $60 million or more of their own money into a stadium that isn’t a good fit for them and would likely cost a whole lot more than that to make it into something that might be? The Dome as configured would be a lousy fan experience and would cost too much to operate. Converting it into something suitable would be very expensive, and the end result might not look anything like what some folks are hoping to preserve. Far as I could tell, in all this time there’s been very little overlap between those who ever had attended or ever might attend a Dynamo game, and those who wondered why they just didn’t use the Astrodome. Maybe now people will finally stop asking about it. Elsewhere in the Chron, Council Member James Rodriguez sings the praises of the downtown stadium-to-be, and soccer writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz sings the praises of Dynamo President Oliver Luck.

Once again mulling the fate of the Astrodome

Am I the only one who noticed the omission in this story about the current state of the Astrodome?

Debt and interest payments will amount to more than $2.4 million this year, according to a payment schedule for the higher debt estimate. The Astrodome’s manager estimates it also will cost $2 million for insurance, maintenance, utilities and security.

The debt likely would have to be reckoned with in any deal to redevelop the Astrodome, said Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which the county created to run the Reliant Park complex.

But no deal to restore what once was known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” is likely to be affected by $32 million, Loston said.

“Practically anything that would be done with the building would be some multiple of that,” Loston said. “It’s not enough to make or break a development proposal.”

Not a word is mentioned about any specific redevelopment project. Nothing about the planetarium, the movie studio, or the convention center. Does that mean all these ideas are now officially dead, and that the most likely but still only spoken about in whispers outcome is this? You tell me.

That story was also about Commissioners Court finally getting around to the matter of the Dynamo Stadium deal. As expected, they approved it.

County Judge Ed Emmett emphasized that the Dynamo deal differs sharply from past stadium projects in which taxpayers picked up a much greater share of the tab.

“This is a team building its own stadium,” Emmett said.

Nor does the Dynamo deal cost any general fund money, Emmett and other county officials reaffirmed. Instead, a redevelopment zone will be created around the stadium so that future increases in tax receipts in the neighborhood will be funneled back into the project.

[…]

Much remains to be done before construction begins in October for a planned 2012 opening.

“This is, practically speaking, an agreement to agree,” said David Turkel, who as director of the county’s community services department is negotiating the deal with the city.

The Dynamo and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority must negotiate a lease for the soccer team’s use of the stadium. The city and county must also formally approve the creation of the redevelopment zones.

It’s still a significant step forward, and it ought to be a lot easier from here now that the basic framework is in place. Enjoy the moment, Dynamo fans, it’s been a long time in coming.

Library hours to be cut back

No surprise here.

Hammered by $2.2 million in budget cuts, the Houston Public Library system this month will reduce its hours by 28 percent — closing most of its 42 branches on Saturdays — and trim expenditures for library materials.

[…]

Reduced hours will go into effect on April 17.

Most libraries will now be open 51 hours a week instead of the current 71. In addition to the shortened hours, expenditures for books, recordings and other library materials will be cut by 6 percent.

[Library director Rhea] Lawson said 42 vacant staff positions will not be filled, resulting in a 9 percent reduction in library system staffing. Most of the lost positions are those of librarians and others who interact with the public. Additionally, Lawson said, a hiring freeze has been implemented.

The thing to remember is that this is the easy stuff. It’s when cuts to police and fire service have to be contemplated, as they will given that they make up over 60% of the city budget, that it gets hard. The next year or two are going to be a whole lot of no fun.

By the way, there were six letters to the editor yesterday bemoaning the library cuts. I’m a little surprised that it provoked that much of a reaction, but I’m not surprised that three of those letters said some variation of “how can the city cut back on libraries when it’s building a new stadium?” Of course, the city isn’t actually spending any money to build Dynamo Stadium – the Dynamo ownership is financing the construction. Generally speaking, it’s considered a good thing for a city when a private company pledges to spend $60 to $80 million on a construction project. The city did spend money to buy the land, but that was in 2008, and thus has no effect on this fiscal year. Indeed, when Commissioners Court approves the deal, one piece of that is that the county will reimburse the city for half of the money it spent on that purchase. Finally, the city created (and the county will create) a TIRZ that will be used for street and drainage improvements, some of which are needed for the construction. Those things don’t exclusively benefit the stadium, and again they aren’t on the books for this fiscal year. The point I’m trying to make here is that the Dynamo Stadium deal and the cutback in library hours have nothing to do with each other. This is a big disconnect, and it has the potential to be a political problem for people down the line.

Commissioners Court to vote Tuesday on Dynamo Stadium deal

One presumes that since they were the holdup on this, the fact that they’re finally bringing it to a vote means it will go through.

“I expressed concern (weeks ago) when we started getting this kind of Christmas tree built with all other things added to it,” County Judge Ed Emmett said Friday. But he said he now supports the package with its limitations on the Authority’s role and language that does not commit the county to any specific projects in the Reliant and jail-area redevelopment zones.

Though Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has publicly insisted that a soccer stadium deal is not his to make, both city and county officials have described him as a driving force behind it. On Thursday, Mayor Annise Parker credited “Commissioner El Franco Lee’s leadership in moving this project forward” during her State of the City speech on Thursday.

Lee could not be reached for comment Friday, though he put the deal on the agenda and the proposed stadium project is largely in his precinct.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, whose Precinct 2 contains a sliver of the stadium project, has publicly announced her intention to vote for the deal.

That makes a majority. In the end, it’ll likely be unanimous. Neither of the other Commissioners has said they oppose the deal, and in the usual tradition of the Court, that’s good enough. From here it should just be a matter of setting a date for the groundbreaking.

Council approves Dynamo Stadium deal

Two down, one to go.

The Houston City Council unanimously approved an agreement this morning that is expected to pave the way for a new professional sports stadium for the Houston Dynamo and the Texas Southern University football team.

Although some council members voiced concerns about the finances of the $95 million public/private project, many came to view the deal to be in the city’s best interest.

[…]

The next step in the process will be Tuesday at Harris County Commissioners Court when the deal has to be approved by the county.

The first step was the Sports Authority agreeing to be the landlord. For those who are mumbling about spending money on a stadium at a time like this, note that the city spent the money to buy the land for the stadium site two years ago, and that part of the deal with the county is for them to kick in for half of that. In addition, having the Dynamo spend $60 million or so to build the stadium, at a time when the city has been bleeding construction jobs seems like a pretty decent little stimulus project to me. Just something to consider.

Dynamo Stadium deal tagged

While City Council was able to complete the Lakewood Church sale, they were not able to vote on the other major real estate deal on their agenda this week, as Council Member Jarvis Johnson put a tag on the Dynamo Stadium deal.

Johnson said he delayed the vote out of concern the stadium could put the city in violation of its contract with the Houston Rockets that no other municipal venue would be used to compete for major events, such as concerts, through 2013.

Last week, Johnson attended a committee meeting at which Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer, assured him that no events outside of Dynamo soccer and TSU football would be permitted at the new stadium through 2013, to avoid any conflict with the Rockets.

I don’t know what CM Johnson’s issue was, but if we’ve learned anything about Council by now it’s that tags are just a fact of life. It’s not clear that this will have any effect on the hoped-for completion in time for Opening Day 2012, but it did lead to this:

Councilman James Rodriguez, whose district encompasses the stadium’s planned location, expressed disappointment at the delay.

“I just wish that when council members have questions, that they would be addressed in the committee process, not this late in the game,” Rodriguez said.

Without further comment, he then tagged two items involving Johnson’s district.

And to think, some people believe politics is boring.

Sports Authority to become Dynamo Stadium landlord

One of the items on the to-do list after the city and county struck a deal on Dynamo Stadium was for the team to negotiate a lease for the stadium. The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority was proposed as the landlord, and now they have formally agreed to take that role.

The city and county asked the sports authority to negotiate a lease of publicly owned land to the Dynamo, to oversee construction and to run the completed stadium. The authority’s board unanimously passed a resolution to take on those tasks.

“This is kind of the last piece of the puzzle,” said David Turkel, director of the county’s Community Services Department. “Now that we have everything in place, our governing bodies can formally consider it.”

Attorneys for the three agencies will craft details of a formal agreement. The City Council, Commissioners Court and the authority board are scheduled to act on the deal in the next three weeks.

So there you have it. Start making plans for the groundbreaking ceremony. It’s all over but for the construction at this point.

Dynamo Stadium deal finally struck

Took ’em long enough.

The city of Houston and Harris County have struck a potential deal on a new stadium for the Houston Dynamo and Texas Southern University’s football team, agreeing to jointly pay for $20 million in infrastructure upgrades if the soccer team follows through with a commitment to foot the bill for the $60 million stadium construction costs.

The deal, outlined today in a City Council committee meeting, ended years of negotiations that began when the city purchased a $15 million parcel of land in January 2008. The county has agreed to pay for half those costs to finance the stadium, which would be built, pending approval from City Council and Commissioner’s Court, on land just east of Downtown bordered by Texas Avenue, Walker Street and Dowling Street.

So in the end it took a lot longer than it should have to wind up with what everyone thought it would be at the beginning. In other words, a lot like the health care reform bill, but with fewer Armageddon references and no frivolous lawsuits. Yet.

There are things that still need to be done.

Among the items on the to-do list:

• The Dynamo have to negotiate a lease;

• A new tax increment zone must be created, and the county must join it;

• The stadium’s parking must accommodate Astros parking as well.

“There are about 10 different agreements,” [City of Houston Chief Development Officer Andy] Icken said.

First things first, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority must agree to take on the role of negotiating with the Dynamo, which will be addressed at the board meeting on March 25.

Then the stadium could come back on the council agenda next week and Harris County Commissioner’s Court in two weeks.

There’s also the tricky matter of routing the East and Southeast light rail lines around the stadium site, but I suppose that’s a job for Metro. Good thing they have someone on the board who’s already thought of a good solution to that. If all goes well, the pieces should all be in place for construction to start in October and be finished in time for the Dynamo’s 2012 season opener. Assuming other factors have worked themselves out, anyway. Rick Casey has more.

Here comes the Sports Authority

Ready or not, here they are to ride to the rescue.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority agreed Monday to talk to city and county officials about its possible involvement in a soccer stadium for the Houston Dynamo.

The authority will establish a task force to determine its response to an invitation from the city and county to take “a limited administrative role” in a stadium for the Dynamo. Board Chairman J. Kent Friedman said the task force will be charged with finding out what that its role would be and recommending to the board whether to accept it. It will not involve any tax money from the authority. There is no deadline for the task force to finish.

I still don’t think the Sports Authority is really needed, but if it’s the only way to get El Franco Lee to take action, then I guess that’s how it is. We’ll see if it actually leads to something.

Sports Authority to the rescue?

After many months in limbo, there may finally be a way forward for Dynamo Stadium, though it’s a somewhat convoluted path.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority board is scheduled on Monday to discuss becoming the landlord for a professional soccer stadium in Houston’s East End.

[…]

[Harris County Commissioner El Franco] Lee repeatedly has said that putting the soccer stadium on the Commissioner Court agenda is not his responsibility. Most of the proposed stadium site is in Lee’s Precinct 1, and the five-member Court consistently adheres to a protocol that puts each commissioner in charge of public works projects on his or her turf.

On Friday, just more than a week after [Mayor Annise] Parker and Lee met, a joint Houston-Harris County statement announced, “Both the City and County have asked the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to take a limited administrative role in construction of a stadium.”

Harris County Community Services Department Director David Turkel, who has been the county’s lead negotiator on a stadium deal with the city, acknowledged it was Lee who asked that the Sports Authority get involved.

Should the Sports Authority’s board decide Monday to become a player in the deal, it would bring to the table an agency whose board is chaired by Lee’s campaign treasurer, J. Kent Friedman.

Sheesh. Swamplot quotes from a Houston Business Journal article that adds more:

Lee has steadfastly refused to comment on the issue, and did not respond to interview requests. Speaking in Lee’s place during several recent interviews, Turkel has become more guarded, citing the delicate situation and his desire to avoid hampering a possible agreement. In a nutshell, though, Lee wants concessions from the city and the team that he has not yet received.

“Lee is not comfortable putting it on the agenda as is, because it will get voted down,” Turkel says.

For one, the county is looking at who will own the stadium after the lease runs out in about 30 years, and how that would affect a deal in which the city would buy out the county’s share. Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia wants Dynamo family ticket packs priced comparably to movie tickets, which has been more or less agreed upon.

That quote from Turkel just doesn’t square with the way Commissioners Court runs its business. Wanting to get the Sports Authority involved, that makes more sense. It may be a logical move and a good fit to do this, but I think Judge Emmett is right to be concerned that it won’t make the politics of this deal any more popular. It’s also not clear what exactly the Sports Authority would be doing if it gets involved or why their involvement is needed. If they were an obvious piece of the puzzle, you’d think they’d have been mentioned before now. But if the bottleneck is El Franco Lee, and El Franco Lee says he wants the Sports Authority involved to get this moving, well, you do the math. We’ll see what comes out of Monday’s meeting.

Bellaire officially opposes Dynamo Westpark Stadium

Bellaire City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night that opposes the construction of a Dynamo Stadium on Westpark.

“To ignore it and not speak up for our residents would be the wrong thing to do,” said Mayor Cindy Siegel, after introducing the resolution, which stated:

“Whereas, the proposed Midway stadium site is not compatible with the existing Bellaire and Houston residential neighborhoods that surround this site and would negatively impact their quality of life with significant noise, traffic gridlock, cut-through traffic, event parking on the CenterPoint Energy easement immediately adjacent to Bellaire and Houston homes’ backyards, and overflow event parking on Bellaire and Houston residential neighborhood streets.”

The council vote came on the heels of continued negative reaction from residents after news of the Midway proposal surfaced in late January.

“The Dynamo stadium in that area would be a logistical nightmare,” said resident Cynthia Freeman to the council.

Councilman Will Hickman said he conducted a survey of 110 residents on the issue and revealed that 89 percent of the respondents oppose any stadium plan near city limits.

Mayor Siegel was an early opponent of this idea. The proposed location is outside the Bellaire city limits so the resolution has no force, but it is a pretty clear expression of what the locals want. Given that the folks on the East End are strongly in favor of the original downtown stadium idea, perhaps this will give that project another nudge. Dynamo President Oliver Luck certainly hasn’t given up on that.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck said the council’s resolution doesn’t change his thinking because he is already trying to make the downtown site work.

“We won’t say no to any other reasonable proposals until we have a shovel in the ground but certainly the East End has been our focus,” Luck said.

So you’ve got one location for which nearly all of the pieces are in place and there’s community support, and another location that would have to start from scratch and overcome opposition from its closest neighbors. Makes you wonder why we’re even having this conversation, doesn’t it? Instant News Bellaire has more.