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Wilshire Village Apartments

Why HEB is not like Wal-Mart

I read this story about how residents near the old Wilshire Village Apartments site, where HEB plans to build a new store, will be voting on possible designs for that new store, and I wondered what might have been.

Residents who live near the corner of Alabama and Dunlavy, the site of an H-E-B scheduled to open next year, also are having their say on other store-related matters, such as whether or not to have bold colors on the outside of the building or install a large canopy for shade in front of it.

The San Antonio-based grocer is going to unusual lengths in an effort to make people in the area comfortable with having an H-E-B as a neighbor.

“We always ask for community input, but this time we took it to a whole new level,” said Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B, Houston. The company has never before allowed residents to vote on their favorite design scheme, he said.

When the chain announced its plans for the store in April, there was opposition from some residents. A number of them had wanted a park on the 8-acre wooded site. A group called the Montrose Land Defense Coalition formed to champion the park idea.

H-E-B has been meeting with residents to hear their concerns. “We’ve been impressed with H-E-B — they have truly listened to the community,” said David Robinson, president of the Neartown Association, a collection of 21 Montrose area civic groups and other organizations.

[…]

Smart retailers encourage community involvement, said Kit Yarrow, a professor of business and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. It is more crucial than ever for companies to get the neighborhood on board, she said, because consumers have unprecedented voice today: “The Internet has given them the power to rally from their homes with minimal effort.”

The consumers’ ability to be heard by H-E-B gives them a sense of ownership for the project, which Yarrow said moves the dialog from defensive to collaborative: “It helped change the topic from ‘Should we build?’ to ‘How should we build?’ ”

Other retailers prefer the “We don’t care what you think” approach. I wonder why they don’t have as positive a relationship with the public as some other firms do. In the end, residents got to vote on the design this past weekend; see here for the winner.

The HEB and the Wal-Mart

As we know, the site of the old Wilshire Village Apartments was bought by HEB a few months ago. Some area residents were not terribly thrilled at the idea of a new supermarket at that location and organized to have a voice in what happened there. Recently, HEB released a proposal for that site that addresses a number of the concerns that had been expressed, and everybody appears to be happy with what they’ve put forth. Makes you think that maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for such a happy ending for the “Heights” Wal-Mart. Stranger things have happened, right? So far, though, it’s not looking too good for that.

And in a somewhat related tangent, Prime Property and Swamplot have news about the other new Wal-Mart, the one that will be next to the Marq-E center on I-10 at Silber. Hard to believe I’ve survived all these years in this town without being a five-minute drive away from Wal-Mart, and by the end of next year there will be two such places, assuming all goes as planned. I think I’ll go renew my Costco membership to celebrate.

“HEB with a Montrose feel”

The West U Examiner gives us an update on the plans for an HEB where the Wilshire Village Apartments used to be.

Having recently closed its land deal for the property at Dunlavy and Alabama streets, H-E-B will be putting the finishing touches on three grocery store designs to be considered at the site.

The price paid for the property was not disclosed. There is no timetable yet for selecting a plan or to begin building at the site, spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts said.

During a meeting with the Neartown/Montrose Super Neighborhood in mid-May, H-E-B representatives said residents in the area and other concerned parties in the community would have an opportunity to voice preferences on the final design.

“Once we have them (the plans) ready, we will work with homeowners associations and (neighboring) St. Stephen’s Church,” Garza-Roberts said. “We are very confident they will be pleased. It’s going to be unique and compliment the Montrose feel.”

We’ll see what the neighbors, some of whom are quite skeptical about HEB’s plans, think of this. I’ve expressed some of the same concerns about this as I have about the “Heights” Wal-Mart. The HEB location is on streets that are at least somewhat better suited for the kind of traffic it’s likely to see, and it has the bonus of being near a future University Line rail stop, so the situations aren’t identical, but they are similar. If HEB can convince the locals that they can make this work in a way that won’t be too disruptive, maybe there’s hope for Wal-Mart as well. Maybe. I look forward to seeing what they have to show.

The Montrose Land Defense Coalition

That’s the name of the group that’s not so much fighting against the proposed HEB on the old Wilshire Village location as they are (in their own words) “concerned with the degree to which communities have a say in the development of land directly adjacent to their places of residence” and are seeking “a development solution for this valuable tract that will best benefit businesses and the communities that surround it”. I certainly support that, and I’ll say again that I don’t quite understand why HEB thinks that site would be a good one for one of their stores. So far at least, no politicians have gotten involved in this. I’ll be very interested to see how some of them respond to this, and at what point. Swamplot and Prime Property have more.

All your empty lots are belong to HEB

The empty lot that once housed the Wilshire Village apartments will be bought by HEB.

Cyndy Garza-Roberts, director of public affairs for H-E-B, said the company is studying the feasibility of the acquisition and didn’t have an estimated closing date.

Garza-Roberts also couldn’t say when a store might be built on the site, but she said the company has identified a need for one there.

“We feel there are customers in that area that H-E-B can serve,” she said.

I don’t quite get that. There’s a Fiesta right across the street, the Whole Foods on Kirby and Alabama and the Kroger on Montrose and Fairview are less than a mile away, and the new HEB at 59 and Buffalo Speedway is maybe a five minute drive, with another Kroger right across the street. It’s not like there’s a dearth of food-buying options in the area. They say they perceive a need, but I’m not sure why.

I do know that if I were still living in that area, I’d be more than a little concerned about the traffic this might generate. It would probably make a lot of sense from a throughput perspective to extend one or more of the currently cul-de-sac’ed streets just west of the property into the future parking lot, but I’m sure the residents of those cul-de-sacs would hate that idea with a passion. They’re not too happy with this as it is.

Maria-Elisa Heg recently formed the Montrose Land Defense Coalition to call attention to the property and attract investors who might be interested in buying it with the city of Houston for use as a public space.

The coalition says a major supermarket there could increase traffic and hurt area businesses.

Heg, who rents an apartment in the neighborhood, said she and other residents would prefer the land be turned into a park with a cafe and a small commercial space where artists could sell their work.

More on that here. I suppose on the bright side, if this thing does get built, it’ll also be a short walk away from the eventual Mandell light rail stop on Richmond, so perhaps they’ll get more of a pedestrian patronage than one might think. Beyond that, it’s still weird to me. We’ll see how it goes.

Wilshire Village Apartments…gone

Hair Balls, Swamplot, and Robert Boyd document the final demise of the Wilshire Village Apartments. Boyd wonders what will replace them. I wonder how long the land will lie vacant, given how long some other lots have remained empty following the demolition of what had been on them.

Wilshire Village’s going-away photos

I ask for photos of the impending demolition of Wilshire Village Apartments, I get photos. And I echo Robert Boyd:

I just hope the developer, who thus far has been shown to have no particular vision (or much human decency) will preserve the oaks and magnolia trees that dot this property.

Amen to that.

Get ready to say good-bye to Wilshire Village

Swamplot brings the sad but totally expected news.

As noted in today’s Daily Demolition Report below, 20 structures of the Wilshire Village garden apartments at the corner of Alabama and Dunlavy received demolition permits yesterday.

Aren’t there only 17 buildings in the complex? Maybe everyone’s just trying to be extra sure to get them all.

Somehow, that’s just fitting. My only request is that someone take pictures of the demolition. Then we’ll see how long it takes before something is built in its place – as we know from various other examples, it could be awhile.

How about a little salvage?

I can accept that the Wilshire Village Apartments are going to be torn down. If they weren’t going to be maintained by their owner, these things do happen. What I think is an unforgivable sin is for all of the perfectly good historically-authentic materials in those apartments – hardwood floors, period fixtures, and so forth – to be destroyed and tossed into a landfill. Surely something can be done about that, right?

What next for Wilshire Village?

Nancy Sarnoff runs an obituary for the Wilshire Village apartments, which are slated for demolition now that they have been officially declared a fire hazard.

A historic Inner Loop apartment complex, once slated for a high-rise redevelopment, was shut down last week after city officials ordered residents to vacate the property.

[…]

The complex is the 1940s Wilshire Village apartments at the corner of West Alabama and Dunlavy, one of three Federal Housing Administration-insured garden apartment complexes built here and the only one still in existence, according to architectural historian Stephen Fox.

In 2005, the owner announced plans to tear it down and possibly build an upscale tower in its place.

Matt Dilick, a commercial real estate developer who controls the partnership that owns Wilshire Village, said the demolition process will start “relatively soon.”

“The buildings are unsafe, and for numerous years prior groups have not kept the buildings maintained or the property up to city code,” he said. “The dilapidated buildings are an eyesore to the public and to the numerous homeowners and businesses in the area.”

[…]

As far the property’s redevelopment, “plans have not been released,” said Dilick, adding that the prime site is best suited for apartments, shops and a hotel.

Okay, an apartment is obvious; one hopes this one will be better maintained than the Wilshire ultimately was. Shops I can see, as long as they figure out how to incorporate parking. The other side of Dunlavy is a strip center anchored by a Fiesta, so more shops would fit in just fine. But a hotel? And was this really considered a good spot for a high-rise? I can’t see it. Dunlavy is a narrow little street. It’s not particularly close to an entrance or exit on 59, which would seem to be a negative for a hotel. It’s not far from Greenway Plaza or the Museum District, but as far as I know there’s no shortage of hotels in those areas, certainly not one acute enough that it would need to be relieved by new construction there. It’s all bungalows in the immediate area, so anything over three stories would stick out like a sore thumb. Basically, it’s analogous to the Ashby Highrise, with slightly better vehicular throughput potential and probably less political clout. I don’t see how a hotel makes sense, and I don’t even see how a developer might see how a hotel makes sense. Am I missing something?

Actually, there is one possibility: The Universities line will have a stop at Dunlavy, so the area will have very easy access to light rail. Maybe that figures in to the calculation. Whether that’s the case or not, I hope whoever redevelops the property includes improvements to the sidewalk, as that will make getting to that rail stop much more pleasant. And hopefully whatever does get built there will be at least mostly done before the U-line is in place, so that stretch won’t be all torn up while people are trying to get to the station. Swamplot has more.

Wilshire Village declared a fire hazard

That happened on Thursday. More from Swamplot here and here. What a bizarre end to such an eccentric little development. I just hope that when the owners finally get to tear the place down, as they seem to want to do, the property doesn’t sit empty for a year or more.

Wilshire Village update

Swamplot has more on the Wilshire Village Apartments situation; apparently, there’s some question as to the legality of the eviction notices that the residents received. Meanwhile, Hair Balls satisfies my curiosity with some interior photos of the place. It does look better on the inside. That’s not saying much, given the sad state the exterior is in, but it’s easy to see how this place, given some love and an owner that cared, could be a real gem again. Seems unlikely that will happen, unfortunately; we’ll just have to see what replaces it. That’s Houston for you.

Wilshire Village Apartments

Normally, another story about another old and rundown apartment complex in Houston being set for demolition isn’t that noteworthy, at least for me, but this Swamplot post about the Wilshire Village Apartments struck a chord with me because I used to live practically next door to them. In the early 90s I lived in a duplex on Branard, just east of Woodhead, which cul-de-sacced into Wilshire Village. I once tried to cut through the complex as a shortcut to the Fiesta (then a Safeway or AppleTree, I forget which) and got accosted by an angry dude (I presume a resident) who yelled at me to get the hell out. Anyway, I have no idea why you’d want to demolish a complex that apparently still has paying residents in this economic climate, and I hate the idea of it being replaced by a highrise – that area had too much traffic 15-20 years ago – but that’s how it goes around here. Hair Balls has more.