Another "world-class" boondoggle to boost downtown?

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In a clumsily edited piece, The Chronicle reports on the latest grand plans to boost downtown:

Details of two projects that officials hope will reinvigorate key areas of downtown were unveiled Tuesday when a group announced its plans for a “world-class” park and developers said they will construct a three-block retail, condominium and office complex.

The $81 million park, which will be designed by a San Francisco firm that worked on sites for the Sydney Olympics, would be built on 12 acres in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center. Officials hope that its amenities — including a restaurant pavilion, jogging trail, dog run and an area for wedding receptions — will lure people downtown and draw conventioneers.

Memo to the San Francisco firm: Your PR people need to ditch the references to “world-class.”

That is a term that politically savvy Houstonians use with derision, to refer to the inferiority complex that so many Houstonians seem to have about a city that’s a fine place to live even if it’s not a tourist destination. Indeed, “world class” is a term that pretty much went out with Lee Brown, as he managed to preside over “world-class” messes like huge unfunded liabilities in the municipal employees pension plan, HPD manpower shortages, official corruption, and more. World-class has lost any positive connotation it might once have had here.

Moving on, the Mayor’s office thinks the proposal is great:

“One of the things that makes a great city great is that there are multiple places where citizens can gather just to enjoy life in the city,” Guy Hagstette, Mayor Bill White’s special assistant for urban design, said of the park. “And it needs to be a place where you don’t have to buy a ticket. And this park must be one of those places.”

We concede that it sounds like quite an improvement over the Bill White Vermin and Solid Waste Memorial Park.

Shifting gears, the reporters turn to the proposed Houston Pavilions:

Houston Pavilions would offer 365,000 square feet of retail space on three levels. It would replace three blocks of surface parking lots. Skywalks over Fannin and San Jacinto would link the retail pavilions.

Rising from the pavilions would be a 194,000-square-foot office tower and a taller, sister tower with more than 200 condominiums.


[Developer William] Denton said Houston Pavilions can’t be done without TIRZ status because downtown land values make it cost-prohibitive to build a major retail complex.


Houston Pavilions developers have asked the city and county to allow a downtown TIRZ — a separate entity set up with the local governments’ permission — to float $14.3 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements.

Those include $639,000 for curbs, pavement, sidewalks and landscaping; $685,000 for upgrading the garage; and $4.2 million for elevators, escalators, walkways, landscaping, decorative lighting and graphics. Another $8.8 million has yet to be earmarked.

Apparently, the “world-class” developments known as the George R. Brown Convention Center, Hilton Americas, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, the Main Street Rail Line, the revamped Jones Plaza, and Mayor White’s new Vermin/Homeless Park just aren’t enough to attract the throngs to downtown and allow our municipal leaders to impress out-of-town visitors that we really are world-class. Another $14.3 million in bonds ought to do the trick, say the self-interested developers to the local media.

Being “world-class” doesn’t come cheap.


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