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June 23rd, 2007:

West 11th Street Park wrapup

There’s nothing really new in this story about how funding for the West 11th Street Park came out of the Lege, but it’s a useful overview for those who hadn’t been following it all along.

Just as the fate of five acres of the West 11th Street Park was looking bleak, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, put a line item for $3.75 million in the state’s urban park budget, which will keep the 20.2-acre park whole.

Since 2005, grass-roots organizations and city leaders have been working to raise $9.2 million to purchase the 20.2-acre park in Timbergrove Manor from Houston Independent School District to keep it from being sold for development.

“It was a real bolt from the blue,” said Loraine Cherry, president of Friends of the West 11th Street Park. “We had all been getting prepared to go down to city council again and I had been sending out more and more grants. We had some success and had gotten some money, but we still were coming up about $3 million short.

“And then Sen. Whitmire called me one morning and said, ‘I want to let you know this is what I’m trying to do.’ It was one week before the end of the legislative session.”

Said Toni Lawrence, the District A council member who helped with fundraising, “The neighbors in that area worked to keep that green space and it’s actually coming through. We had some people step forward, but in the big scheme we needed a little more boost or we would lose that five acres.”


“I watched on the sidelines with interest the efforts to save the park. I followed it very closely and they came up short,” Whitmire said. “Historically, the state thinks urban parks are the responsibility of local government.

“It just seemed like a natural thing to do given my position on the Finance Committee. Everyone had done so much — the city, the Parks Board, the neighbors — I was just pleased to be in a position to do something.

“I just spoke up and put that item in the budget,” Whitmire added. “I didn’t say anything until I knew it was safeguarded.”

If all goes according to plan, the Parks Board should get the $3.75 million to pay back the loan and accrued interest on Sept. 1.

“The only concern, and it’s a guarded concern, is that obviously the governor has to sign the budget,” Whitmire said. “I’ve been informed this park is in good shape.”

“When the money is in the Parks Board hands, I’ll celebrate,” Lawrence said.

The story was published in June 19, and Governor Perry has indeed signed the budget, so all is well. All I want to know at this point is when’s the party to celebrate the victory?

The city of Houston’s top five athletes

Here’s a little discussion fodder for the weekend for you: Who would you consider to be Houston’s top five athletes? The criteria, as noted by Stephanie Stradley, who gives her own answers plus some honorable mentions, are as follows:

1) What would a Houston sports fan say is his or her favorite local athlete? 2) Would the player’s name be familiar to someone who doesn’t follow sports or only follows local sports casually? 3) Would the player be recognized walking down the street?

There’s an unmentioned fourth requirement in there, which is that the athlete must be actively playing, otherwise I can’t imagine a list that didn’t include at least three of Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell, Earl Campbell, Hakeem Olajuwon, and maybe Carl Lewis. As for me, I’d swap Steph’s #5 with the first runner-up, but that says more about my own sports biases than anything else. Beyond that, I’ve no real quibble. What do you think?

What’s it to Wikipedia?

Apparently, Wikipedia wants to delete the entry for Mary Beth Harrell, because it’s an

Article about a person that does not assert the importance of the subject. She was a candidate, but did not win the seat. I don’t see any other claim of notability.

Huh. I didn’t know Wikipedia cared about such things. Be that as it may, Wikipedia appears to be a bit inconsistent – Shane Sklar is still there, as are Barbara Radnofsky and David Van Os along with a note that his entry “may require cleanup”. Van Taylor is there, and so is Arlene Wohlgemuth, but she at least once served in the Texas House. On the other hand, Richard Morrison, David Harris, Jim Henley, and Will Pryor are not there. Maybe they never were, maybe they’ve already been deleted, I can’t tell.

Anyway. For future reference, in the event Wikipedia decides to apply whatever standard goes here, I’ve put what Harrell is sending to Wikipedia in response beneath the fold.


Day Labor centers

I’m still trying to understand the day labor center funding thing, which went one way on one day and then sort of reversed yesterday.

Houston Mayor Bill White will help locate $100,000 to keep an East End day labor center from closing its doors when a city contract ends this month, his staff confirmed late Thursday.

The controversial East End Worker Development Center, at 2 North Sampson and popular with undocumented workers, is the only city-funded hiring hall in operation in Houston.

City officials decided recently not to renew a $100,000-a-year contract with the nonprofit Neighborhood Centers Inc. to operate the center. The funding issue also surfaced in spring 2006 when a City Council member and others charged that the center encouraged illegal immigration.

The center is operated with federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

Frank Michel, a spokesman for White who is on business in Washington, D.C, confirmed the mayor has agreed to work with center operators to find new funding.

“What he said is he would work with them to identify other sources of funding,” Michel said. “What that is, I can’t say at this point because it hasn’t yet been identified.”

Michel said officials at Neighborhood Centers have been notified of the mayor’s effort.

Marc Levinson, director of communications at the nonprofit agency, said he spoke with White’s chief of staff, Michael Moore, late Thursday.

“The mayor has committed to finding the private funding necessary to keep the center open for another year,” Levinson said.

Levinson said if funding becomes available, he would love to keep the program going. “We believe it is a valuable program,” he said.

We certainly know by now that the City is interested in getting out of the landlord business. I don’t think that’s quite the case here, since I don’t see any indication that the city owns the land, but whatever. They’d rather it be done with private money, and whether I agree with that or not, it’s at least a reasonable position. Where I’m confused is the rationale that was given initially by the city for its actions:

Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White, confirmed that the city did not allocate funding for the center from this year’s federal Community Development Block Grant program.

”The City Council determined that,” said Michel, adding that there are no plans to explore alternate funding. ”It was debated last year at great length. The upshot of it was that we would not fund it again.”

Michel said the city’s funding of the facility became an issue last spring after then-Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs — who was seeking the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Tom Delay — and others said the center promoted illegal immigration.

“There are many in the community who say we shouldn’t be spending taxpayer money on it, because it encourages illegal immigration,” Michel said.

There are also people who think we should disband Metro, and people who think we should bomb Iran. We call them “political minorities”, and we generally don’t take our direction from them. I mean, didn’t we just have a city election in which this sort of thing was an issue, with the guy who supported that position losing?

As I said, in the end I’m okay with what the city is doing, as are Stace and Marc Campos. All I’m saying is that if Frank Michel had stopped talking after his first paragraph, I’d be a lot less puzzled by all this.

Historic Status on tap?

I’d call this a step in the right direction, if nothing else.

The Houston Planning Commission recommended Thursday that two iconic shopping centers be designated as landmarks, making them eligible for tax breaks intended to discourage their expected demolition.


The landmark designations, if approved by the City Council, will apply to the Alabama Shopping Center in the 2900 block of South Shepherd — including the Alabama Theater building that now houses a bookstore — and the crescent-shaped River Oaks Shopping Center at the northeast corner of Shepherd and West Gray.

Both areas, along with the River Oaks Theater across the street from the River Oaks Shopping Center, have been listed as endangered by the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. Weingarten Realty Investors, which owns all three properties, has asked tenants to vacate the River Oaks Shopping Center and may legally begin demolition on Aug. 8.

Weingarten representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Miya tried to find out about that awhile back. Short answer, Weingarten is playing it close to the vest.

About a dozen speakers, including leaders of every major Houston preservation organization, two City Council members and architectural historian Stephen Fox, urged the commission to approve the landmark designation even though it might not save the buildings from the wrecking ball.

“Even though this doesn’t ensure that the buildings will be preserved, it does send a message that this city really cares about its history and the built environment,” said Councilman Peter Brown.

That and a fiver will get you a fancy coffee at one of the two Starbuckses next to the Theater. The gesture is nice, and I applaud that it may be made, but it’s just a gesture.

There is one thing historic designation, and the accompanying tax breaks, could do, however, and that’s to make the River Oaks/Alabama Center properties appealing to a buyer who’d want to keep them as they are – or at least, to keep the Theater and the BookStop as they are. It’s probably not enough, but who knows? It’s something, and until something else better comes along, it’s what we’ve got. Keep hope alive, y’all.