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August 22nd, 2010:

The KTRU rally

The Houston Press, which has largely owned this story, reports from today’s rally to save KTRU.

Early this afternoon, protesters met at Valhalla, Rice’s on-campus pub, to make signs and t-shirts for the protest before marching as a group to the statue of William Marsh Rice in near triple-digit heat. The timing of the protest and the weather no doubt kept some people away, but the event was still 100-plus strong, with people lining the perimeter of the quad where trees provided shade.

Event organizers also set up tents, handed out cold water and gave away noisemakers to the protesters. Tables held “Save KTRU” stickers, petitions and poster-making supplies.

Even before the event started, one “KTRUvian” climbed atop the Willy statue to speak. “If we don’t take a stand now, nothing will ever change,” he said. “I invite you to create a little chaos.” He then had to be asked to climb down by the rally’s organizers, who had a tight schedule of speakers to get through.

Student DJ Joey Yang, who helped organize the rally, spoke of Rice’s upcoming 100-year anniversary and the station’s 40-year history as a student-run entity. He said he’d learned that over a year ago Rice began looking for someone to take the station “off of their hands,” to which someone in the audience angrily replied “It’s not their station!”

Yang said the University had adopted a new slogan for it’s anniversary “Unconventional Wisdom”.

“KTRU embodies what a Rice University education is supposed to be about.”

The Chron has some photos; they also opined about the sale.

Another UH rationale for the purchase was to increase the capacity of KUHF to produce quality local programming. In the past, critics have judged both KUHF’s classical music programs and local news and public affairs programming mediocre at best.

Simply adding another broadcast station at UH won’t solve that problem. It’s going to take strong leadership and talent, something that doesn’t automatically come with a new broadcasting tower and frequency. If the sale goes through, the ultimate justification for the expenditure must be a sharp upgrade in the quality, rather than the quantity, of programming.

Recent history suggests that’s not going to happen. I’m rooting for that outcome, too, but I can’t say I’ll be surprised to be disappointed.

I guess the question I have at this point is, how exactly do the Save KTRU folks hope to affect the final outcome? Both boards of regents have voted to go ahead with the sale. There’s a 30-day public comment period, after which the FCC must give its approval, but what are the odds that it won’t? More to the point, what are the conditions under which they won’t? (Yeah, there’s the Open Meetings Act issue, but 1) that’s a question for the Attorney General, not the FCC, and 2) far as I know, nobody has asked the Attorney General to investigate that yet.) I don’t see what leverage exists for those who oppose the sale. The Burn Down Blog suggests Rice President David Leebron is prepared for the possibility of losing the fight over KTRU, but he doesn’t suggest how Leebron might lose it. I admire the passion of the KTRU supporters, but I don’t know what their plan is. How exactly are they going to achieve the result they want? Help me out here, because I don’t see it.

UPDATE: More photos from the rally here.

UPDATE: And here’s the Chron story of the rally.

Weekend link dump for August 22

School days, school days, dear old golden rule days…

Help The Lunch Tray help hungry kids.

Hurley!

The AJGLU-3000 is humming along.

This ain’t your daddy’s burger joint.

Tales from the MLB draft deadline.

I have a real hard time keeping up with all the shibboleths these days.

Libertarian utopia looks an awful lot like manifest destiny.

Why do Republicans hate cost controls?

Timeline of a fear and smear scheme.

“Sacred ground” ain’t what it used to be.

Another reason why I don’t patronize Starbucks. Well, besides the fact that I don’t like coffee.

When good sandwiches go bad.

Don’t put all your bits in one basket.

When in doubt, listen to The Slacktivist.

Xenophobic jingoism is wrong no matter who does it.

Way to go, Trinity!

Most things in science and technology involve indirect measurements. Which we ought to do a better job teaching.

Good-bye, and good riddance.

Geez, if Ted Olson keeps this up, I’m going to have to really respect him.

You know, I’m actually glad to see Fox News give a million bucks to the Republican Governors Association. It’s more honest that way.

The tragic death of practically everything. Surprisingly, blogs were not mentioned, but since RSS died a few years ago it hardly matters anyway.

Five tips for dealing with that flood of email you get.

How come the Scott Pilgrim movie didn’t do so well at the box office?

What Harold says.

How to save the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

What do Rick Perry and Lindsay Lohan have in common?

What about those Ground Zero strip clubs?

RIP, Bill Millin.

RIP, Johnny Bailey, the best running back you’ve probably never heard of.

CultureMap previews the Wal-Mart

Some interesting stuff here.

Restaurants and stores on Heights Boulevard, along with new pathways and landscaping on the boulevard’s esplanade, will be part of Ainbinder Company’s Walmart-anchored retail development in the Inner Loop of Houston, the developer of the project said Friday.

The project, called Washington Heights, is planned for 23 acres near the southwest corner of Yale Street and Koehler, just south of Interstate 10 and the Heights community. Much of the project will be located on industrial land vacant land that formerly was the site of a Trinity Industries steel fabrication plant.

“We are going to take this land from a factory site to a fairly upscale development,” said developer Bart Duckworth, principal in the Houston-based Ainbinder firm.

Washington Heights will also spread onto land Ainbinder is acquiring on Heights Boulevard, south of the freeway. An old apartment project there will be demolished to make way for the new retail space, Duckworth said.

You can see the back end of the apartment complex here, looking east from Koehler Street. I’ll reserve judgment on that for now, but I’m pretty sure extending this development across Yale like that isn’t going to alleviate anyone’s concerns about traffic. I’m already envisioning a new traffic light being installed at Yale and Koehler to handle the exiting and left-turning vehicles.

Real estate broker Lance Gilliam of the retail division of Moody Rambin Interests has been handling the project.

Gilliam hopes to attract chef-driven restaurants, local boutiques and non-chain outlets to the retail space on Yale and Heights Boulevard, as an extension of the restaurant development that has occurred along Washington Avenue in recent years.

“We have really made an effort to reach out to the Houston, and also to Texas cities including, Austin, to see who that is out there would best serve this community,” Gilliam said. “We want shops that are unique and add to the community.”

Color me skeptical of that effort. I’m not sure how many driven chefs will want to share space with a Wal-Mart, but I suppose anything is possible. Maybe if pedestrian access between this site and Washington Avenue is improved, and/or if the Washington Wave extends service in that direction, it might make the proposition more attractive to the kinds of chefs and restaurants they seem to want. Or it might not. I know that when they were filling out the Target site on Sawyer that I was hoping for some decent food options, but what we got was Chili’s, Panda Express, and Freebird’s. Seems to me that’s the more likely, and more fitting, outcome over there, but I guess we’ll see.

Ainbinder is seeking an agreement with city officials to make public improvements to the area on city owned property, Duckworth said.

Under the proposal, Ainbinder would spend $6 million to widen and expand streets around the project, beautify nearby bridges, improve drainage, build new sidewalks, and create a crushed rock path and landscaping in the esplanade of Heights Boulevard, he said. Ainbinder would be reimbursed for the public improvements over time as the project reached completion and occupancy goals, in a government sponsored program that has been used for other projects around the state, Duckworth said.

The “government sponsored program” Duckworth is referring to is apparently a 380 Agreement. Which apparently has to be approved by Council first. Expect there to be some pressure applied to Council members about that. Usually, other Council members will defer to the District member on matters like this in their district, so watch what CM Ed Gonzalez says and does very carefully.

Walmart’s trucks will enter the store property off of Koehler Street, next to Berger Iron Works.

There’s already some truck traffic on Koehler, for the Berger Iron Works and for San Jacinto Stone, but for the most part we’re not talking 18-wheelers. Better hope widening Koehler is part of the plan.

Bye-bye, IBM

Better luck next time.

The Department of Information Resources appears to be giving up on IBM — once and for all. The agency isn’t formally terminating its contract with the information technology and business consulting giant, which was supposed to coordinate the data centers and disaster recovery operations of 27 state agencies. But state officials sent a letter to IBM [Wednesday] saying they have no other choice to rebid the contract because they believe the company has failed to meet almost all of its obligations.

May the next outsourcer have better success. I mock, because it’s easy and fun, but outsourcing is hard. There’s a million reasons, and a million ways, things can go wrong. Still, it’s important to keep the mockery in mind for the next time some state official makes a grandiose pronouncement about how much money an outsourcing arrangement will save. Betting against it is the more likely winner.

One more thing about outsourcing in general, from the Statesman story.

IBM ran into problems from the very beginning, slowing progress and fueling frustration among the agencies. IBM has laid responsibility for the persistent problems at the feet of the participating state agencies, in particular, the Department of Information Resources.

“Ceding control of their individual (information technology) environments in favor of a centralized, common system was (and continues to be) unpopular with the constituent agencies, and without strong leadership from DIR, those agencies not only failed to cooperate, but in many cases actively resisted the project,” IBM wrote in a letter last week.

The main conceit of this kind of project is that you can save money by centralizing and standardizing. And that’s certainly true, although in some ways it’s basically a tautology. If you force everyone onto the same desktop, and you force all of your server-based applications onto the same back end, you will certainly spend less money on your IT. If that means that some specialized applications that a handful of people used to do their jobs are no longer available, or if it means that some specialized processes that were used to manage or present data are no longer allowed, well, that’s just the cost of saving money. One size seldom fits all, but you can pretend it does if it makes the bottom line prettier.

Anyway. Here’s a more recent letter from IBM disputing what DIR has to say. Again, I don’t know who’s right or wrong in this fight. I strongly suspect both sides have some validity to their claims. What I do know is that any outsourcing project is hard enough if everyone works together well. When communications break down like this, they’re impossible.

Regent Square update

I drive down Allen Parkway several times a week, and I’ve been wondering when the Regent Square site, which has been vacant since the old Allen House was demolished in October of 2007, will begin construction. Ralph Bivins provides an update.

Developer John Darrah is the keeper of the vision. The flame still flickers. The delays have been long. Years have passed since the billion-dollar vision for Regent Square was announced. But the developer still believes these 24 acres of urban land off of Allen Parkway in the northern part of Montrose, will be the site of a phenomenal new project with high-rise condos, stores and offices.

“We’ve owned the land for 24 years and we are very much proceeding with the development,” says Darrah, vice president in charge of the project for Boston-based GID Urban Development Group, a division of the General Investment and Development Companies.

Regent Square was talked about in 2006. It was formally announced in January 2007. Construction was supposed to start in 2008 and part of it should have been finished by now.

But the recession came along. Lenders quit lending. Retailers quit expanding. And new construction projects became a rarity. So Regent Square, like many other proposed developments, was put on hold.

Darrah now says groundbreaking for the project is anticipated in 2012.

Sometimes I feel like the recession won’t be truly over in Houston until some of these longdormant projects finally get underway. Seems we’ve still got a ways to go on that.