Ubiquitous in Europe, the roundabout is an endangered species in Houston, Texas.
The most major notable examples of roundabouts in the bayou city are in the museum district by Hermann Park where two roundabouts sit closely to the Museum of Natural Science and Hermann Park.
One surrounds iconic Mecom Fountain while the other pays tribute to the namesake of Houston whose statue stands guard as visitors enter sprawling Hermann Park, the city’s premier public park.
The other major roundabout isn’t as scenic as its museum district compatriots, but serves a utilitarian function in shepherding traffic at what would otherwise be the Washington / Westcott intersection.
Instead of sitting at another light, users of roundabouts can move when safe to do so, and enter and exit the flow of traffic to get where they are going in a way that reduces their time spent in congestion.
Now Houston will be getting another roundabout.
CityCentre, the walk-able mix use development in West Houston has long modeled itself after more walk-able cities in Europe, so it makes sense that the upcoming expansion of CityCentre will include a roundabout.
The developer of CityCentre, Midway Companies, is building an Alexan brand luxury apartment complex next to the existing Four Points hotel by the I-10 / Beltway 8 intersection. This area is adjacent to CityCentre, and will essentially act as a new portion of the development and provide pedestrian customers to the many shops and restaurants.
Tax Increment Re-Investment Zone 17 (“TIRZ 17”), a public entity funded by tax dollars in West Houston, will be financing the project for Midway Companies. By “financing,” we mean paying for it.
The current dumpy entrance to CityCentre from the I-10 feeder road is being transformed into a new road with access point to the brand new Alexan apartments developed by Midway and culminating in an architectural tour de force (by Houston standards, at least) of a large roundabout which will provide a grand entrance into CityCentre where only a dumpy back road existed before.
Midway Companies chairman, Brad Freels, is also a board member of TIRZ 17. While he did recuse himself in the vote to give this grand new amenity to his development, the TIRZ has long been under fire for the perception of giving away subsidies to developers while the area has dire need of anti-flooding infrastructure.
Sources close to the secretive TIRZ stated that a portion of CityCentre’s north west parking garage would need to be torn down to accommodate the new road being given to CityCentre, or rather the new road being built to better access its properties that will be coming online in the future.
These sources stated that the TIRZ and Midway had come to an agreement for the TIRZ to pay for around 30% of the cost of tearing down the privately owned garage which will be replaced by a new tower to be built by Midway Companies.
You see, the previously private property was given to the city by Midway Companies so the city can build a road accessing Midway Companies’ developments. That road right of way is encumbered by the parking garage owned by Midway that Midway wants to tear down anyway to build a new tower. Since the city-owned right of way has an encumbrance on it, it only makes sense that the city pay part of the total demolition fee.
That makes sense, right?
The engineering presentation for the project was given to the TIRZ by Lockwood Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (“LAN” for short). LAN has been sued in civil court by the Attorney General of Michigan for its role in the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan drinking water.
LAN showed benefits to the public by arguing that flood mitigation would be a benefit of the project. In the below picture, LAN points out that the area has a flooding problem, but does not point out that the elevated property in CityCentre has not flooded. It does not point out that CityCentre was elevated by Midway Companies and pushes its water off onto adjacent properties with little to no storm water retention in place.
Nor does LAN point out that the new Alexan developed by Midway has elevated acreage far beyond what the proposed roadway drainage would add to the area.
The embattled engineering firm, however, is completely honest when it identifies who will benefit from the new $10 million project:
That red area labeled “primary benefit area” is largely the new Alexan brand luxury apartment being developed by Midway Companies, as well as the north half of CityCentre.
So, to summarize, a private developer is getting a stunning new entrance to its development and $10 million dollars worth of freebies from taxpayers.
Taxpayers pay for a new entrance to CityCentre, a new road to access private developments, and have to help pay to demolish an existing parking garage which is the future location of a swanky tower.
Who says architecture doesn’t have interesting stories?
This is certainly a roundabout way of getting someone else to pay for your own improvements!
This has been a Microscope Houston report.
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