June 1

Projects & Studies

1119 Commerce Street

The Harris County Flood Control District purchased the property at 1119 Commerce Street in 2010 with the intent of improving stormwater conveyance along Buffalo Bayou through downtown Houston. Following an architectural and structural evaluation that concluded the building on the property is in poor condition, structurally unsound and unsafe for occupants, the Flood Control District terminated leases with building tenants and is exploring options for demolishing the building.

Demolition of the building, which is located between Fannin and San Jacinto streets on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, has not yet been scheduled.

Background

The Flood Control District purchased the now-vacant property in connection with a future project to soften a sharp bend in Buffalo Bayou east of its confluence with White Oak Bayou. The goal of the project would be to increase stormwater storage and carrying capacity of Buffalo Bayou through the downtown area.

As part of its planning process, the Flood Control District commissioned both a required environmental/historical assessment of the property, and an architectural and structural evaluation by a team that included an architect, structural engineer and geotechnical engineer. Original portions of the existing 21,246-square-foot concrete frame and red brick commercial building were constructed in 1924 for the Texas Packing Company, a sausage-making, meat-packing, storage and distribution company that closed in 1989. Today, the original building consists of two stories plus an elevator penthouse at the front or street level, and three additional sublevels down to the bayou. A later addition was made to the west side of the building in 1930.

A 2013 report by SWCA Environmental Consultants concluded that the original structure, although altered over time, qualifies for listing (individually and as part of an historic district) in the National Register of Historic Places, as well as for state and city historic recognition. This opinion was confirmed in a 2016 re-survey of an earlier unsuccessful effort to create an Historic Warehouse District in downtown Houston.

However, the 2015 architectural and structural evaluation found the building to be in poor condition, and noted “widespread damage” of the building’s structural frame, due in part to repeat flooding over 90-plus years. During Memorial Day 2015 and Tax Day 2016 storms, for example, all levels of the building below street level were flooded for several days. During Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, all levels below street level were flooded for several weeks. The result is major deterioration of the sub-levels and foundations of the building. Cement in concrete columns and floor slabs is spalling off, exposing structural rebar and leading to rust. Most structural steel beams on the lower levels are 95 percent rusted, according to the evaluation report.

Because of this deterioration, the evaluation concluded that the building is unsafe for occupants. It estimated a cost of between $5 million and upwards of $10 million to partially or fully salvage the building, a step that also would prevent needed flood risk reduction work. The report recommended full demolition as the best option.  Based on this information, the Flood Control District terminated leases with tenants in the building in 2016. With public safety as the driving factor, the Flood Control District plans to proceed with full demolition.

In a project review letter dated August 26, 2016, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) state historic preservation officer confirmed that the Flood Control District has satisfied its responsibilities under the Antiquities Code of Texas and is authorized to proceed with demolition. The THC also encouraged the Flood Control District to consider alternatives to demolition. The mission of the Flood Control District does not include historic preservation, however, so any salvage operations would not be paid for with Flood Control District funds.