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The Fight to Save River Oaks

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It's not unusual for developers to clash with preservationists when trying to get projects completed.

But in the case of River Oaks Shopping Center in Houston, the protest this time has been to save the 68-year-old center. Here's just one example of a number of posts on blogs looking to preserve a portion of the center and the nearby Alabama Theater, an example of Art Deco design. There's also an online petition with 25,701 signatures.

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(Photo from Big Pink Cookie).

According to owner Weingarten Realty's site, the property is being redeveloped to include a new Barnes & Noble and 23,000 square feet of new restaurant and retail space.

Some Houston blogs are even giving frequent updates of the property's demolition.

Earlier this week, the city council bestowed landmark status on the shopping center in an attempt to stop its redevelopment.

Wednesday's designation means that Weingarten faces a 90-day waiting period if it wishes to tear down the River Oaks Theater or the Alabama Theater or Shopping Center.

"It doesn't keep these landmarks from being demolished," said Sarah Gish, founder of Save Our Landmarks, a Houston group. But the delay creates time for dialogue between preservationists and property owners. Gish thinks Weingarten should try to build around the Art Deco buildings.

"There's got to be some common ground," Gish said. "The River Oaks Theater is the only historic movie theater still operating in Houston."

Weingarten declined to answer specific questions from the Chronicle, but released a statement confirming it had already begun site preparations on the corner of Shepherd and West Gray. The $15 million redevelopment will include a four-story parking garage, stores, and restaurants.

"Weingarten has owned River Oaks Shopping Center for 35 years and has consistently invested in improving the aesthetic appeal of the center's architecture while upgrading and modernizing infrastructure to meet our retailer's needs," the statement said.

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Elaine Misonzhnik

Senior associate editor Elaine Misonzhnik has been writing for National Real Estate Investor since June 2006 and has covered commercial real estate for more than 12 years. She first became...
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