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or a city with such a pro-development reputation, the Houston Permitting Center has been something of an afterthought for quite some time. Since 1995, the city’s building code enforcement department had been housed in the former Southwestern Savings Association, a 1969 structure located on Main Street a few miles south of downtown. While the old bank building was not without its kitschy charm — its most notable quality being the empathic manner in which it faced Main Street, with its continuous porticos of parabolic arches — inside, it was pure Kafka: a maze of narrow corridors leading to crowded, badly lit rooms filled mostly with grumpy bureaucrats and haggard plan-runners. A study undertaken by the city to improve the situation determined that additional efficiencies would be obtained if all permits, not just building code enforcement permits, could be located in one facility. A remarkably long list of regulatory entities — airport land use, ambulances, automotive licenses, burglar alarms, commercial (ranging from flea markets to dance

halls), dumpster and combustible waste (from laundromats to grease traps), fire, floodplain development, food dealers, Houston Parks and Recreation Department permits and reservations, identity verification unit, monitoring well and boring, pipelines, signs, source registration for polluting businesses, storm water quality, street cuts, swimming pools, traffic plans and transportation, and others — could all be housed under one roof. The study was coordinated by Andy Icken, then-deputy director of the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department’s Planning and Development Services division. It was initiated in 2008, just as the national economy was falling apart. Initial ideas ranged from rebuilding the existing permitting center on Main Street to taking advantage of depressed real estate prices to acquire a downtown office building. However, when a broker alerted Icken to the availability of a large, abandoned warehouse building just west of downtown on Washington Avenue, his interest was piqued, and he called architect William O. Neuhaus III,

5/6 2013

Texas Architect 49

Texas Architect May/June 2013: Preservation  

This issue on historic preservation illustrates themany facets of the field, including restoration,rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse.

Texas Architect May/June 2013: Preservation  

This issue on historic preservation illustrates themany facets of the field, including restoration,rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse.