ANICO Plaza was the concept intended to resolve a perennial annoyance that has plagued the employees who office at One Moody Plaza–how to keep their feet from getting soaked during a rainstorm. Since anyone can remember, 20th Street floods when it rains and crossing it to get to work requires worker bees taking off their shoes and socks, and rolling up their pants to get from the surrounding surface parking lots to One Moody Plaza, home of the American National Insurance Company (ANICO).
Then a pair of neighboring urban development projects brought hope of change.
Blair Korndorffer, owner of Diamond Development, explained it to the Planning Commission during a May session this way:
“We’re doing the 302 Moody building for Wyndham (Hotels & Resorts), and we have plans still to develop that building into a residential piece. Right now, we’re looking at potentially putting a 14-story residential tower next to it.”
Aerial view of One Moody Plaza in context with the proposed neighboring projects. Image: Google Earth.
The 302 Moody building Korndorffer referred to is an 11-story, 80,088-square-foot Art Deco building constructed in 1960 that has been vacant for years. It stands at the corner of Moody Avenue and Mechanic Street on the far end of the block across 20th Street from One Moody Plaza.
Kordorffer said he is hoping to restore 302 Moody and construct the 14-story residential tower at the same time. But those future residents will need parking.
“That’s where ANICO became very important. They needed parking, we needed parking. Building a large garage seemed a good solution.”
Initially, the solution offered to avoid the street flooding was to build a sky bridge from the proposed six-level parking garage to the One Moody Plaza skyscraper. But the ANICO Board of Directors rejected that, Korndorffer said.
In addition to the elevated ribbon park (ANICO Plaza), the concept includes construction of a masonry archway monument across 20th Street that will function as a gateway from the plaza to the tower. Courtesy: Design Development+Construction.
Since then the engineer team has been looking for a system that will allow workers to cross 20th Street with dry feet. The solution proposed involves elevating the one-block length of 20th Street between the future garage and the office tower, installing a flood detention chamber under the reconstructed street, and building a park-like plaza with at least 40% less impervious cover than what exists today.
Design Development has thought of several features that would prevent the street reconstruction aggravating the flood situation for neighboring properties, as well as preventing back-flow from the city’s drainage system that would render their efforts moot.
ANICO has been willing to pay for this plaza and maintain it, even though it would be in the city’s public right of way. Another incentive ANICO has to work with is the fact that it owns six surface parking lots around the tower and it will be able to work with the city to find other uses for most of them once the garage is built.
However, ANICO is asking the city to permanently close the street to any vehicular traffic other than fire trucks and the street trolley that travels on a track down 20th.
ANICO and Korndorffer were scheduled to return June 4 for a vote on their request for a License To Use the public right of way. That action item was deferred at their request to June 18 and it was deferred again at their request to July 16.
A concept site plan for ANICO Plaza as a pedestrian realm closed to vehicular traffic. Courtesy: Design Development+Construction.
The delays are due in part to opposition from neighboring property owners. They oppose closing the street to vehicular traffic, and are not convinced the flood control system will work as claimed.
There are also questions about how a parking garage will affect the winds. Because of the anomalous configuration of One Moody Plaza, the block is already notorious for the vortex wind pattern it creates. One commissioner was skeptical the public would use the proposed ribbon park plaza because of the winds.
David Mullican, a local architect who spoke in opposition, suggested there was a much easier way to keep workers’ feet dry.
“I would say, ‘Buy some boots!’ Issue boots to your clients, to your employees,” Mullican said.
Sketches of the ANICO Plaza and its relation to the planned parking structure. The long blue cube represents the Old Market and City Hall that once stood where the plaza is proposed. Courtesy: Design Development+Construction.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.