hou gotta be kidding

Weeks Post-Harvey, Downtown Arts Venues Remain Unusable

The Wortham Center will be closed through May 15, 2018 "in a best case scenario."

By Morgan Kinney September 19, 2017

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Image: houstontx.gov

Houston First, the organization that oversees numerous downtown facilities including the Wortham Theater Center, Theater District Parking Garage and Jones Hall, is still wrapping its head around the damage from Hurricane Harvey—but it's mostly bad news.

The group announced a $35.5 million package of Harvey relief, although that figure could rise as ongoing assessments wrap up. Houston First Chief Marketing Officer Holly Clapham-Rosenow told Houstonia the situation remains very preliminary, with a full report on the extent and cost of the storm damage still weeks to a month away. "Right now, theres’s just a lot of studying happening," she says.

One thing is certain: Facilities took an unprecedented walloping from the storm.

The Wortham Theater Center, home of the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, will be closed through May 15, 2018 "in a best-case scenario." More than 12 feet of water penetrated the building's basement and wreaked havoc on the electrical and mechanical infrastructure. Houston Ballet will move its opening production, Mayerling, to the Hobby Center; Houston Grand Opera has yet to announce a temporary home, although it says season opener La Traviata will go on as schedule in October.

After the devastation of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, downtown facilities, along with the Texas Medical Center, upgraded facilities to withstand flooding events, but Houston First says they'll have to do the same again after Harvey's unimaginable deluge. "There was roughly 200 million gallons of water inside the parking garage," Clapham-Rosenow told Houstonia. "How do you prepare for something that historic?"

That parking garage she mentions is, of course, the Theater District Parking Garage, a subterranean labyrinth of 3,369 spaces pummeled by Harvey so spectacularly that it began to overflow. More than a week after the storm, they were still pumping water from the garage. As of yesterday, they are still removing silt and sanitizing the structure. Every last light fixture will have to be replaced, as well as the elevators, fire suppression and the entire ventilation system for the garage, which spans six underground blocks and three levels.

As previously reported, Jones Hall, home to the Houston Symphony and the Society for Performing Arts, was spared severe damage. The basement rehearsal room was wrecked, much drywall will be replaced and accessible bathrooms must be restored. However, the prognosis is good: Jones Hall will remain closed through the end of September and reopen "as soon as the building meets all city code requirements."

And although not a Houston First facility, the Alley Theater suffered the worst damage of all. As floodwaters receded, a Houston Chronicle reporter took a bleak tour of the ruined facility

In the storage room, unseen amounts of props lay in waste. Mach wants to reach the back part of the room because he saw something he can't get out of his head. Earlier that day, he took a preliminary tour and found a lone doll lying on a table, her body splayed helplessly, as if she were acting a scene in a tragedy. To get to the room, the party takes a dangerous path.

On the ground of the laundry room, white detergent mixes with the mud water, creating a goop that almost makes some of the party trip. A rack has fallen over. Hundreds of programs for the Alley's recent production "39 Steps" have meshed into a single wet mound, right next to the Alley's entire collection of yet-to-be-printed tickets that have all nearly dissolved, forming a thick layer of white mush in the water.

But at all of these waterlogged venues, the season moves on. The Alley has moved its much-anticipated season opener, Describe the Night, to UH's Quintero Theatre. The Hobby Center, which emerged largely unscathed, is already staging events. And Houston First venues are all pursuing contingency plans.

"I can tell you Houston First is working collaboratively with all the various arts groups—that’s the key in all of Harvey," Clapham-Rosenow says. "We’re working as hard as we possibly can."

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