After years of mounting complaints and calls made to law enforcement and the fire marshal, the Mill Creek Office Building at 4702 FM 1960 W in northwest Houston has met the wrecking ball and was razed last week.
The action comes following a lawsuit by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office earlier this year when it became such a fire hazard and public nuisance to the community.
InvestCorp Partners, the owners of the property, failed to safely secure the property despite numerous requests, citations and visits from Harris County law enforcement and the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.
“Abandoned buildings can become magnets for crime in a neighborhood, causing a serious nuisance,” said Ryan. “In addition, transients were squatting in the building and setting fires. This is dangerous not only for the people illegally living in the property but also for firefighters, who would have to enter the building to search for them if a fire occurred.”
According to the lawsuit filed by Ryan, the 40,806-square-foot office building had been vacant for at least a decade. There were several areas of access-points into the building including several shattered floor-to-ceiling windows. The property was full of broken glass, large amounts of debris and construction materials and graffiti. Officers have responded to this location for calls of criminal trespass, copper theft, illegal drug use and reports of runaways staying on the property.
In June, a visit to the location by Bethany Dwyer, assistant county attorney in the environmental division, the fire marshal, the property manager and attorney representing the owners sealed the deal for demolition.
“Walking into the building, you could tell this was probably a nice place in its heyday,” Dwyer said. “The atrium-type building had nice trees and spoilage that we had them remove to prevent a fire.”
Dwyer said they could also see that they had begun to tear down facades and building materials that might be used for kindling.
What walls remained were covered in graffiti.
“You could tell a rival gang had removed previous turf gang’s graffiti and put theirs up,” she said.
While walking through the atrium of the building, they entered a small walkway where there was a person sleeping there who didn’t want to leave.
Fire marshals are peace officers and they were able to move him along.
“Having the community involved in the case helps us get a resolution,” she said. “We don’t get happy results like this always so it’s nice to be able to do that for the community.”
The demo began on July 30 and at the time they discovered two people living in the building.
“If a fire had erupted in the building, the responding fire agency couldn’t treat it as an empty building because of people living there which would mean they would have to clear the whole building first. There were no sprinklers since it was an atrium and a building under five stories,” she said. “Fires double every 30 seconds.”
She already had structural concerns particularly if a fire was to break out furthering endangering anyone living there and for firefighters.
Dwyer said after years of denial, the property owner and attorney agreed it was not salvable.
“I think they saw that it was an unsafe situation and conceded to demolish the building.”
“We appreciate the owner’s agreeing to demolish this hazardous property,” said County Attorney Ryan. “When the work is complete, my office will withdraw our lawsuit.”
The office building is a two-story, Class B multi-tenant office building located on approximately 2.0 acres in the submarket. It is located along FM 1960 between Interstate 45 and TX 249 just minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
It sits on prime real estate surrounded by master-planned communities, fine restaurants and multiple retailers.
“They were initially trying to sell the property and then the pandemic hit and of course that changed everyone’s plans,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer became familiar with the property three years ago while pursuing a lawsuit against a neighboring property.
“We can only do what the statutes allow us to do and in the last couple of years, we really have the criminal activity that falls under one of those statutes,” she said.
People camped out inside were starting fires inside.
“With that type of activity, we were able to sue,” Dwyer said.
Many of the complaints were to the fire marshal’s office and law enforcement.
Patrons of Victor’s Restaurant adjacent to the property were being confronted by some of the dwellers and even robbed in the parking lot.
The motel behind it, named Champion Lodge Hotel at the time, had also been cited because of drug activity and possible human trafficking.
“We believe a lot of it came from the vacant building with them crisscrossing between the two properties,” she said.
To their credit, the hotel management stepped up.
“They really did work well with us to implement better security measures. I think those will really help and demolishing the vacant building will too. This will make the whole neighborhood safer,” she said.
Some of the measures taken by the hotel was to no longer accept cash transactions for rooms and having guests present an identification for rental of the rooms.
“All of those were measures to hold patrons more accountable particularly for human trafficking,” Dwyer said.
Community members were ecstatic and grateful for the action.
“This demolition is a victory for local residents, who refused to allow this nuisance to persist in harming their community,” Ryan said. “We in the County Attorney’s Office believe our Harris County residents have the right to a safe neighborhood and we will continue to fight for them.”
Milan Marinkovich, the attorney representing the owners, did not respond to calls for an interview.