Best Contribution to ­Downtown Development

Discovery Green

Photo by Katya Horner

Let's say it was any year up until 2008, and you were a tourist in Houston, staying downtown, and it was Saturday afternoon, and you had got your kids with you. (Bear with us here, we're on a roll.) What was there for you to do? The tunnels are closed weekends, as were most of the restaurants, and there are no museums worthy of note downtown. In fact, until this year, outside of the ungodly expensive Fertitt-arium, there wasn't a thing to do at all other than stroll parking lots and dodge crackheads. But now a vast prairie of little-used parking lots has been replaced by Discovery Green, a dozen or so acres of green space, bocce courts, lakes, water parks, performance spaces and restaurants. Sure, the name of the place is meh and they got a little sponsor-happy, but when you take in a concert at Discovery Green, you really feel like Houston is giving Chicago a run for its money as America's third city. Readers' Choice: Discovery Green

Probably everyone knows the apple trick, and we had a high school friend who once ­MacGyvered a crude bong out of a half-deflated basketball, but this one takes the cake: In May, Houston police arrested three teenagers for digging up the skeleton of an 11-year-old boy buried in 1921 and using his skull for a bong. They were charged with "abuse of a corpse" — a misdemeanor. (Unfortunately, there is no law against being a total dick.) They confessed to digging up the remains over a two-day period — and The Man says the reefer makes you lazy! Talk about a bunch of potheads — hey-oh!

In years past, Judge Mike McSpadden was regularly in the media, creating or joining an ongoing controversy. Nowadays the veteran isn't in the limelight as much, but he still provides the fairest trial you'll get at the hang-'em-high Harris County courthouse. He knows all the tricks, he knows when a defense attorney — or even a prosecutor! — isn't as prepared as he or she is trying to appear. He cuts through the B.S. and tricks and gets justice. What more can you ask?

Your client is an illegal immigrant who got drunk and killed a cop. He's on trial in Harris County, which sends more convicts to Death Row than most hemispheres. And you somehow convince a jury to forsake the death penalty and give a sentence of life without parole? That is some lawyering. Danalynn Recer, founder of the anti-death penalty group called the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, did just that in the high-profile case of Juan Quintero, convicted in the killing of HPD officer Rodney Johnson. Johnson was, by all accounts, a good man who didn't deserve his fate, but Recer convinced jurors (in Harris County!) that, as she told one friend, local residents "are not as bloodthirsty as we've been led to believe."

A nice little urban legend was born during a few days in November. The Crowne Plaza Hotel, a 1970s relic near the Medical Center, was rigged with explosives and brought down. The trouble started when a video of the demolition showed a shadowy figure that resembled a person running through the hotel's eighth floor moments before the explosion. Creepier still, an open door mysteriously shut just before the building was blasted. Then, search-and-rescue dogs hit on a spot in the debris. The Houston Police Department started an investigation and the mystery grew. A suicide theory popped up: "Remember," someone commented on a Web site, "that this is a medical center and many of the patients that go to these hospitals...are terminal patients." Police squashed the rumors a couple weeks later, issuing a press release that said the extensive investigation revealed no evidence of human remains, and the dogs had hit on a spot where a worker had been cut and bled weeks before the demolition. Believe what you want, but the hotel was 13 stories high.

We know Dana Mattice is supported by the entire Museum of Fine Arts, Houston public relations staff, but we hear her cheerful voice the most. She's always on top of whatever request we can think of — answering dumb questions (which she assures us are never dumb), sending photos, interviews and press releases, or resending one of those because they got, err, lost in our inbox. Entertainment publicity types are always ready to tell you how you can help them, but can prove difficult when it comes to helping you meet deadlines. Not Mattice (or her MFAH co-workers); she's saved us many a pulled hair and proved to be an invaluable tool to our entertainment pages.

For years, the area surrounding Stella Link between Bellaire Boulevard and North Braeswood was a fairly unremarkable part of town. The homes were the standard ranches from the '60s or so, and there wasn't much to set it apart. But recently Pershing Middle School opened a shining new building to replace its crumbling facility. And that new school fits into an awesome stretch of Stella Link that now includes Pershing, an equally new and lavish YMCA and an equally new and fine library branch. Throw in nearby Mark Twain Elementary, and you can see why parents are flocking here — especially since the Medical Center is just minutes away.

Lakewood Church and its guru Joel Osteen are easy targets. Osteen has a cheesy grin, his wife fights with flight attendants and even Harris County prosecutors take issue with the Lakewood "screwballs and nuts." What seems to irk people the most is the gazillion dollars Osteen makes by talking and writing about the Good Book and JC. But he's a Houston celeb who doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The last time Osteen was on 60 Minutes, he cried and said his experiences were "very humbling." That, my friends, is how you sell books. The segment ended with Osteen bench-pressing 300 pounds and playing basketball. He sank a wild hook shot and called the shot "a prayer." Awesome.

Walter's owner Pam Robinson had been through this before — new neighbors buy in near her previously existing nightspot and start phoning in noise complaints to the police. In fact, she had even been run off a previous location on Durham. This time around, at her nightspot on Washington, she would take the gloves off and fight back. After some 200 noise complaints coming from one house behind her club, Robinson filed suit against her antagonists, citing tortious interference with contract, private nuisance, harassment, business disparagement, abuse of process and actionable civil conspiracy. Additionally, Robinson promised that if she was forced to close her club, she would open a 24-hour methadone clinic in its stead. All parties, we hear, are playing nice now.

Published in Galveston and distributed throughout the region, The Police News ("Gulf Coast-Piney Woods Edition") is a fascinating combination of tabloid, blotter and public service. One front-page headline in its June issue screamed "Toddler: 'I Don't Want to Die'...Then Mom Stabbed Her" — 23 times before cutting the four-year-old's throat, in fact—while next to it was a captivating first-person account of two HPD officers and a cadet caught up in an after-hours gun battle at a Park Place beer joint they were busting for selling bootleg whiskey in 1964. Inside, the paper publishes names, mug shots and charges for the current most-wanted fugitives in Galveston, Brazoria and Montgomery counties (no Harris, though, oddly enough) — there are a lot of child-porn connoisseurs in the woods up north, apparently — and an enlightening article on "throw downs" (weapons planted at crime scenes by cops after unjustified shootings) that opines, "several officers' lives were ruined over two pieces of human garbage that were really not worth the effort."

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