Thursday August 25th, 2005

BRAC endorses closing Wilford Hall, Brooks City-Base…Six Flags board of directors votes to sell the company through auction process…Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau celebrates record-breaking year… The Base Closing and Realignment Commission today endorsed closing San Antonio’s Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center. Under the Pentagon proposal, all of Wilford Hall’s inpatient and trauma […]

BRAC endorses closing Wilford Hall, Brooks City-Base…Six Flags board of directors votes to sell the company through auction process…Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau celebrates record-breaking year…

The Base Closing and Realignment Commission today endorsed closing San Antonio’s Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center. Under the Pentagon proposal, all of Wilford Hall’s inpatient and trauma care would move from Lackland Air Force Base across town to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. The newly combined medical center would be renamed San Antonio Military Medical Center. At Lackland, Wilford Hall would be replaced by an ambulatory-care center. The commission vote also endorses moving to Fort Sam Houston all Air Force medical training now at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls.

The federal base-closing commission has voted to close Brooks City-Base in San Antonio. But it also voted to keep some of Brooks’ work in the San Antonio area. Research that was to move to Ohio under the Pentagon’s recommendation will instead go across town to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Other portions of Brooks’ work also will move to Lackland and Randolph Air Force Bases–both near San Antonio. The city-owned Technology Park with the Air Force as its dominant tenant has about 1,100 military and 1,300 civilian jobs–along with 800 contractors. It’s home to the School of Aerospace Medicine, which has played a key role in the manned space program.

The Allstate Foundation has awarded the Harris County Citizen Corps a $100,000 grant for training on how to prepare for and respond to an emergency disaster. Allstate President and COO Tom Wilson says the grant also involves an expanded partnership with Houston TransStar and the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management to launch a multimedia disaster preparedness public awareness campaign in September.

Tom Wilson audio

Wilson addressed disaster preparedness with business leaders at a meeting of the Houston Executives Forum.

Six Flags said today its board of directors has voted unanimously to sell the company through an auction process. The theme-park chain’s announcement comes a week after a dissident shareholder offered to raise his stake in the amusement-park operator and replace its management. Six Flags said it would invite dissident shareholder Red Zone to participate in the auction. Red Zone is a company backed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. The Oklahoma City-based chain also says it opposed Snyder’s attempt to gain control of the company through a consent solicitation and tender offer for Six Flags stock. Last Thursday, Red Zone said it would offer $6.50 per share for Six Flags to boost its stake from almost 12 percent to almost 35 percent. Six Flags says Red Zone’s proposal was an attempt to acquire effective control of the company without providing value to all shareholders. It says putting itself up for sale was “the best way to deliver full and fair value” to those shareholders. Six Flags has Texas Parks in Arlington, Houston and San Antonio.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is celebrating a record-breaking year, including soaring numbers in hotel room bookings, convention attendance and publicity. Bureau president Jordy Tollett says the Convention Sales department met the goal of booking 650,000 room nights.

Jordy Tollett audio

Mayor Bill White says convention numbers have been impressive since new convention facilities have come on line.

Mayor Bill White audio

At least 186 film and video projects filmed in Houston this year brought nearly $20 million in direct expenditures to Houston, with a total impact of $58 million. With a total investment of just under $12 million, the bureau says the return on the investment is around $934,715,075.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission today rejected a plan to sell about 46,000 acres of Big Bend Ranch State Park to an adjacent land owner. John Poindexter owns a ranch north of the park. Poindexter had offered about $2 million for the property, plus agreed to protect and restore its cultural and natural resources. He’d also agreed to help the state buy land within the park that’s currently owned by outsiders. The 8-to-0 vote in Austin came after three hours of questions from commissioners and impassioned testimony from people with environmental and historical groups. Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons says the deal ultimately failed because there was no guarantee the state would be successful in purchasing the private land inside the park.

The overall confidence of Texas workers is sliding for the third month in a row, according to the Houston Business Journal, as employee concerns about the economy and job stability rises. The Texas Employment Report finds that overall confidence declined to 57.2 percent in July, down two points from June. The number of Texas workers doubting their jobs will be eliminated in the next year was 73 percent, down from 76 percent in June and 81 percent in May.

Members of Local 260 of the Transit Workers Union have voted by a 2 to 1 margin to accept a new three-year labor agreement with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County. The agreement, which runs through July 31st, 2008, offers an immediate one percent raise to all employees except bus operators hired after June 1st, 1999. A new progression of pay steps was adopted, and another three percent raise is set for August 6th, 2006 and another four percent on August 5th, 2007.

Flight attendants for American Eagle could soon vote on a new contract. Union officials say a tentative agreement has been reached on a new contract–ending more than four years of negotiations. Terms haven’t been released. The deal will be reviewed this weekend in Chicago by seven regional presidents of the Association of Flight Attendants. If union members ratify the deal, American Eagle will have settled negotiations with all five of its labor groups in the past year. American Eagle was created in 1984 as a regional affiliate of American Airlines. Both are owned by Fort Worth-based AMR.

Baylor College of Medicine and the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association opens a new ALS Clinic Friday morning, offering a multi-disciplinary approach to people affected by ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The new center at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Neurology will provide experts in fields such as respiratory, speech, occupational, physical, psycho-social and dietary.

Physicians of the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital have begun using the first of two new state-of-the-art hybrid surgical suites. They are designed to combine minimally-invasive cardiology and vascular interventions with cardiovascular surgical procedures–mixing and matching procedures.

The tally of Vioxx-related lawsuits against Merck in state and federal court is nearly 5,000–and growing. The update came today in federal court in New Orleans, less than one week after the drug maker was ordered to pay more than $253 million in Texas. A jury in Angleton ruled against New Jersey-based Merck in a civil lawsuit brought by the widow of a Texan who died in 2001. Robert Ernst had taken the painkiller. The Texas case was the first to reach trial against Merck, which is appealing. A federal case begins November 28th in New Orleans over the 2001 death of a heart-attack victim in Florida–Richard Irvin, Jr. Attorneys say Irvin died one month after he began taking Vioxx for back pain.

Some state administrators will be getting a lesson from superintendents on how Texas schools should spend their money. Thirteen superintendents will help craft guidelines to implement Governor Rick Perry’s order that districts spend 65 percent of their funds on instruction. Districts will be required to spend no more than 35 percent of their budgets on non-classroom expenses such as transportation, school lunches and administration. Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley named the superintendents and the executive directors of two regional education service centers to a task force. Their first meeting is expected September 7th. Perry’s executive order on Monday came just days after the latest special legislative session to reform school finance–failed.

Willbros Group has recently secured some $260 million in worldwide contracts. The Canadian arm of the company has been awarded a five-year maintenance contract by Syncrude Canada Ltd. for the removal and replacement of slurry pipelines for the bitumen operations at the Mildred Lake and Aurora Projects. Willbros units have been awarded new module fabrication work in support of an offshore deep water project in West Africa. Willbros is completing projects for Marathon, Duke energy, Trunkline Gas, Williams Transco and Energy Transfer. And a contract with the Defense Energy Support Center has been awarded to design, build, own and operate an automated fuel dispensing facility at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Electronic Data Systems says it still plans to decide the fate of its A. T. Kearney consulting unit by year’s end. That word comes amid reports that negotiations with a potential buyer fell through. EDS has been trying to sell the consulting division for several months and had considered a buyout by Kearney’s management. In June, the Plano-based computer services contractor disclosed it was talking to an outside buyer. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that talks with the Monitor Group of Cambridge, Massachusetts broke off Monday and that EDS had resumed talks with Kearney management. An EDS spokesman says the company still believes selling Kearney would be best for both parties. EDS bought Chicago-based Kearney ten years ago. However, the combination didn’t work as expected, and Kearney revenues have fallen sharply in recent years.

Dave & Buster’s restaurant chain has warned of a loss due to its recently acquired Jillian’s chain. Most of the Jillian’s locations, which the company acquired out of bankruptcy in November, will be rebranded as Dave & Buster’s. One exception is the Mall of America store in suburban Minneapolis, which will be closed. Chief Executive Buster Corley says the Mall of America store accounted for 40 percent of Jillian’s store-level losses. The rebranding effort will cost Dallas-based Dave & Buster’s about $5 million.

The University of Houston has launched an executive MBA program in global energy management. The 22-month program consists of courses emphasizing the energy value chain, international energy finance and emerging technologies. Faculty members include former executives from Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Halliburton.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has been awarded $3.1 million by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. And the University of Houston Health Science Center has been awarded $24,000 for space flight research by the NASA Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office.

What’s worse than having to pay higher gasoline prices? Consider being the operator of a gas station serving the irate motorists. Rae Dougher with the Washington-based American Petroleum Institute says outbursts directed at employees are common. She says the higher the prices, the more frustrated and angry consumers are becoming. University of Denver marketing professor Bruce Hutton has done extensive research on consumer decision-making and energy usage. Hutton says there’s a sense of entitlement among consumers today. Bobby Poudel, who works at a Dallas Citgo station, says business has been undeniably less pleasant since prices started skyrocketing in June. He says a lot of people are directing their anger–at him. Another clerk suggested–just keeping smiling and tell the customer, “have a nice day.”

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