It's not only Cite contributor and architect Matt Johnson who has concerns about what Ziegler Cooper has proposed to do to the 44-story ExxonMobil Building.

The renderings show how the 1962 building's distinctive seven-foot-deep brise-soleil shades would be covered up by a new armor of energy-efficient glazed glass. But --- in case you missed it --- former Cite managing editor and present Houston chronicler Lisa Gray doesn't seem so crazy about that: "I'd be happy if that building were going to sprout atop one of the surface parking lots that blight the southern part of Downtown," she writes in a Chronicle column published Sunday, December 1. "But it's not a new building. Sure, [it] needs to be freshened up for new tenants, a new era. But I was hoping for a gentler nip-and-tuck, one that plays up the building's Mad Men-era cool—not one that strips away precisely the things that make it great, and leaves a shiny new-looking box where a piece of the city's soul used to be. ... [A] renovation should certainly address [the building's] flaws—its awkward courtyard, its lack of connection to Houston's tunnel system. But why not build on its strengths? Why wipe out its personality? Why erase its history?"

Proposed Renovation of 800 Bell. Rendering: Ziegler Cooper Architects.


Here's what Shorenstein Properties, the San Francisco-based firm that's developing the old building for a new tenant, told Gray about the renovations: "The owner believes that the plan it has developed, and will implement, is the best way to preserve this building and ensure it remains a vibrant, job-producing part of Houston's downtown office market."

While that proposal has drawn a few objections, the notion to turn launching-pad Ellington Field into an international spaceport has some Houstonians exclaiming the possibilities: "These days, the final frontier is now the final marketplace—zero-gravity medical experiments! tourism!," writes Houstonia's Melissa Jacobs. The Houston Airport System's Director of Aviation Mario Diaz presented this notion to city council in July, reports Jacobs, and it "involves 'leveraging our existing (and unique) space community' to turn the forlorn Ellington into a futuristic air terminal with regular suborbital launches (maximum cruising altitude 328,000 feet). While [Diaz] concluded that only horizontal and not vertical launches would be possible here (no trips to the International Space Station), there was palpable excitement among city councilmembers. They agreed to release monies so that licensing might be pursued (if there was still time!), environmental assessments conducted, and economic possibilities analyzed" (Houstonia Magazine; click here to see more renderings).

International Spaceport at Ellington Field. Rendering: Houston Airport System.


Back inside the Loop, the Near Northside, where the Leonel J. Castillo Community Center just opened, will be getting even more affordable housing for seniors: Fulton Gardens --- which was given a 2013 Development of Distinction Award by the Houston chapter of the Urban Land Institute --- is expanding, thanks to a $215,000 federal grant: "The Affordable Housing Program grant will be used toward the construction of a second phase of Fulton Gardens, which opened . . . in September 2011 and is fully occupied. Located across the street from the first building, Fulton Gardens II will have 40 units and include a computer center, laundry facilities, community garden and multipurpose room for events" (Prime Property blog).

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Read our ICYMI post covering November 17-22.

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