Comment of the Day: What Would Have Kept ExxonMobil Downtown?

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT WOULD HAVE KEPT EXXONMOBIL DOWNTOWN? “Exxon pulling up stakes for Springwoods is something that I think Mayor Parker and the Houston Partnership should have worked hard to prevent. Encouraging ExxonMobil to build a new tower or towers in the CBD would have strengthened the core economically, provided food, beverage and hotel jobs downtown, and a built in constituency for Metro. Had this been in Chicago, you better believe the mayor’s office would have fought tooth and nail to insure a marquee name stayed downtown.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on Headlines: Ben Milam Demo Details; Germantown Makes History]

44 Comment

  • Yeah, every day I wish Houston was more like Chicago, give me a break.

  • And it would be so nice to have a new signature tower in Houston. Maybe an 80 story or so to put us back on the map!

  • The Mayor was too busy wooing WalMart to the Heights to notice. Houston has no leaders who have a clue. We could have had one in Peter Brown, but this is Houston, so of course we voted for an accountant instead of an urban planner. Brilliant.

  • right on target! The Brown and Root site on Clinton would have been the “suburban” site they desired within the city urban context and have made good use of the bayou/downtown connection. Where is our leadership when we need it?

  • That would imply intelligence, which is lacking in Houston leadership.

  • maybe Exxon is moving out of downtown because a lot of employees and their families live closer to the new location.

  • Memo to the Dreamers: ExxonMobil does whatever ExxonMobil wants to do. These guys tell governments around the world what they wan them to do. No Houston politician or planner was going to offer a carrot big enough to change their plans.

  • Does anyone really think that thousands of employees living in The Woodlands, Spring, and Tomball areas would be happy driving to the KBR site as opposed to a 20 minute or less commute to the campus? Most of the people I know (working for a multitude of companies) who live in the Greater Spring area, salivate at the thought of a 20 minute commute.

    As for the City of Houston, I would be shocked if the campus is not annexed shortly after completion, providing a large tax boost to City coffers.

    Chicago begs companies to come because it cannot annex like Houston can. Same thing with Dallas, LA, and most of the large cities.

  • Corporations are fleeing the suburbs of Chicago and indeed are returning to the city center. Houston wishes it were half as world class “crosscreek”. Houston was, is, and always be a backwater armpit. But if you like it by all means stay.

  • I am sure that there are many hundreds of Exxon employees who live in the Woodlands that welcome the move North, but there are also hundreds who live West, and hundreds who live in the Bay Area, and hundreds who live in the Loop. Downtown is, and will remain, a central location that allowed Exxon employees to live and reasonably commute from anywhere in the greater Houston area, and also allowed use of Metro and Park and Ride locations for those who desire or must. In the vicinity of the Exxon building downtown today there are literally dozens of adjacent blocks with no structures, and used just as surface parking lots, which potentially could have housed additional Exxon facilities to create a downtown campus. But, since Exxon is in the land and oil business, it certainly is to their advantage to ensure that the greatest amount of real estate development and greatest consumption of oil products takes place.

  • BenP couldn’t be more right. Well said.

  • Proximity to Bush. Security.

  • They expect an average of 800 global visitors per day on the new campus.

  • Exxon moving to Woodlands area for the schools. They are the best public schools in the area.

  • It was beyond the city’s control. HISD has been destroying the city of Houston for decades – driving the workforce of Houston’s major employers to the suburbs.

    ExxonMobil is simply moving to where its workforce is, or is willing to move to from the other suburbs in which they may presently reside.

    Universal school choice would be the best friend of economic development (and retention) in the city of Houston.

    Once people have the option of staying in the city and applying a voucher towards covering or substantially reducing the tuition at a private school of their choice, many more couples will choose to stay in the city after they are with child than to spend an hour a day fighting traffic, away from their families.

    Hopefully the Texas Legislature will act this session to save our urban centers from their public schools.

    It’s not really the school district’s fault, per se, though. It is a collectivist system set up to drive many unique students – with a myriad of needs, learning styles, ability levels, and talents – through a single standardized system that may not fit them.

    The education system’s response has been to put these extremely varied students all in a sinlge classroom together, then ask the classroom teachers to teach each student differently according to an individual educational plan. Sounds good in theory, but is not really workable in practice.

    Once the education market is opened up to more choice and competition, only those ideas that actually work will succeed – and no one will be forced to suffer a system that isn’t working. They can simply take their voucher to a school that works for their children.

    Once we have that in Houston, it would be a major selling point to attracting companies from all over the country, and it may help Houston reverse the trend of companies moving out to the nether-reaches of the city.

    Universal school choice is the best cure for urban sprawl and never-ending congested highways.

  • Eric,
    Proximity to Bush? Their new campus is just a tick below 20 miles away from IAH. Downtown is 20-22 miles depending on the route. Then, you might have the occasional visitor flying into Hobby, no?

  • the loss of Exxon downtown and the loss of United to Chicago are two huge black marks on Mayor Parker’s resume (there are many others as well).

  • The company I’m currently working for is thinking of doing the same thing. We may move from a several Galleria high rises to a newly built campus in the energy corridor. We have about 3000 employees and management asked us to vote. Staying in the Galleria won by 3%. That doesn’t mean we’re staying, management will do whatever they want. I’ve been through this before with another company too. They moved from the Galleria to a new building in the energy corridor around the year 2000, they claimed the prices in the Galleria were just too high per square foot. That was a move of about 1200 people.

  • This dialogue has given me diarrhea just reading it.

    The folks in Memorial zoned Spring Branch ISD would snicker if you refer to the Woodlands schools as superior product, given the entire district can’t say that — but neither can CISD.

    I came out of the Woodlands schools, I should know. My senior year, my entire group of AP students had a little visit from the guidance counselor. AP students. He suggested we “go to Montgomery, git ‘chur hours out of the way, then you can maybe transfer to UT or A&M.

    I came home and nearly broke my father’s heart. He felt like a failure as a parent and almost literally pulled me from that mediocrity to pay for a spring semester at St Thomas (on his way to work downtown, mind you).

    Fortunately, I was among the 80% of the room that ignored this garbage and went on to a great degree. The other 20% fell for it, stayed home, and at best didn’t spread their wings, and wasted their otherwise academic talents. At worst, found a local Montgomery County cultural void that led to unwanted parenthood, drugs, and worse.

  • Maybe ExxonMobile new campus be next to a rig and fracking site.

  • I worked in college admissions for 3 years. The vast majority of highly regarded schools in the greater Houston area were located in closer-in areas of town. Carnegie Vanguard, DeBakey, HSPVA, Memorial, Lamar and Bellaire can hold their own against every single suburban district darling and the elite privates (St John’s, Kinkaid, Episcopal, Strake, Duchesne, etc…) blow them out of the water. However, the best thing a parent can do for their child is to be an active participant in their kid’s education. Fleeing to the suburbs isn’t enough.

  • Downtown offices are for corporate nerve centers. The high price of the real estate is offset by being close to clients/vendors, as well as attorneys and accountants. Exxon does not need to be close to anyone because they are Exxon. People come to them. Much of the new campus will be for lower level work (in comparison to executive suite work) that does not merrit the cost of downtown real estate. Plus, there is a major benefit to cutting your employees off from the rest of the world. The energy biz is booming. Oil and gas professionals are in short supply. Why have all your best people working next door to your competitors where they will go out to lunch with old college buddies and get job offers? Keep them all isolated in Exxonistan.

  • @HTX, are you seriously suggesting that the Woodlands schools are not some of the best in the area if not state? Clearly there are better alternatives depending on your finances (John Cooper, St. Thomas, etc.) or intelligence (Carnegie Vanguard, Debakey). However, as far as public high schools that all people are admitted to go the TWHS and College Park are some of the best high schools in the state.

  • Mayor Daley (the first) did this with Sears in the late 60’s. They were planning to move out to the Chicago suburbs and he essentially made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Next thing you know, a downtown street is closed off, two half-blocks are combined into a whole, and the largest tower in the world is built for the new Sears headquarters.

  • You’re all missing a key driver for ExxonMobil’s move: to reduce headcount without calling it a layoff. They’ll lose a bunch of folks from the Virginia office who don’t want to move here (or aren’t being offered relocation packages). And they’ll lose the folks in the south suburbs who don’t want to make the drive. The mayor couldn’t have stopped the move. Exxon does what Exxon wants and is, in its own mind, right about everything. Ask any contractor who does work for them.

  • Will this add time to the Exon corporate masters commute from River Oaks?

  • Exxon is building a modern office campus on 385 acres that will house 10,000 employees. That cannot be replicated anywhere close to the center of the city and certainly not in downtown Houston. To try and blame City officials for Exxon leaving the CBD is absolutely ludicrous. Let’s not forget that this will bring 2,000 new highly educated and trained employees to the Houston area. (Being relocated from Virginia)

    Overall the CBD office market is incredibly strong at the moment…Class A rents are essentially $40/SF. Exxon leaving will certainly leave a big vacancy, but overall this does not scare the CBD commercial real estate community.

  • NOV is building a huge campus in Cypress, with the intent of relocating part of their corproate HQ from Westchase to there. And employees are fleeing in droves – at least the ones that live in Sugar Land, Pearland, Crosby, etc. Of course the execs who made the decision all live in Cypress or on ranches out toward College Station, so they don’t see what the problem is. Of course they can pay tolls and drive hundreds of miles on $3.50/gal has without even noticing it hitting their checking accounts. Meanwhile, grunts making less than $18/hour have to make hard choices about sacrificing a significant portion of their earnings for transportation expenses, or relocating their families across town. There is still a strong case for maintaining a central location in the metro area – it enables recruitment by widening the pool of candidates. Unless you like having 95% of your workforce being middle to upper middle class white Republicans who loathe the in urban core and its diversity (which NOV does).

  • @Jerry: I loves me some Hobby Airport and Southwest Airlines; however, Bush is where the folks flying in from AsiaPacific and EuropeAfricaMiddleEast and GodOnlyKnowsWhere are landing.

  • @miss_msry: the corporate masters will remain at the Death Star in Irving.

  • @Prince Philberson
    Well that’s a pretty bold theory for a company in an industry that has trouble finding and holding on to qualified people. Maybe ExxonMobil thinks that they are overstaffed but then they would be the exception.

  • @Eric, Yeh well Exxon might expect visitors from within our borders but I could be wrong about that. I work in the energy industry in the Greenspoint area and believe it or not, we get plenty visitors flying in from Hobby, especially from the southeast part of the country. I notice you didn’t bother to address the insignificant distance discrepancy.

  • Certainly the Exxon campus could have been built closer in (someone suggested the KBR site…great option) but at the end of the day they wanted to be in the burbs. No new building would have kept them downtown. Exxon isn’t exactly the greatest corporate citizen. Chevron has taken the opposite tack and continues to expand downtown. Time will tell which approach is more palatable to employees, but there does seem to be a renewed interst in urban living. If you don’t believe me then check out the prices in Montrose that are running $200-$300 per sf. You won’t see that in The Woodlands.

  • @SBV 15,000 people work in the empire state building in NYC. It’s highest floor is at 1225 feet elevation. It has a total area 2,248,355 sq ft.

    Lets assume Exxon wanted to build a high rise downtown for 1,498,753 sq ft to hold 10,000 workers. That is one 70-85 story building that takes up a city block in downtown houston. For comparison— thats less square footage than Wells Fargo Plaza. (1.8 million sq ft).

    In fact, Downtown Houston has 40 million sqaure feet of office space. Exxon could have easily constructed downtown. I’m not arguing the reasoning why they went elsewhere and for the most part, it is understandable. I’m just making the point that consolidating 10,000 workers is feasible downtown.

  • Wow, this generated way more attention that I would have thought. My taking the Mayor’s office AND the GHP to task was the article stating there are not enough 1st class hotel rooms in The Woodlands/Spring to cater to all the Exxon visitors. My initial reaction was here the city is trying to subsidize hotels downtown around the convention center ( heck we own the Hilton!) and they ignore that one of the biggest companies in the world is pulling up their downtown stakes and moving to a place that currently lacks that kind of infrastructure.
    That Exxon wants a suburban “campus” is not totally surprising, so do lots of companies. And, as SBV stated, Class A office rent downtown still commands a premium. My questions is why our leaders were not be proactive in trying to get them to stay. In the last year, the CBD has lost Continental, Devon, and now Exxon. Additionally, Phillips is building a new campus off the West Belt, and though they were never downtown, it looks like they never considered it. What I’d hate to see is a downtown Houston that resembles what downtown Dallas has become, solely bankers and law firms, with most of the other corporate types having decamped to the suburbs long ago. Bob Eury says he wants a 24/7 downtown, and one of the easiest ways to get that is to have lots of people working and visiting there. If you do that, the restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, and even residences will follow.

  • Exxon never bothered to connect to the tunnels, I think that shows how committed they were to being downtown.

  • @Roy, the lack of tunnel connection probably has more to do with Exxon’s higher than average desire for security. They’ve been in Downtown since 1919 or so, so there has been a commitment to the area.

  • Well, you know…
    The Woodlands has intentions to become a major Texas city. Springwoods Village may be the sister-star to make that happen.

  • Superdave: “upper middle class white Republicans who loathe the in urban core and its diversity”
    Why generalize? Lots of upper middle class white republicans who live in the urban core and love its diversity

  • Didn’t read all but address the stupid bigot based comments above. A project of this size would’ve have been well underway and approved well before Parker became mayor. Take your homophobe rants elswhere.

  • Isn’t moving from a downtown office to a suburban “campus” for a large corporation something that was the vogue in the 1970s? Being 40 years behind the times is about par for ExxonMobil’s executive leadership.

    Oh, Cody, just how long do you think “upper middle class white republicans” remain Republicans once they move to the urban core and are exposed to diversity of opinion and lifestyle. If they don’t change, then they are probably living in walled “communities” with extra security so they don’t meet their “diverse” neighbors.

  • @Temple Houston: Embracing diversity does not mean one needs to forsake conservative ideals of government. Plenty of discriminatory democrats/progressives out there too.

    As for Exxon’s move, it’s their money and their company. Worst thing that happens is we have an empty OLD highrise downtown. Best thing is the high rise is rented out AND we have a new world class corporate campus in Houston.

    People look at square footage and try to equate that to Exxon being able to just build a highrise to suit downtown. Not so, there are laboratories and open project team spaces that aren’t always configurable (at least cost effectively) in a high rise.

  • Couple of points that people seem to be overlooking:

    1. In a post-9/11 world, knowing how much attention Exxon places on security, high-rise towers aren’t really the way to go.

    2. Exxon has people officed in over 20 locations in Houston. I think their downtown building has between 1000-2000, but they have multiple offices in the Greenspoint area that house a whole lot more (and crime in the Greenspoint area hasn’t really improved over the years). Moving them to one campus should be an efficiency step that helps out with project collaboration or other teamwork.

    3. I’m sure there would be significant costs to upgrade the downtown buidling, given its age. If downtown rents are as good as some have mentioned, why not cash out and put the money to use in a newer facility?