Second Thought: Wednesday, March 29, 2006
A New Landmark, Please

It wasnít paradise, but it ought to be more than a parking lot.


Dear XTO Energy,

Hi. You donít know me, but I live in downtown Fort Worth. Iím familiar with you, not through any vast knowledge of natural gas exploration and drilling, but from the work youíve done to the buildings you own in my neighborhood.

I watched as you bought the W. T. Waggoner Building, spiffed it up, and restored that gorgeous lobby. Nice. I saw you pick up Executive Plaza and complete a thorough renovation of that tower. Very good. Perhaps your best work thus far came with your purchase of The Building Formerly Known As The Baker Building, now going by the Bob R. Simpson moniker. I watched you remove the ghastly 1960s-era base that has long befouled an otherwise lovely building and launch into a painstaking restoration of the original base, a view not seen since the (possibly LSD-addled?) minds of the í60s ruined the building. Believe me, the city is eternally grateful for your good taste. And now youíve done us another favor and removed Landmark Tower from the skyline. Once an impressive sight as it towered over all else in downtown, Landmark ended as a rusted eyesore, and it was time to remove its aluminum shell from public display.

I must take issue, however, with the plans youíve announced for the site: a parking lot.

Come on, XTO, a parking lot? Are you telling us thereís no better use of a prime piece of downtown real estate, a key site in the makeup of our beloved Seventh Street canyon, than a parking lot? The XTO I know loves downtown Fort Worth and its assortment of attractive structures and is surely aware that downtown office vacancy rates are so small that they must be measured with an electron microscope ó about 6.7 percent, last time I checked. This XTO probably also knows that downtown residential activity is at an all-time high.

Perhaps youíre starting to see where this is going.

Downtown Fort Worthís skyline has been stagnant for 20 years, stuck at the 40-story glass ceiling ever since Burnett Plaza was built. Only recently has there been any significant activity, with the renovation of The Tower and construction of Pier 1 Place. The Tower, though lovely, was a reworking of an existing building, not something new. Pier 1 is a beautiful building with stunning night lighting, but it didnít challenge the height record. Itís time for a new signature building to rise where Landmark Tower once stood, and return the ďcityís tallestĒ crown to the block bounded by 6th, 7th, Houston, and Throckmorton streets.

Letís start on the ground. Landmark Tower took up only a small sliver of the block; if you want to do this up big, youíll want the new tower to take up the whole block, right up to the sidewalks. The base of the tower ought to have retail space, something lacking in this area of downtown. Restaurants, shops, a small grocery store, perhaps even the return of a downtown department store ó the possibilities are endless. Moving up the tower, letís add a parking garage ó say, eight floors? Make sure it blends with the tower, and donít make it look like a parking garage. Fort Worth already has far too many ugly parking garages. Above that, you have a nice amount of Class A office space (plenty of room for yourselves, of course, plus a significant amount of speculative space).

Moving past the offices, letís add some condos. How about 60 to 100 units? More would be just peachy, if youíre so inclined. By this point, weíre pretty darned far above the ground, so youíd be able to steal some of The Towerís thunder. You could make a pretty penny on the condos, since the views would be tremendous. Then letís add one last attraction: space for a top-floor restaurant. You think Reata used to have it good? Try dining from a vantage point above all else in Tarrant County.

Architecturally, the tower should be either a beautiful present-day homage to the cityís classic 1930s Art Deco buildings or something striking and futuristic. Make sure it features dramatic night lighting, and cap the whole thing off with a spire or a remarkable crown. All told, something in the 50- to 65-story range would be great.

Now I realize that this is a lot to pull off. I understand that your first job is making money. But youíre in a unique position to leave a lasting impression on the skyline of a proud city. In a time when our unpleasant neighbor to the east seems to rack up a new 40-story-plus tower every few minutes, it seems like just one signature building over here isnít too much to ask.

Remember, the people who build skyscrapers make it into the history books. Just think about that, XTO.

Fort Worth native Kevin Buchanan likes architecture, writing, and living downtown.

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