The downtown corner of North St. Mary’s and Commerce streets, a bustling intersection for pedestrians and vehicles, and home to the long-vacant 1950s era Sullivan Bank building, could soon see the building’s demolition and the construction of a 24-story, 197-room Hilton hotel.
The Historic and Design Review Commission granted partial approval for the bulk of the hotel developer’s presentation on Wednesday afternoon. Plans for the two-story historic building on the street level, the so-called “podium” of the hotel, and River Walk levels will need to come back for final approval.
The podium plans in question include the preservation and incorporation of the historic Alamo Fish Market building next to the Sullivan Bank building on Commerce Street. Before the HDRC approves the plans, commissioners must see clearly defined plans for the Alamo Fish Market’s facade and a historic flood wall on the River Walk.
If approved, The Canopy by Hilton, a smaller line of hotels that promises “a more accessible lifestyle brand” with a “hip hotel vibe” will be built on the 0.13-acre site.
Property owner and developer Chris Hill, who also owns the adjacent Esquire Tavern among other restaurants and residential projects downtown, said his team has been working closely with City staff and HDRC’s design subcommittee to make sure they “get it right.”
“We like working with the HDRC,” Hill said during an interview on Tuesday. “We’re San Antonians and we want to do something appropriate for downtown San Antonio.”
Since the project received preliminary approval in January 2015, several modifications have been made to the plans that originally called for an 18-story building and included an elevated swimming pool above the Esquire Tavern.
“No one could figure out how to hold it up,” Hill said. Plans now include a rooftop pool, gym, and observation deck with clear views of the Alamo and Main Plazas.
“Glassy” ground level materials were eliminated from the original design in favor of an exterior finish that more closely emulates the limestone and brick seen on existing building facades at that intersection, including the Fish Market, Aztec Theatre, One Alamo Center office building, and Drury Plaza Hotel.
What hasn’t changed is the planned restaurant and retail space, separate from the hotel, on both the River Walk and street levels, and work to preserve and highlight the limestone cistern and historic flood wall in the basement of the Sullivan Bank building, also known as the MIC building.
“It’s important that these flood walls are retained,” Commission Chair Michael Guarino said.
Susan Beavin, first vice president for the San Antonio Conservation Society, read a letter to the commission in opposition to the modern design of the building that represents, a “visual disruption” against the softer, historic lines of the River Walk environment.
“The River Walk elevation needs a more simplified design” that nods to the park-like setting, Beavin read.
Hill estimates that the project will cost between $55 and 60 million. The property was sold to Hill in 2013 for $2.15 million.
*Top image: A River Walk view of the 24-story hotel proposed in downtown San Antonio. Rendering courtesy of Gensler.