Downtown ‘Boutique’ Hilton Hotel Reaches Higher, Gets Partial Approval

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A River Walk view of the 24-story hotel proposed in downtown San Antonio. Rendering courtesy of Gensler.

A River Walk view of the 24-story hotel proposed in downtown San Antonio. Rendering courtesy of Gensler.

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.”

From left: Crockett Urban Venture President Patrick Shearer, hotel property owner and developer Chris Hill, Lake/Flato Principal David Lake after the HDRC vote to approve preliminary designs of Hill's downtown hotel. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

From left: Crockett Urban Venture President Patrick Shearer, hotel property owner and developer Chris Hill, Lake/Flato Principal David Lake after the HDRC voted to approve preliminary designs of Hill’s downtown hotel in January 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“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.”

Hill is working with local real estate developer Patrick Shearer of Crockett Urban Ventures and two architectural firms, San Antonio-based Lake/Flato Architects and the Austin office of Gensler.

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.

Aerial view of the proposed 18-story hotel downtown. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and Gensler.

Aerial view of the previously-proposed 18-story hotel downtown with “floating” pool deck. The pool has since been moved to the top floor. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and Gensler.

“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.

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12 thoughts on “Downtown ‘Boutique’ Hilton Hotel Reaches Higher, Gets Partial Approval

  1. If the HDRC really cares about all these old buildings then why aren’t they fining the owners who own these properties. The HDRC seems to stop progress regardless of companies wanting to move into SA. I get the save the old buildings mentality, however, only when someone tries to improve the city does the HDRC suddenly appear and voices their concern. If I were interested in development in the city of SA I would rethink about utilizing an old building. A perfect example is the Merchant and Friedrich buildings which eventually got the green light because the owners would not do business with the cities HDRC restrictions. Why are all these old buildings sitting still for years (which the HDRC deems historical) just continue to sit with no rules. If there are rules then they are not enforcing them. I dare the locals to count the number of abandon buildings that the HDRC deem as historic but yet allow to sit as empty and causes an eye sores but devalue areas of not only downtown but the city. In my opinion this is sad business HDRC.

  2. This is going to be fabulous!!! I am particularly excited about a downtown rooftop pool! Great job Patrick, David, and Chris–I know it takes years of patience, hard-word, and deep thought to put together a visionary project in downtown. Love to see San Antonians investing so much of themselves in our inner city when it’s obviously easier and faster to develop elsewhere. Keep it up.

  3. It’s fascinating to me, the disconnect between what SA says it wants and what it actually does. On the one hand, article after article here bemoans how SA isn’t taken seriously as a modern city and that it needs to increase visibility and appeal to the next generations… and then article after article like this, where forward progress or change of any and every kind is stalled, stymied, or flat-out driven away by the HDRC and the SACC and HOAs and City Council.

    Which one do you want, SA? Tomorrow, or yesterday?

    • Please explain how the HDRC was against forward progress in this case. The owner even stated, “We like working with the HDRC.” Good design always takes time.

      But maybe the city SHOULD have paved over the Riverwalk back in the day… or taken out more of Brackenridge Park for 281… or converted Travis Park into a parking garage (all of them almost implemented). After all, “pardon our dust, for progress is a must,” seems to many to be the only sign of a city on the rise. As for me, I’ll take the deliberate and careful infill, because I believe that what makes San Antonio desirable is our uniqueness and craft. Tomorrow IS yesterday. Modern CAN co-exist with the historic, with each being made stronger.

  4. I think you are confused about the role of the HDRC. They don’t just “appear and voice their concern.” They meet every other week, and discuss the design of what has been PRESENTED to them. Yes, it can sometimes be a hassle, but as an architect and a resident who has gone before them (in both roles), I support their work. They can’t enforce the vacant building ordinance, they can’t hold property owners accountable for their demolition by neglect. Those responsibilities fall to other city divisions.

    I think you may be referring to the Conservation Society. While I agree that they do sometimes seem to want to protect everything, their exemplary track record demands respect. Just their continued presence serves as an extra incentive for better design.

    The bigger question is why some developers don’t want to deal with restrictions of any kind… in San Antonio at least. If they go up to Austin, there are plenty of design restrictions. Why can’t WE demand better as well?

    To say that historic designation prevents development is not necessarily accurate. The HDRC has allowed demolition of historic structures in the past, IF what is being built is better than the existing (this exciting project as an example, the Tobin as another). The real problem is our outdated notion of “improvement”. A new Walmart is not improvement. A new boring hotel with cheap materials is not improvement. As Rivard says in his article this morning, “bad design can kill a city’s momentum.” It basically comes down to how we want San Antonio to be seen. Are we just a cheap, low-wage town… or a real city?

  5. What else would the owner say; “you’re right” heck no. The owners want to make money and build the darn hotel so I wouldn’t rock the boat either. If the HDRC isn’t hiding something then show the citizens of SA what they do other than deny designs. I want them to walk the city, not only downtown, but count the number of buildings they overlook and now suddenly want to do something. An example the Piggly Wiggly building on Broadway; now they want the new owners to save the facade after decades of sitting there empty and what did they do to preserve it? Same ol SA, only do for themselves. Honestly this will always be ongoing until they ask the citizens what they want and not have a group of (I”m assuming a small group of people) decide what the city should look like. I”m over it. It’s frustrating to see the city look like an old town with old ugly buildings sitting empty and homeless people using them as public restrooms. Good Luck SA! Seriously!!!!!

  6. Keeping the limestone facade? Ugh , ugly ugly ugly , glass is modern and beautiful . Looking at downtown san Antonio all I see is a brown , beige bland skyline

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