Esquire Owner’s Boutique Hotel Design Approved

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The design concept for an 18-story boutique hotel next to the Esquire Tavern downtown was approved Wednesday by the Historic Design and Review Commission.

The “very preliminary” renderings – as architects reminded reporters after the meeting – illustrate a contemporary structure unlike any in San Antonio. The 197-room hotel has the potential to dramatically transform a long-neglected downtown street corner and narrow sidewalk taken over by a crowded VIA bus stop on South St. Mary’s Street.

“I feel San Antonio is ready for an architecturally significant hotel (like this),” said HDRC member Betty Feldmen.

The Commission’s decision was two-fold: it unanimously approved the demolition of the 1950s MIC building on the corner of South St. Mary’s and East Commerce Streets, and it approved the hotel’s general design concept, which incorporates and preserves the historic 1860s limestone building right next to the Esquire.

The design also includes a widened street-level sidewalk that allows buses to safely pull over – consistent with the type of “complete street” the City already plans to do downtown.

Buildings from left: the Esquire Tavern, the fish market building, and the MIC building on East Commerce Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Buildings from left: the Esquire Tavern, the fish market building, and the MIC building on East Commerce Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Property owner and developer Chris Hill, who also owns the Esquire and various restaurants and residential projects downtown, is working with commercial real estate developer Crockett Urban Ventures and two architectural firms; Lake/Flato Architects and the Austin office of Gensler, which has offices around the world. Hill was initially interested in building residential units downtown, but found that this particular property was too narrow and lacked that classic urban shortcoming: parking.

“Parking is the biggest challenge on this project,” said Lake/Flato Principal David Lake after the meeting. “It is valet parking only, it’s why this site doesn’t work for housing … there are a variety of parking opportunities, but it will still be a challenge to valet park at (public) garages.”

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 Ventures 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.

Hill and his team will return to the HDRC in several months with a more specific design and a possible parking plan.

City staff recommended avoidance of demolition, but the financial burden of preserving the MIC building would be too great, developers said. The Commission agreed. Members also unanimously agreed that the historical relevance of the MIC building, with the exception of the limestone cistern on the River Walk level, is next to nil.

“What really strikes me about his plan is there is really an exceptional consideration of this historic building. You guys see the great value of this building as part of your new hotel,” said HDRC Chair Tim Cone.

That’s what makes San Antonio unique, he said, “the preservation of these little jewels.”

The cistern can be incorporated as an archeological element in the public space the design creates with a 26-foot set back from the River Walk, Lake said.

Buildings from left: the Esquire Tavern, the fish market building, and the MIC building on East Commerce Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Buildings from right: the Esquire Tavern, the fish market building, and the MIC building on East Commerce Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Looking south from the River Walk level at the proposed 18-story hotel downtown. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and Gensler.

Looking south from the River Walk level at the proposed 18-story hotel downtown. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and Gensler.

Sue Ann Pemberton, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, sent a letter to the Commission that was read aloud by a colleague. In the letter, Pemberton states that the hotel “calls too much attention to itself,” with “awkward” appendages that extend over the River Walk. The MIC building, though not as historic as the Fish Market building, contributes to the downtown’s character, she said.

At first glance, one could perceive that the hotel is projecting far over the property line over the river, Lake said. “That is not the case.”

The 4th-7th floors are flush with the property line near the edge of the River Walk, the hotel then “steps back” in sections of several floors at a time.

“What’s unique is we’re carving back … creating this great River Walk porch that is open to the public – not necessarily controlled by the restaurant or the hotel,” Lake said.

Patrick Shearer, president of Crockett Urban Venture, explained that while the entire, two-building property has a zoning designation of “historic exceptional,” the documentation makes clear that it’s “the portions that they considered exceptional were the cistern and the older (fish market) building and there was no specific designation given to the newer (MIC) building.”

According to numbers obtained by Centro San Antonio from the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in Spring 2014, there are 13,649 downtown hotel rooms.

“This (will be) considered more of a unique, boutique hotel,” Lake said. “It has (a small conferencing level) but it’s not trying to compete with the Hyatt and the Marriotts – we’re trying to be more of a creative class, family boutique hotel and less catering to the conference crowd.”

Hill plans on offering an array of room types from small studio room, to standard double-queen, to possibly a penthouse at the very top.

And it wouldn’t be a Texan hotel without a pool. This hotel would have a pool hovering level over the Esquire for guests to take a dip.

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

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

There are 10 members currently serving on the HDRC, each appointed by a district Council member and the mayor. The District 2 position is vacant.

This article was originally published on Jan. 22, 2015. 

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34 thoughts on “Esquire Owner’s Boutique Hotel Design Approved

  1. Wow! That would be awesome. I remember it being the bar open @7 am to a bunch of weirdos then one day I was that weirdo. Lol cool bar& cool idea.

  2. It’s yet another Lake Flato building — I tire of their cookie-cutter look that is so prevalent that it is beginning to “litter” the inner city. I’m not against a hotel, but this is a BORING design. I do think the building is too tall for that corner and the river. How many developers/developers’ friends are on the HDRC?

  3. I am happy to see a building in San Antonio that does not look like it was transported from colonial Mexico City… I say taller, shinier and edgier. It is, however, ridiculous that you would build 18 stories with zero parking!

  4. The corners of Blanco/Fredericksburg/ 5 points need an upgrade. Plus better turning signals at 5 points. Buildings need to be painted one solid color. Bus stops need upgrading. It’s sad to see other places upgraded, but never this area.

    • I’m with Sylvia’s comments at least in spirit – the area she mentions (by-passed by VIA’s PRIMO service currently) is at most two miles from the Esquire . . . but no fun biking, walking or waiting for a bus to get further ‘downtown’ from here – or to San Pedro Park / SA or other offering nearby.

      I’ve heard murmurs of a City ‘Fredericksburg Road Corridor’ and can only hope it will mean immediate public infrastructure improvements (sidewalks, crossings, bus waiting, bus service, trees, etc) from Five Points to Wonderlands of America only two miles further north – passing a ‘downtown’ HEB and a new major City Park en route.

      For all those renderings showing people walking and biking in San Antonio with new development – it is happening now, but dangerously, along Fredericksburg Road inside the 410 loop.

      PRIMO stops have been in place along stretches of Fredericksburg Road since 2012 (drawing pedestrians) but they haven’t been connected with appropriate sidewalks, crossings or paths to surrounding offerings (the Wonderland of Americas stops – where early voting takes place – are hopeless). It is nearly impossible to walk from one PRIMO or other bus stop to the next (an easy way for transit users to kill time waiting or get their health steps in for the day – or simply make a transfer) – or to reach stops from surrounding neighborhoods and services.

      Hopefully, the city will quickly figure our the right policy to disconnect public improvements / basic maintenance from gentrification (hint: property tax breaks for long-term residents, including former dependents and inheritors – not just elderly – and property tax incentives for substantial re-hab work in persistently poor neighborhoods inside the 410 loop, not just historic districts), and start to balance downtown work with basic improvements downtown-to-midtown.

  5. I like the idea pitched by the developers in comments (but not depicted in renderings) of a staircase to the the River Walk from the west side of N. St Mary’s St – to improve public access to the section of the River Walk that the new building will interface with.

    I’m hopeful, too, that the new hotel will take the lead in offering area residents and visitors a day pass option for use of the pool – fairly common in other cities but noticeably lacking in downtown San Antonio.

    As the developers also hinted with their comments, historic preservation as a public good is debatable if no one can access what is being preserved or enhanced with new work.

  6. More and more people are travelling without parking. And this place can valet service you out to a downtown area which actually currently has more than sufficient parking.

  7. I thought that corner building was 1920’s or 30’s. Gonna miss that building. Well now all the bus stop people will have a nice hotel lobby to hang out in.

    • Good point. I would be interested to see what the developers take is/plan for that bus stop, which is one of the largest transfer points in all of downtown, and seems a little incongrous with a swanky hotel. I like the design of the building. The whole design looks integrated and is not a street level facade like so many other frumpy dowtown chain hotels (read: embassy suites). There is a larger point to be made here about public transportation downtown: there are tons of people who use public transportation downtown on a daily basis. It is viable and is actually a functioning system, although this fact usually gets ignored when talking about alternative forms of transportation because the people who ride the bus don’t have a lot of clout.

  8. 18 stories and 200 rooms is boutique? Or is boutique used to describe independent hotels? Anyhow looking forward to this, what’s going in the empty lot up the corner where that god awful BBQ restaurant burned down the old limestone building?

    • Paulina and Christopher (above) – to the developers’ credit, they did allude to bus waiting on Commerce St. and N. St Mary’s with their comments – mentioning the City’s plans to widen sidewalks on the north side of Commerce St . . . by removing a bus lane along Commerce St (see coverage of the City’s ‘Zona Cultural’), as well as two ‘bulb-outs’ along the west side of N. St Mary’s sidewalk to improve ‘bus waiting’ . . . but also accommodating a car drop-off point for the new hotel.

      It sounds like the new design will step the building back from both streets and (along with City work) improve the widths of sidewalks – possibly even improve access to the Riverwalk (if a new staircase becomes part of the plan or the City’s work).

      BUT – it seems like the overall aim is to remove most current downtown bus exchanges (St Mary’s, W. Market, etc) and concentrate them at the new ‘Westside’ (downtown) Multimodal Transit Hub being constructed on N. Frio St. & Houston St – at most a mile west from the Esquire, but feeling isolated given the inattention to sidewalks connecting the site (as well as UTSA) with the rest of downtown or surrounding neighborhoods.

      Could the Westside Multimodal Transit Hub (like the bulb-outs) ‘improve’ conditions and services for current bus riders traveling to or passing through downtown each day (with back-less bench seating and no toilets or trash cans depicted in the approved design sketches. Concentrating bus diesel fumes in one block)? Judging from other VIA facilities to date (the bus exchange behind and disconnected from the Wonderland of Americas, the VIA office on Commerce St, the HQ megablock paving over San Pedro Creek, new PRIMO stops, etc), I’m guessing not.

      But it sure will get many of ‘those’ bus riders from being in or having easier access to the rest of downtown (and lumped over with Haven for Hope) – you know, the ones who make at least some commenters here feel ‘unsafe’ . . . but who happen to be currently and historically (‘persistently’) the majority of residents inside the 410 loop – working poor and using (depending on and long-term investors in; the rationale for state and federal spending on) public transit, sidewalks, parks, plazas, libraries, etc – with as much right to downtown amenities and livelihoods as anyone.

  9. Well, all I can say is..maybe the streets will be washed every once in a while along Commerce and Soledad..its really embarrassing.

  10. Finally breaking the conservative way of thinking for San Antonio. Progress is always a plus. However 18 stories is not enough. It should be at least 25. OR is the lame excuse that was given on the Dillards Tower (Old Joskes Bldg) about over shadowing the ALAMO was the reason that only 18 stories were proposed? I mean it would be right on the edge of the river walk casting a shadow. NO complaining? Im glad. John I also wonder what the city is planning to do with the awful empty lot where you mentioned. Let us become a PROGRESSIVE city NOT a pick and choose only for a few to benefit.

  11. I love it and I am so excited to hang out by the pool! Finally a place we can pool party downtown in the summer!!!!!!! Congrats this will be epic.

  12. It does seem like a small lot for such a structure. I’d be curious to see the floor plans and wonder if it might be a mask for a later transformation to condo living…this would be the way to overcome the parking issue, but then again if you’re wanting to live downtown and are willing to walk to your flat, this would be the way to go to fill that market – and kudos to a visionary developer. I do agree 197 units = boutique hotel? I believe that number is more in line with all the other downtown apartment developments that’ve been popping up. Is this plausible? I wonder.

  13. The Design Team and Developer appreciate the support from the HDRC for a modern tower on the riverwalk…and all the support voiced by some of our citizens

    Lake Flato and Gensler (Austin )
    looked to San Antonio’s 1930s era landmark towers for inspiration…medical arts bldg(Emily Morgan Hotel)Nix Hospital, Casino Bldg,Tower Life Bldg…
    It is early in the design process and we look forward to creating a tactile and well crafted Hotel at this critical juncture of the River and St Mary’s .

    There will be a wider sidewalk by 11 feet and a generous via canopy ….the street level will be activated by retail and a restaurant by placing the hotel lobby at the third floor…

    Lake Flato appreciates the factual reporting by Iris and the Rivard Report…
    The Report continues to be the most balanced voice for Centro politics and urban design…

    Thank You

  14. The design shown here is ugly and derivative. Except for the height, this could be any one of the boring apartment blocks that are spreading in SATX and ATX like a fungus. The Riverwalk overhang is the only redeeming feature of this mess.


  15. Dear Ladies and Gentemen,

    I once visited San Antonio in 1992.

    Concerning urban design, do think that this _huge_ New Bauhaus-style hotel will really fit into the Riverwalk scene ?



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