GrayStreet Withdraws Plans for 20-Story Broadway Tower – For Now

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The proposed 20 story mixed-use tower at 1603 Broadway.

Courtesy / GrayStreet Partners

The proposed 20-story mixed-use tower at 1603 Broadway St.

Developer GrayStreet Partners on Wednesday withdrew its request for conceptual approval of a 20-story hotel and office tower from the Historic and Design Review Commission when it became apparent that the local firm’s design would be rejected by most commissioners.

“The fatal flaw was the fact that the rendering didn’t line up with the request as made,” HDRC Vice Chair John Bustamante told the Rivard Report after the vote. At least three commissioners noted during the meeting that renderings submitted in GrayStreet’s application depicted a building with 17 or 18 stories – not 20 – on the northwest corner of Broadway Street and Newell Avenue.

“[GrayStreet] has the opportunity to come back with the application in a little bit better shape. I anticipate they will do so,” Bustamante said.

Commissioners were generally receptive to the design and height of the building, even though the 260-foot tower would be double what is allowed by the City’s development code in that area of town. GrayStreet would ultimately need approval from the Board of Adjustments to exceed the 10-story maximum.

Some commissioners took issue with the glassy materials proposed for much of the exterior and the pedestrian-level design.

“We’ll keep working on it,” GrayStreet Development Director Peter French said after the meeting. “It was good feedback. We’ll take it into consideration and keep moving.”

There would be 10 levels of hospitality space as well as underground parking and street-level retail in the building, which lies within the River Improvement Overlay (RIO) 2 district, where development and design is more strictly regulated.

Code for the RIO-2 district, made up of small single-family neighborhoods surrounded by higher-density and commercial structures, including the Pearl, requires that structures do not exceed 10 stories or 120 feet, according to the Unified Development Code. “Glass curtain” walls, such as the ones GrayStreet proposed, are allowed only as “secondary” material in RIO-2. That kind of design is more so allowed in RIO-3, downtown proper.

Commissioners generally felt the height was appropriate, especially given the project’s close proximity to the interchange of Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 281, suggesting it could act as a gateway to the Broadway corridor from downtown.

But local architect Jonathan Card, who said he lives a 10-minute walk from the site, voiced concerns over the “compatibility” of the building with others in the area.

He showed a drawing comparing the height of the GrayStreet hotel property with others in the area, including Silver Ventures’ two office buildings currently under construction one block north on Broadway Street: one will be 10 and the other six stories tall. Card has worked with both GrayStreet and Silver Ventures, which developed the Pearl, but is not currently.

“I’m not sure why we need 260 feet to accomplish the project. It sets a bad precedent in relation to RIO-2. This is not downtown,” Card said. “It’s an attractive building, but … glass towers in isolation create huge issues for neighbors, not because they are bad designs but because they stand in isolation.”

According to the code for RIO-2, “In general, materials and finishes that provide a sense of human scale, reduce the perceived mass of a building and appear to blend with the natural setting of the river shall be used, especially on major structures.”

French said Broadway is a significant arterial roadway that deserves significant buildings.

“We engaged a world-class design team for this world-class site,” he said of the Gensler architectural firm. “It’s not monolithic, it doesn’t cover the entire block. We’ve been very intentional about designing something that has a shape.”

The proposed 20 story mixed-use tower at 1603 Broadway.

Courtesy / GrayStreet Partners

The proposed 20-story mixed-use tower at 1603 Broadway St.

The concepts presented for review state: “The building is a combination of brick and glazing at the office levels, and a glass curtain wall for the hotel floors. Ceiling heights for the retail ground floor are 18 feet, and 18 feet for the office floors. The hotel floors have 10-foot ceilings. An amenity deck with outdoor terrace and pool will sit on the building’s 9th floor facing southeast.”

When initially submitted for review, the City’s only recommended changes to the conceptual plans included reducing the impact on pedestrians by improving landscaping and pedestrian walkways, and changing the proposed building cap to feature a more distinctive design.

French addressed those concerns, as well as questions about how traffic patterns would be affected, to the commissioner’s satisfaction.

After some discussion, commissioners agreed that it was too early to approve the concepts. At that point, French withdrew the request.

Conceptual approval by HDRC is approval of the “concept” of a project, giving commissioners the opportunity to provide the applicant with feedback about the design and scope of a project prior to completion of the construction documents and significant investment.

Final approval of an application requires that 80 percent of construction documentation be completed for review by HDRC before a Certificate of Appropriateness can be issued.

By choosing the option to withdraw the request, GrayStreet gains more time to develop designs before resubmitting for conceptual approval.

 

Business Reporter Shari Biediger contributed to this article.

12 thoughts on “GrayStreet Withdraws Plans for 20-Story Broadway Tower – For Now

    • With a glass facade in san antonio, you shouldnt be worried about shadows. You should worry about reflected light and its ability to burns things like what happened in london. In normal days, you will be wishing the building cast shadows.

  1. If our rules and our people don’t allow for a building that looks like this, it’s not the building that’s the problem.

  2. So the city prefers that lots stay vacant. Instead of appreciating that these developers consider our city for these types of projects. People in San Antonio deserve world class buildings like the ones in miami. We appreciate historic. But it’s time to move to 21st century. What a disappointment. When people in the area were so excited about this project.

  3. Now it’s clear ! This is why San Antinio is so far behind other cities in Texas is because of the crazy out of touch HDRC .

    • The HDRC needs to be abolished. I don’t know when the HDRC was commissioned but the city functioned just fine before the HDRC. There is no rhyme or reason for their decisions, one glass building gets approved and another one gets denied. Everything they vote on is subjective and vastly opened to interpretation. How many developers, urban planners or common sense business people are on the HDRC? What are the qualifications to be on the HDRC? It’s mainly a bunch of self absorbed architects that nit pick a project to death and completely miss the big picture. They could care less about how much a project costs or whether it will make a profit. They also deny buildings that are perfectly compliant with the UDC and the UBC. The city’s planning department is perfectly capable of guiding and making recommendations about how projects should look. The HDRC needs to go. They are just another layer of red tape and unnecessary oversight. Let’s get rid of this logjam.

  4. Although I do not like the scale of this building for Broadway, I think the broad question is what do we want Broadway to look like. For me, not this. But this is subjective and so is everything that the HDRC does. They don’t follow their rules, they have appointed commissioners who have all the power of yes or no although they are not city employees and few have any training in architecture or urban planning.. I do think the HDRC is not even close to functioning as intended. Everything is whimsy and costly to anyone trying to deal with them in terms of money and emotions. Although city guidelines trump the national guidelines on historic issues, I believe they are mostly ignorant of the national guidelines that have been well thought out.

    We do need intelligent planning in San Antonio. It is not whether someone thinks tall buildings are 20th or 21st century or buildings with traditional architectural adornment make them more friendly to those who want everything to stay the same. The questions are what do we want areas of town to look like, how do we want them to function. and yes, there is an aesthetic component which is the elephant in the room. But aesthetics are what helps create lasting value. And as one comment pointed out, the HDRC is totally ignoring their guidelines on this. Follow the money on this.

  5. Hey, HDRC, you archaic group of hacks – Quit making decisions that leave San Antonio in the dust while Dallas, Austin and even Houston thrive. We are a joke when it comes to the forward thinking, progressive intelligence that prevails in these other Texas cities. Buildings bring jobs, buildings create incredible tax bases both in real property and personal property which increases the tax base for the city. 20 stories of ‘building’ creates more tax revenue for the city than 8 does. You should thank the real estate and tax gods that GrayStreet even bothers to help move the city forward. Leave it an empty lot and keep your thumb down on the citizens of San Antonio.

  6. HDRC should aprove this project. Anything would look better than an empty lot. Those lots stay vacant for years and if it was not for the fence that is there now. It would even look worse. If they were really concerned about how buildings will look . They would give aprovals for new buildings..there are still a lot of neglected buildings downtown. We need to catch up. People of other Texas cities. See San Antonio’s downtown as old. Even locals still refer to downtown San antonio as being old.

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