The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) gave conceptual approval Wednesday to several design amendments for the historic Witte Building, which is slated to become a mixed-use development and open in 2019.
The long-vacant building, which is located on what has been described as one of the most blighted blocks of downtown at 135 E. Commerce St., is being revitalized by property owner and developer Chris Hill, who owns the Esquire Tavern and various restaurants and residential projects downtown.
The approved changes made to the existing plans included directly connecting the proposed exterior staircase to the River Walk, constructing a vegetation "screen" to be attached to the glass, adding a public/private elevator adjacent to the staircase, removing the proposed metal balconies at the street level, second and third floor, and reducing the number and size of windows.
In previous design review meetings, committee members had voiced concerns about the distance of the elevator from the river, as well as the stairwell potentially crowding pedestrians at the river level.
The updated design features the elevator pushed back about 4.5 ft., said Andrew Douglas, president of Douglas Architects, which is designing the Witte project. The stairwell will land just left of the pedestrian walkway.
"We feel it's a much better improvement (since) it gives a clear path to the River Walk for the public up and down the river," Douglas said.
HDRC commissioners also wondered how the green screen surrounding the elevator would be properly maintained and integrated into its surroundings. The screen will be more of a garden element than an architectural element, project officials said, and will feature planters at each level of the elevator to expedite the infill process once it is implemented.
The vegetation screen will add to the visual appeal of the structure but also will help block out sun for elevator riders.
The idea for the enclosure was sparked by the increasing number of green spaces throughout downtown, Douglas said.
"It's a very responsive idea to some of the developments that have been occurring in the last 10 years and the last several months," he said. The green screen will also feature plant species that will thrive in San Antonio's climate and harsh sun conditions and will be fed through a permanent drip irrigation system on an automatic timer.
The developers will have to come back to HDRC for final approval of the species.
In July, Hill received a $7.4 million incentive package from the City for the Witte project. His $60 million project that will transform the Alamo Fish Market building into a 19-story hotel is also in the works.
Together, plans for the two projects include four housing units, 195 hotel rooms, restaurant and retail spaces, improvements in River Walk infrastructure and access, and historic preservation. Hill anticipates finishing the hotel by the City’s 300th anniversary in 2018.