A partnership controlled by urban core developer David Adelman, principal of AREA Real Estate, and architect David Lake, principal of Lake/Flato Architects, has acquired the nine-story Maverick Building on East Houston Street, a storied landmark on the National Register of Historic Places that today is a badly rundown, largely unoccupied apartment building.
The new owners will undertake an extensive historical restoration and upgrade of the building, Adelman said in a recent interview, and reopen in early 2016 with about 85 market rate workforce apartments on the upper floors and a lively mix of retail activity on the street level.
The building occupies a prized downtown corner on Houston and Presa streets, with the River Walk steps away, and Alamo Plaza and Travis Park only blocks away.
Upper floor apartments facing Houston Street have striking views of the Tobin Center for Performing Arts, and apartments facing Presa Street have River Walk views.
“Everyone who lives there now is welcome to move back when we reopen, it’s going to remain market rate workforce housing,” Adelman said. Current tenants have until February to find new apartments, he said. “It’s definitely a passion project, it’s really small in scale, but we love the building and there is great potential there. Right now the building does not meet the expectations of a city on the rise.
“We can imagine what it would be like to work at Geekdom and be able to walk a few blocks home to an affordable apartment in a cool building with a lobby busy with people,” Adelmen said.
Adelman cited the Ace Hotel on West 29th Street in midtown New York as having the kind of busy downtown ambience he and Lake hope to recreate in the reborn Maverick with a restaurant or bar, coffee shop, lobby seating, and some retail.
Adelmen said the building will be closed by February, and restoration efforts will include removal of the second floor, which was added to increase the apartment count.
“We are taking the building back to the original two-story vaulted space,” Adelmen said. “That’s one of the reasons retail hasn’t worked in there because of the dropped ceilings.”
The sales price was not disclosed, but legal filings suggest Adelmen and Lake probably acquired the property at a bargain, perhaps for the cost of satisfying the owner’s creditors. Jose Gonzalez II, who controls Urban Collaborative, LLC and Maverick Apartments Ltd., had been on the brink of bankruptcy. He avoided foreclosure by Kopplow-McManus Properties Inc., which held the debt when a judge agreed to temporarily hold off his creditors in October. Under his ownership, the market-rate workforce rental housing has steadily declined from the 1990s-era city-funded conversion of the former office building into apartments.
The building and land are valued on the tax rolls at $3.1 million. A 1997 promissory note for the property was for $3.7 million and the disputed debt was about $1 million. Gonzalez could not be reached for comment.
The Maverick, easily recognized by its namesake rooftop neon sign, bears one of the city’s most famous family names and is said to be the oldest surviving commercial building on Houston Street, but it’s been home to a succession of failed attempts to revive it in recent decades.
Today, the main entrance doors on Presa Street stand wide open, only one of the two elevators work (push the down arrow), and the ground floor retail space is vacant except for a small dive bar. Adelman said the fire alarm system does not work, and that fire marshals had put the building on “firewatch” status, meaning an awake adult is supposed to be on premises overnight. More than half of the building’s 90 apartments do not have heating or air conditioning, according to its new owners. Only 38% of the apartments are leased, he said.
A padlocked door stopped me from checking out the rooftop views. Using the upper floor stairwell means navigating the tang of urine, marijuana and cigarette smoke, and the odd undergarment left behind amid the litter.
“This place is a rathole,” said one tenant encountered on the elevator. Another said he was glad to be moving out after Christmas. “Don’t bother calling the landlord,” he added, mistaking me for a new arrival.
Despite its current state of neglect, the 1922 high rise (I’ve seen different completion dates) is suffused with important historical context. It was built by the estate of George M. Maverick, a son of Samuel Maverick, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, on the site of the former Maverick Hotel. The family had substantial real estate holdings in proximity to the Alamo and was involved in the early development of Houston Street. The current building was an office building until the 1970s when downtown commercial real estate declined as suburban malls opened. The building was vacant throughout the 1980s and early 1990s when the City funded its conversion into an apartment building.