Austin: Panel Troubled by Proposed 12-Story Hotel Atop Historic Building
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–The city is reviewing a proposal for construction of a 12-story, 159-room hotel atop a building whose origins date back to the 1880s.
The city’s Historic Landmark Commission got briefed Feb. 24 on a project where a Motto Hotel by Hilton would be placed at 1415 Lavaca St., the same site of the Bartholomew-Robinson building.
Preliminary drawings from Houston-based MCS Architects, the project designer, show that the hotel would have a main entry from Lavaca. The first floor would contain a boardroom, a bar, lobby, office space and a kitchen.
Preliminary conceptual of the new hotel’s first floor/lobby. MCS Architects
The second floor would include a fitness center, and a large restaurant/bar area with some of the existing building’s roof converted to accommodate outdoor patio seating.
Houston developer William Franks is partnering with Nazar and Ali Momin of Houston-based Trend Hospitality to redevelop the .14-acre tract.
Franks told the commission he is close to completing the acquisition of the building, which is owned and occupied by the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association (TOMA).
The property originally was the site of a stone house built by real estate agent Eugene Bartholomew in 1883.
Two years later, Bartholomew sold the property to John and Fannie Wayland, who built a larger structure on the lot and turned it into a grocery and feed store.
Property ownership fell to different families and enterpreneurs in the subsequent decades. When it was threatened with demolition, TOMA stepped in and bought the building and invested in a restoration project in the late 1990s.
TOMA presently occupies the north half of the footprint of the formerly commercial building. The southern half of the structure is vacant and has no roof.
Preliminary conceptual of the new hotel’s second floor. Image: MCS Architects
Franks proposed retaining the structure’s walls at Lavaca and 15th Street and the decorative corner turrets, and building up the story from within the existing building’s footprint.
Franks said the facade is in good shape, but that the interior has mold and othger remedial issues that make it cost-prohibitive to completely salvage the interior.
“We think this is a good use,” Franks said of the proposal. As for the turrets, “we want to make sure we preserve those in a proper way,” he added.
This new hotel would have valet parking and lease parking spaces from adjoining properties. Otherwise, there will be no on-site parking.
There is no estimated construction cost, schedule or delivery method available. To be sure, the proposed design is far from gaining approval of the Historic Landmark Commission. VBX members may track this project using ID number: 2020-1A49.
Several of the panel members expressed concern that the 12-story hotel looks incompatible with a 19th century building. They also have a problem with the concept of only preserving the existing building’s exterior, and not reusing the interior.
A few commissioners referenced challenges that they had in their recent consideration of a project involving a new tower atop an existing downtown Masonic lodge. The commission last fall granted that project a schematic design a certificate of appropriateness following a 6-4 vote.
“I think our commission in general has a mixed perspective of the appropriateness of adding a tower on top of a historic building,” commissioner Beth Valenzuela said. “I think in this case, given it’s a corner building, it will be especially hard to do that and to maintain the historic character of the property.”
Proposed Lavaca Street facade of the Motto by Hilton hotel atop the historic Bartholomew-Robinson building. Image: MCS Architects
Commission member Terri Myers was more pointed in her criticism: “I think it’s a misuse of preservation, I think it’s inappropriate.”
Trey Apffel, executive director of the State Bar of Texas, addressed the commission. He said his organization, which works in the building next to the property in question, is opposed to the hotel concept.
“We have a sincere interest in maintaining the historic integrity of this building. We feel a 12-story hotel built on this building does not accomplish this objective,” he added.
In past projects, Franks and his firm, William R. Franks Real Estate Services, have focused on historic preservation, mainly in the Houston area.
Franks and Trend Hospitality partnered to incorporate Houston’s former Stowers Furniture headquarters into an Aloft high-rise hotel.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.