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San Antonio Archdiocese Seeks Design Concept Approval on Downtown Hotel

Feature Illustrations (above): The south elevation facing the river (left) and the west elevation facing St. Mary’s Street (right). Courtesy: Archdiocese of San Antonio.

UPDATE — 6-26-2019: The June 19 session of the HDRC was postponed to June 24, at which time the commissioners approved the conceptual designs for the proposed boutique hotel.

Originally Posted: 6-17-2019

by Adolfo Pesquera

San Antonio (Bexar County) — The Archdiocese of San Antonio is requesting approval of a design concept for a 14-story downtown hotel on the grounds of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

In a May 29 letter addressed to the Office of Historic Preservation, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said the St. Mary’s parish population has been dropping for years and the loss of economic support has challenged the parish’s ability to sustain itself.

“Today, the size of the existing rectory exceeds the needs of the parish, and it is expensive for the parish to operation. The current rectory building has done an excellent job in servicing the needs of the parish in the past, but it has now become an operational and financial burden,” Garcia-Siller said.

To remedy the situation, the archdiocese decided to dedicate a portion of the church grounds at 202 N. St. Mary’s Street for the development of a hotel. This would provide an opportunity to the parish to construct a new rectory building better suited to the needs of the parish, as well as a steady income stream from a ground lease for the parish’s operational expenses.

“It also provides the city with a beautiful new downtown hotel and income,” the archbishop said.

The church, a historically significant building, will remain at the corner of St. Mary’s and College Streets. It was founded in 1856 and became the administrative responsibility of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1885. Rev. Louis Studer, provincial of the Oblates, also wrote in support.

The San Antonio School of Law, established in 1927 at the Bexar County Courthouse, came under control of the St. Mary’s parish in 1934 and became the St. Mary’s School of Law. It didn’t leave downtown for the St. Mary’s University campus until 1968.

The St. Mary’s Catholic Church rectory building (center) is located south of the church and across the San Antonio River from the Aztec Theater. Image: Google Streets.

The three-story, 10,000-square-foot rectory was constructed in 1966-1967 to support the needs of the school and the parish, Studer said. However, the school no longer exists and the parish population has diminished. The rectory requires extensive repairs and the Oblates would prefer it be demolished.

“The hotel project being submitted includes a new rectory facility which will be located within the hotel building,” Studer said.

The applicant/developer on the project is SMS-SAR Hospitality LLC. The Historic and Design Review Commission is scheduled to hear the request Wednesday, June 19.

In addition to demolition of the hotel, the developer proposes demolishing original River Walk level walls and site elements of the Hugman design. The hotel concept include new street and River Walk frontage.

SMS-SAR Hospitality states in its project narrative that the hotel will have 147 guest rooms and have a gross area of 127,000 square feet. It is to be flagged and managed by a major hotel brand. From street level to the top of the mechanical penthouse, it will have a height of 180 feet. There is also a 12-foot, below grade river level that will feature a restaurant and retail shop.

The new rectory, although within the hotel, will function as a separate facility with its own entrance and demising walls. The rectory will be on the third floor, one level above the hotel lobby.

“The building will be modern, using a combination of glass, stone and precast panels on the exterior of the building,” SMS-SAR Hospitality said. “The guest rooms will be strategically placed so as to take full advantage of the river views.

“The vision is to revitalize the city block facing St. Mary’s Street. The church and the hotel will blend together through the selection of exterior materials, colors, exterior lighting and selective streetscape.”

The concept provides for meeting rooms and an event hall on the third story, with guest rooms beginning at the fourth level. The 14th story will have a bar with a balcony overlooking the river.

A River Walk level site plan and 3D illustrations of the pedestrian realm. Courtesy: Archdiocese of San Antonio.

OHP staff raised concerns about the demolition of the rectory, which it considers eligible for designation at an architecturally significant historic structure, and the River Walk wall.

The Rectory:  “Designed in the New Formalist Style, character-defining features of the building include repeating exposed-aggregate panels with half-moon cutouts at bottom along the north, west, and south sides and a toothed concrete third-floor canopy with quatrefoil cutouts. OHP staff has prepared a statement of significance which indicates that the building is eligible for designation as a local historic landmark. The detailed statement of significance is included in the exhibits for this case. Staff finds that the applicant should explore ways to incorporate the existing structure and façade elements into the design of the tower pedestal.”

River Walk Elements: “There is an existing stone wall that follows the edge of the property. At river level, a curvilinear planter wall composed of dry stacked stones spans the length of the property and contains mature palm trees and other plantings. Lower, rubble walls create a terraced landscape between the dry stacked wall and the River Walk path. Staff finds these features, including the mature palm trees, are likely original to the construction of the River Walk. The dry stacked stone wall is specified in Hugman’s plans as well as the curvilinear, terraced planters at this location. UDC Section 35-680 requires that these elements be retained and incorporated into the design.

“In the submitted documentation, it is unclear how the new construction will be treated at the river level. While some wall elements appear in a rendering, there is no demolition plan included in the application, and the drawings do not indicate retention of any existing features. Staff has concern regarding the wholesale removal of not only the original materials, but also the lack of landscaping and planters incorporated into the proposed development. The river level treatment should be redesigned to better address the existing historic features of the River Walk and new elements should be introduced within the spirit of Hugman’s original plans such as terraced landscaping beds and stone retaining walls.”

The architectural designs are by Hornberger+Worstell, a San Francisco firm. The project name is Hotel Sul Fiume, which translated from Italian means “on the river.”

SMS-SAR Hospitality LLC is a limited liability company that was registered in February with the State of Texas. Its officers include U.S. Provence of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Inc. and Anthony F. Byron.

Concept rendering of the south elevation. Courtesy: Archdiocese of San Antonio.


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By |2019-06-26T10:20:36-05:00June 17th, 2019|Construction Preview, Feature Story|

About the Author:

Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.

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