A new boutique hotel could soon go up on a sliver of property along the San Antonio River Walk now that a developer’s long-delayed plans were partially approved by a city panel on Wednesday. 

The Historic and Design Review Commission gave the green light to California real estate developer Harris Bay to build the eight-story Artista Hotel on a pie-shaped .2-acre parcel at 151 E. Travis St.

But because design plans call for changes to the public right-of-way along the River Walk, commissioners asked the developer to return to the panel for added approvals pertaining to how the hotel could impact the riverside walkway.

Harris Bay, the developer behind two proposed developments, one on the East Side that never came to pass and the other now in early planning stages the in Tobin Hill area, acquired the property in April 2019. It was previously owned by Seaside Hospitality of Florida.

Harris Bay paid almost $2.2 million for the vacant downtown parcel near the Weston Centre and IBC Bank, according to deed records, with an eye toward building the hotel. 

Documents submitted by architecture firm Creo to the Office of Historic Preservation detail plans for the Artista Hotel, indicating it will have 151 guestrooms and restaurant space. The first of eight floors will be positioned at river level. 

Construction on the hotel is expected to start in early 2023, according to the developer, after the pandemic caused several years of delays in the project. 

“I didn’t underwrite an epidemic, let alone a pandemic,” said Jake Harris, founder and managing partner of Harris Bay. Like many real estate plans, the hotel project was delayed when in March 2020, travel came to a halt, hotel rooms went empty, and the hospitality market tanked worldwide. 

That didn’t change how he feels about San Antonio. “I believe that … when I look at this over a 10-year time period, the next 10 years of San Antonio are going to be a very golden era of the city as a whole,” Harris said.

The lodging industry appears to be bouncing back from historic lows in 2020. 

During the third quarter of 2022, San Antonio hotel revenue was up 5% over the same period in 2021 and almost 12% over 2019, said Paul Vaughan, senior vice president at market research firm Souce Strategies.

San Antonio’s hotel occupancy of 62% beat the state average of 60%, with average room rates about $126 a night, the second highest behind the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area. 

But the growing supply of new hotel rooms in the city over the last several years is dampening occupancy rates, he said, and they just keep coming. 

In September, the commission granted conceptual approval for the proposed 17-story Hemisfair Hotel with 200 guest rooms set to open in early 2025. And in June, it gave approval for a luxury hotel at 423 S. Alamo St. with 347 rooms that will be San Antonio’s first Kimpton Hotel.

“It will be 2023 or even 2024 before occupancies return to pre-pandemic levels,” Vaughan said.

The estimated completion date for the Artista Hotel is late 2024, Harris said. That’s nearly five years after the review panel first looked at the hotel design plans. 

In 2019, the review commission sent the designers back to the drawing board, requiring multiple changes at the conceptual approval phase. That was a full year before the nation’s pandemic pause began.

A rendering shows what the Artista Hotel could look like from the Riverwalk.
A rendering shows a view from the River Walk of the Artista Hotel. Credit: Courtesy / Creo

The design panel gave the developer conceptual approval for the project, but the support came with a list of stipulations, including that the applicant reduce the impact or eliminate from the design a cantilever that was designed to extend over the River Walk. 

The cantilever has been removed from the new plan. 

Also at the panel’s request, the design now includes windows, doors and other facade-separating elements on the south and east sections of the hotel building. In addition, all mechanical and service equipment will be screened and dark-colored windows that feature metal materials will be recessed within 2 inches of the facade. 

The developer also agreed to submit a final landscaping and signage plan for approval.

During the hearing on Wednesday, city staff questioned architect Kris Feldmann about landscape plans — where a 1940s-era bench will be relocated and how the river walkway will be reconfigured closer to an original retaining wall that will be dismantled and rebuilt. 

With the details of that plan pending, the commission voted to give the project a certificate of appropriateness stipulating that the developer return at a later date with details regarding the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, Harris Bay has put the highly anticipated Essex Modern City site on the market and turned its attention to the Tobin Hill neighborhood just north of downtown.

Harris has assembled land along West Josephine Street with plans for a mixed-use residential development with 1,000 multifamily housing units, double the number already in the works in the Pearl area. The developer has submitted requests to the city for rezoning.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission approved the developer’s request for continuance on those requests while he works to gain the support of area residents for the plan. 

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...