The Joske's building located in downtown San Antonio.
The Joske's building is located in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A Dallas developer’s reported plans for one of San Antonio’s most historic downtown blocks appear to echo a failed 2013 proposal to top the landmark Joske’s building with a high-rise hotel.

On Monday and Tuesday, local news reports showed plans for a 14-story hotel stacked on top of the Joske’s building and within steps of Alamo Plaza.

JMJ Development, reports stated, wants to build a hotel on the 131-year-old Joske’s building at the Shops at Rivercenter, which is owned by Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation of New York. One report also states the development would be a Hard Rock Hotel.

But the Dallas-based developer, reached by phone Tuesday morning, would not confirm those plans, and told the Rivard Report that details published in a San Antonio Express-News article are not accurate. “We don’t know anything,” a spokeswoman said.

An email exchange between Express-News reporter Richard Webner and JMJ spokeswoman Kimberly Rhodes posted on Twitter following publication of this article contradicts the developer’s claim to the Rivard Report, stating the project would be a Hard Rock Hotel.

The developer has not yet filed paperwork with the City, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Rivard Report Wednesday.

Five years ago, another Dallas developer, BC Realty, proposed a 23-story hotel stacked atop the former Joske’s department store in a partnership with Shops at Rivercenter owner Ben Ashkenazy.

Conservationists staunchly opposed the project, and the U.S. National Park Service and others warned it could jeopardize the city’s chances of securing World Heritage status for San Antonio’s Spanish-colonial Missions. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee awarded the Missions the prestigious designation in July 2015.

The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission‘s (HDRC) recommended denying approval for the project even after the developer limited the structure’s height to 10 stories. Though the reduced-scale project had the support of City Manager Sheryl Sculley, it did not move forward.

San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association Chairman Justin Holley said the new proposal for a luxury hotel in that location presents an opportunity to attract more business travel to the city.

“If it’s a full-service, higher-end luxury hotel, it could benefit us,” Holley said. “We have such a variety of hotels in the city, but not a lot of luxury hotels, so when big conventions come here they look for that variety, and that’s probably the missing link. When you look at the overall landscape of downtown, we could potentially absorb something like that.”

But Susan Beavin, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, who said the news caught her by surprise on Monday, says her organization will fight the project as currently proposed.

“I just don’t think that’s an appropriate space [for a building of that height],” Beavin said. “If it’s four or five stories, then that might be totally different. Because there’s nothing else around it that’s that height until you go to the Convention Center. But there, where you have the Menger and Crockett [hotels], there’s nothing of that scale.”

Beavin said she wasn’t yet sure how such a structure could affect the San Antonio Missions’ status as a World Heritage site. But with all eyes on the Alamo redevelopment plan, she said a controversial hotel development could divert attention away from that project.

JMJ Development was founded by Timothy Barton in 1990 as a privately held real estate firm known for developing luxury residences and commercial projects in the United States and around the world. The Dallas-based firm is currently planning a high-rise apartment tower on the River Walk at Villita Street and Jack White Way.

Barton has worked on Donald Trump projects for years, according to a Forbes article about his work on a “fake” Trump tower in Russia, and JMJ Hospitality was named as developer for a proposed Le Diamond Ivana Trump project that was shelved in 2009.

In recent years, Ashkenazy has been bringing more entertainment venues to the downtown mall, including Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center, planned for 2019. The 1,000-room Marriott Rivercenter Hotel anchors one end of the mall. Ashkenazy did not respond to requests for more information about the planned hotel.

The Hard Rock organization has been focusing more on its hotel and casino business, and less on its restaurants, since opening a Hard Rock Hotel in New York City in 2016, and most recently in Atlantic City. The company website lists 21 hotels in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, with two more coming soon to Atlanta and Hartford, Connecticut.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.