The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) has approved, with some stipulations, construction of a nine-story hotel at the La Villita site of the 19th-century German-English School and an adjacent parking lot.
With conceptual approval from the HDRC granted Wednesday, Indiana-based White Lodging, which owns, develops, and manages hotels, can move forward on its proposal to connect a hotel to the southernmost building of the historic school, which will become a restaurant and bar.
However, a representative of the Conservation Society of San Antonio read at Wednesday’s meeting a statement from its president, Patti Zaiontz, that said the group disagrees with City staff who regard the structure’s size and scale appropriate for the site. The Conservation Society also stated concerns about the north façade of the building and its impact on the historic district.
White Lodging submitted an application to HDRC seeking approval to construct the hotel tower at 423 S. Alamo St., a nearly one-acre parcel between the Marriott Plaza San Antonio and the historic school buildings, and across the street from Hemisfair. A White Lodging partnership that goes by the name Sauto Hotel II purchased the property in August. According to tax records, the City of San Antonio sold the property to an investor, HH San Antonio, in 2016.
Construction is expected to start in late 2020, said Mike Banas, a spokesman for White Lodging, and take up to two years.
“Austin is a major market for White Lodging, and we see San Antonio as a growth market for us,” Banas said in an email. “We purchased the Marriott Plaza San Antonio earlier this year and now are proposing this new project on the site that’s currently being used as surface-level parking.”
Project designs “bridge old and new,” he added, with the tower featuring 275 hotel rooms, a rooftop pool and bar, and two attached one-story structures that will serve as the entrance to the hotel and to the restaurant. The restaurant will occupy one of the school buildings, which is currently used by the Marriott as event and meeting space.
The courtyard that exists between the former school buildings is also considered historic for its role as the site of the 1992 ceremonial signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. That space will be transformed into an outdoor seating area with a bar. The second school building is to be used as event and meeting space, according to plan documents.
“The boutique hotel project seeks to transform an existing parking lot into a destination, not only for travelers but for locals alike,” said Aubrey Hartman, vice president at HKS, a Dallas-based architecture firm that is designing the project.
“We are very interested in maintaining and continuing the character and the charm of the La Villita neighborhood into our project. Throughout the process, we have studied the scale, the character, the massing, the open public spaces that exist in La Villita today – and tried to pull those into our project and help those guide the way that we think about massing, materiality, scale, and open space.”
Positioned as far from the historic structures as possible, Hartman said, the proposed tower will be 110 feet tall. Several hotels line that stretch of South Alamo Street, including the Marriott Plaza, which is 155 feet tall, and the Hilton Palacio del Rio, which is 217 feet tall. A hotel tower (145 feet) and mixed-use office tower (180 feet) are planned for Hemisfair property in Civic Park, a block northeast of the site.
“Thinking about the scale and character, we have heavily studied these notions of massing and organization and pulled them into our project and again illustrating here that the guestroom tower, which is the highest part of the project, is pulled as far away as possible from the historic properties,” Hartman said.
Also during the HDRC meeting, one citizen spoke angrily against both the hotel project and the Alamo Plaza redevelopment plan simultaneously, claiming the La Villita site is an Indian burial ground. An archaeology study, as required by the unified development code, is already underway at the site, said a representative from White Lodging.
HDRC commissioners voted unanimously for conceptual approval of the project as long as the developer complies with City staff recommendations, including ensuring that modifications do not damage historic elements, that connecting structures could be removed without damaging historic structures, and that the applicant submits both a landscaping and site lighting plan when returning to HDRC for final approval.
Banas said White Lodging is also evaluating and considering applying for developer incentives for the project.