In the three years since a hotel tower was planned for the lot next door to St. Mary’s Catholic Church downtown, the developer has modified the design and increased the height from 14 floors to 17.
On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission approved the new plan for the proposed Hotel Sul Fiume on property owned by the historic church.
The 193-guestroom hotel will be built adjacent to the San Antonio River Walk at 202 N. St. Mary’s St. and across the street from the Drury Inn and Suites and the Marriott Courtyard, and kitty-corner from the newer Canopy by Hilton hotel.
The commission had previously granted conceptual approval for a 14-story, 147-room hotel in May 2020. The latest plan increases the height from 174 feet to 203 feet, not including the river level.
Unlike other sections of the River Walk, there are no height restrictions under the Unified Development Code on buildings along that part of the river.
Sul Fiume is Italian for “on the river.”
Renderings show a hotel tower dwarfing the Romanesque-style church, which was built in 1924 after a flood destroyed the original church built in 1856.
Ownership of the land and church was transferred in 1885 by the bishop at the time to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a religious order that also owns the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio and various other missions around the world.
The hotel developer, an investor group known as SMS-SAR Hospitality that includes the Oblates, plans to demolish the 1966 rectory building to make way for the hotel.
San Francisco-based architecture firm Hornberger & Worstell designed the proposed hotel. Some elements in the New Formalist-style rectory building, including the quatrefoil cutouts, are reflected in the architecture.
The concerns commissioners had about the hotel in 2020 while reviewing plans for the river-level landscaping and retaining wall have been addressed in the new request, according to documents prepared for the panel.
City staff from the Office of Historic Preservation recommended approval of the 17-story hotel plans with the stipulation that curb cuts on North St. Mary’s Street be limited to no more than 25 feet wide and not result in a change of grade for pedestrian traffic.
On Wednesday, leaders of the Conservation Society of San Antonio spoke in opposition again, as they did in 2020, to planned changes to the River Walk walls where the hotel will be built.
“The hotel development for its River Walk frontage can be achieved without losing intact elements of the 1939 design by [architect Robert H.H.] Hugman,” said Kathy Krnavek, first vice president and assistant to the president of the Conservation Society. “We have lost too many original walls along the downtown River Walk within the past few years.”
An agent from SMS-SAR Hospitality and the project applicant, Anthony Byron, told the panel that work crews will be numbering each block removed from the walls so they can be replaced later.
“We’ve left the walls to the far east alone as much as possible where they abut to the La Mansion [Hotel],” he said. “We’re excited about the design, and again, this is not just a hotel. This is a revitalization of that one-block area.”
Two commissioners expressed concern about the height of the hotel in relation to the church and blocking views from the River Walk.
“What makes it seem exceptionally tall is its immediate neighbors,” said Commissioner Monica Savino, referring to the church and La Mansion.
But several other commissioners felt the new height was an improvement on the previous plan and voted to give it a certificate of appropriateness as they had almost three years ago.
“I commend you all for the shadow study being as clear as possible to show what the impacts are, and I concur that they’re minimal,” said Commissioner Scott Carpenter. “And I feel like the added floor levels actually helped the proportions of the building.”