Oct. 16--A 10-story hotel could replace three historic, but decaying, buildings that line East Houston Street downtown.
The Historic Design and Review Commission on Wednesday will consider the construction of a 126-room Hilton Garden Inn at 408 E. Houston St., between The Ticket sports bar and Maverick Apartments on the corners of Losoya and Presa streets, respectively.
Development firm Baywood Hotels first won approval for the project five years ago, though the original design called for 14 stories to provide room for parking. The hotel will feature valet parking instead, a rooftop pool and a glass-encased lobby that extends over the Houston Street sidewalk, according to designs filed with the HDRC.
Construction could start as early as the first quarter of 2014, with the Hilton Garden Inn set to open in early 2015, said BJ Patel, vice president of finance and development for Baywood Hotels.
The firm originally partnered with Aloft Hotels to brand the property, but that proposal fell through as the Great Recession took its toll on the construction and hospitality industry.
"We definitely understand the ups and downs of the economy, and that was kind of ground zero at that time," Patel said of the downtown hotel market. "We had to wait for the storm to kind of clear, and obviously it has now.
"The downtown market's doing well again," he added.
Baywood Hotels owns a handful of hotels in downtown, including the Home2 Suites by Hilton in the former South Texas Building, the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in the former Neisner building, and the Holiday Inn Express in the old Bexar County Jail. It's also the company behind the hotel under construction at 411 S. Flores St., site of the former Ace Mart store.
Currently, the space at 408 E. Houston St. houses three vacant buildings that have served as commercial space for numerous businesses since at least 1885, according to Beth Standifird, librarian for the San Antonio Conservation Society. A string of candy, cigar and hat stores opened and closed there, as did several women's clothing retailers.
In 2007, the HDRC approved the demolition of the existing buildings after determining they had lost their original significance and most of their original material. One year later, commissioners approved the 14-story hotel design to replace the landmarks, which sit within Alamo Plaza Historic District.
The Conservation Society, which aims to protect the city's historical sites, sent a letter to HDRC members in 2007, stating it would not contest the demolition of the East Houston Street buildings.
"We have concluded that faÃ§ade changes, exterior wall rebuilding and interior wall relocation changes to the building ... have destroyed its architectural integrity," the letter reads. "The building at 408 East Houston retains more historic materials, but its faÃ§ade has been significantly modified from its historic period."
The organization's current president, Sue Ann Pemberton, wasn't available Tuesday to answer questions about its position on the latest hotel plan for the site.
On Friday, Baywood's proposal won the city staff's recommendation, though HDRC members may attach stipulations to the project before they grant final approval.
At issue remains the construction of a driveway and queuing area on Houston Street to ease traffic through the hotel's so-called "jump lobby," where guests can quickly unload passengers and luggage before they check in at registration in the upstairs lobby.
City staff recommended that architect Ignacio Aliaga, of WestEast Design Group, center the driveway between two columns to provide better pedestrian circulation. He had preferred adding a queuing area on Houston Street, but city staff said that would reduce the width of the sidewalk for pedestrian use.
"Maybe (Wednesday) I'll see if the stipulation can go the other way, so we can get both and avoid the traffic issue on Houston Street," Aliaga said.
The HDRC meets Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the board room of the Development and Business Services Center at 1901 S. Alamo.
Express-News Staff Writer Benjamin Olivo contributed to this report.