Chris Hill, owner of The Esquire Tavern on Commerce Street, in the heart of downtown San Antonio, will meet with the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission this week on a proposal to build a $45 million, 18-story hotel near his popular bar/restaurant. The plan, which involves a design from local firm Lake/Flato Architects, calls for the demolition of one structure at the corner of St. Mary’s and Commerce, a building that has sat vacant for at least 30 years. It was once the Mortgage Investment Corp./Sullivan Bank, dating back to the 1950s. The plan for the new hotel also calls for restoring a much older structure next door, a mid-1800s building that has been commonly called the Fish Market. The restored building would be incorporated into a new glass façade. The hotel complex would stand 200 feet tall and contain 197 rooms, totaling 114,767 square feet, and offer 7,600 square feet of retail and dining space, some of which would link to the River Walk.
An existing cistern that presently faces the River Walk would be incorporated into the new development to support a second-story balcony. The new development, as currently proposed, would also have a cantilevered portion of the hotel with the third through sixth floors sticking out from the rest of the tower. Hill bought the two buildings next to The Esquire for $2.2 million in 2013 from a New York investment group. Those two structures are considered historic landmarks. However, according to city staff, Hill and his professional partners claim they would not be able to develop an economically viable project on property without razing at least one of the vacant buildings and adding modern density to the site.
When Hill meets with the HDRC at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Development and Business Services Center, 1901 S. Alamo St., he must prove it too costly to keep as-is or even rehabilitate the Mortgage Investment building. In a recent San Antonio Express-News story, Hill said he previously considered an apartment complex for the site, but acknowledged there’s neither enough parking nor enough physical space on the property to support such a development.
Hill has not yet revealed to what extent the kinds of amenities the new hotel, if approved, could offer. While there’s a plethora of hotel rooms either already in existence or coming online in and around downtown, some industry analysts say there’s space for more hotel rooms in the city’s center core. Based on a recent survey by the Urban Land Institute-San Antonio, at the least, limited-service hotels is one of the top three investment prospects in local development this year, along with warehouse/industrial and central city office space.