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Planning Commission recommends downtown hotel project

Monday, February 2, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

The Austin Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended that City Council approve an 18-story, 300-room Westin hotel project planned for the corner of Third and Colorado streets. The developer, Hixon Properties of San Antonio, is requesting a CURE overlay which would increase the Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) from 8:1 to 12:1.


Attorney Steve Drenner with Drenner & Golden said CURE overlays have been granted “fairly routinely.”  City staff seemed to agree, saying the City Council has a policy to densify the Central Business District, especially with vertical development like the hotel, which would not be in the Capital View Corridor.


Although media reports have called the hotel by the Westin brand name for the past year, Drenner said last week that the company has not finalized its deal to manage the downtown property.


The hotel is being designed by noted Texas architects Lake/Flato, the design team behind the oft-praised Hotel San Jose and would emphasize public space. The hotel will have plenty of balconies, a courtyard on the fourth floor and a 3,000-square-foot restaurant.  “If this was a limited-service hotel with 300 rooms, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Drenner told the commission. “But in order to provide the public space that is key to this hotel, we do need the FAR increase.”


The streetscapes bordering the hotel, on both Third and Colorado, will follow the guidelines of the “Great Streets” program. There will be parallel parking and sidewalks on both streets, as well as underground parking.  The alleyway going through the property will remain an open thoroughfare in order to accommodate delivery trucks. 


Drenner told the commission that balconies are “a large part of this design. . . many buildings you see downtown have an active ground floor but then it goes cold.” He stressed that this particular design would fit in with the Warehouse District. The below-grade parking lot would add an estimated million dollars to the cost and the “Great Streets” design would add another $75,000.  Drenner said the design team “resisted the temptation to ask for a closure of that alley” in order to maintain the street grid.


Drenner said the Design Commission, the Downtown Commission and the DAA had all approved the project, since the underground parking would prevent the sort of traffic jams that plague the Driskill.


Drenner also pointed out that the hotel occupancy tax had potential to benefit the larger community. He said “this kicks off a significant amount of revenue that goes directly into the betterment of the community.” Of the nearly $1.5 million in taxes that would go to the city, $750,000 would go to the convention center; $175,000 to the arts fund; $240,000 to Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau; and $330,000 to the convention center and Waller Creek.


The hotel would sink another $1 million into achieving a LEED Silver designation. Drenner also had a list of other positive numbers for the project; he estimated that the hotel would create 175 jobs and that guests would spend $4.75 million annually. Commissioners voted 8-0 in favor of recommendation.

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