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Review Board postpones decision on larger signs for downtown hotel

Friday, July 12, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Sign Review Board was unimpressed with a request to install massive illuminated signs at a downtown hotel, despite assurances that they would be tasteful.


The Hampton Inn and Suites at 200 San Jacinto was seeking a variance that would allow it to increase the number and size of projecting signs currently on the building,


The variance would allow the owners to increase the projecting, or illuminated, signs from one to two. It would also increase the sign area quite a bit – from 35 square feet to 88 square feet in one case, and from 35 square feet to 165 square feet in another.


The board voted unanimously on Monday to postpone the case until its August 12 meeting, with Chair Jeff Jack recused. The board asked the applicant to take that time to work out compromises with the neighboring Hyatt Hotel and the Four Seasons Residences and speak with the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association about the proposal.


“That might sound like a lot of square footage, but up on a twenty-story building, it really isn’t very much,” said Bill Teal, with the Chandler Sign Company out of Dallas. “Hampton Inn and Suites is a lot of lettering to get on a sign, I think the ordinance calls for a 35-square-foot sign – that would be fine for a one-story or two-story building, but when you are in the hotel business, signs are critical.”


Adam Levinson, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Four Seasons Residences Home Owners’ Association, spoke against the variance. He pointed out the city had been encouraging downtown residential density like those at the Four Seasons.


“Allowing an extreme variance, like the Hampton Inn’s request, would be a substantial step backward for positive developments, and a slap in the face to the pioneers like the Four Seasons Residences,” said Levinson.


Levinson said his board objected to the variance because it was too large, and had the potential to create an “arms race” downtown, with every hotel competing for larger and larger signs. He noted the increase in signage was more than 450 percent, and could “set a dangerous precedent for those of us that wish to keep downtown Austin beautiful.”


Teal told the board that the newly constructed Hyatt Place Hotel and Whitley apartment building had obscured the sign on the north side of the building, making it difficult for guests coming from that direction to locate the hotel. Teal said that guests were confused by the lack of sign and building similarity to the Hyatt, leaving them circling the block in search of the Hampton Inn.


“The building has disappeared behind these two towers when coming from the north,” said Board Alternate Will Schnier. “But when someone is at Eighth and San Jacinto and looking for 200 San Jacinto, that’s not hard math to do.”


However, Schnier said he thought the addition of two signs was excessive, and asked the applicant to speak to the Hyatt about a compromise.


“Following the guidelines on the ordinance would definitely work a hardship on the hotel,” said Teal, who explained the signs were designed in good taste.


Levinson saw it a different way, warning that should sign sizes be allowed to run amok downtown Austin would quickly be transformed into a Las Vegas where it is “all signs, all the time.” 


Levinson said that he would be willing to compromise with the applicant to ensure any new signs were a reasonable brightness and size. He also said that one new sign should be adequate to help motorists locate the hotel.

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