Being on the Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) must get tiring in the way a parent gets tired of a child who expects an OK for sitting down with a gallon of ice cream and a spoon … every day. Developers go before the OLC to present their arguments for a “gallon of ice cream” development to be blessed. They do this because they know that while they’re entitled to two scoops, they want three and would jump for joy at four. The gallon is just a starting point to ensure they don’t get two or … gasp … one scoop.
There are two hotels courting Uptown these days. The Dream and a Marriott. The Dream got there first with their gallon and got a list of items to ratchet back on. They returned to the OLC and seemingly checked the OLC’s items off their design. The end result appears to be a compromise that’s likely more than the OLC wanted but a whole lot less than the gallon.
First, to clarify, it’s not Marriott making the request. It’s Alamo Manhattan who will build and own the hotel that will be managed by Marriott for a specified period of time (perhaps decades). Alamo Manhattan recently made their first case for a gallon of development, spilling out like melting ice cream on many zoning criteria.
I think Alamo Manhattan knew they wouldn’t get most of it … but maybe some of the spillage. And it’s nearing Christmas and loading up your wish list for Santa … or the OLC … is time-honored.
Tuesday, they returned with their second iteration where they checked a lot of the OLC boxes. However, there’s still more melted ice cream to mop up.
Do I have a problem with new hotels in Uptown? Not at all. It’s booming with office space and business folk do travel. Ditto the residential influx and their out-of-town guests. Today options are somewhat limited. Will new properties suck some business away from current hotels? Probably. Will new properties increase competition and make existing properties renovate and improve? Yes. Is there simply organic growth in the area that would be better served by more hotel rooms? Yes.
The existing hotel placed in that competitive hot seat will be The Stoneleigh (A Starwood-managed property that’s now part of Marriott). This new Marriott will be located on Fairmount between Wolf and Carlisle on the backside of Nick & Sam’s … the block kitty-corner to the Stoneleigh. The arrangement sets up an orphan lot at Fairmount and Wolf owned by James French Photography. I can’t imagine Alamo Manhattan didn’t try and buy the lot and when (never ‘if”) the Nick & Sam’s lot redevelops, they’re trapped. It reminds me of those old houses at Payne and Harwood that have too little land to do anything with. As Kenny said, you’ve got to “know when to fold ‘em.”
What Do They Want?
The current proposal calls for 221 hotel rooms, 3,500 square feet of restaurant, 12,000 square feet each for meeting rooms and an outdoor deck (with pool).
The spillage for this a property:
- 110 feet taller than is currently allowed (230 versus 120)
- Floor area ratio (FAR) nearly tripled from 2.0 to 5.95 (Mostly a result of added height)
(Note: FAR can be confusing. It’s basically the ratio of a building’s total floor space to the size of the lot. For example, if a lot was 10,000 square feet with an FAR of 2.0, a 20,000 square foot building could be built. The lots in question total roughly 30,712 square feet. An FAR 5.75 nets a 174,000-square-foot building versus a 60,344-square-foot one at current FAR levels.)
- Setback reduction from 25 feet to 10 feet (Big, justifiable stink)
- Lot coverage upped to 85 percent from 80 percent (not a huge deal)
The prior iteration had valet parking encroaching onto Fairmount Street. This would’ve caused a conga line of cars entering/exiting valet parking for every pharmaceutical sales meeting, bat mitzvah and regional Tupperware convention. The OLC slapped their wrist and the latest proposal dropped that, placing valet and car staging inside the building.
The OLC is still pushing for completely underground parking … something that, frankly should be a given these days. The OLC should just tape a note to the door, “Do NOT Enter With an Above-Ground Parking Garage.”
What Do I Think?
Of the spillage items, height rarely scares me. The FAR is something more complex. In essence, doubling the height of the building doesn’t account for tripling of FAR. The five percent increase in lot coverage is a minor addition. I suspect the tower occupies more of the lot than envisioned. Were this residential, I’d be concerned about feeling too close to neighboring buildings, but as it’s a hotel, it doesn’t matter much … no one’s visiting Uptown for mountain or sea views.
I’m also surprised they’re sticking with the 10’ setback instead of the 25’ within zoning. That they made no movement here suggests this is their key gets … along with height and FAR increases.
The underground parking is another key for the neighborhood. I think we’re all getting tired of giant boxes of above-ground parking hogging up what could be a more neighborhood-friendly street and landscape.
On the upside, they’ll be burying the utilities so the poll and wire-scape will go away (always a good thing). They’re also talking about an additional outdoor living room on the Carlisle Street side. I’m not sure how many people will actually utilize this, but the added landscape space is a good thing.
I suppose my biggest concern is the banality of the overall design. I’d swear I’ve seen this design before. I suspect were we to look in Marriott’s corral of hotels, we’d see any number of nearly exact replicas of this design. It smacks of purpose-built fast food joints that can’t escape their original usage after being repurposed. I mean, who can’t spot an old Taco Bell or a Pizza Hut even after it’s been turned into a dry cleaners or a spookily a non-Taco Bell Mexican restaurant?
Architecture as branding I think is a bridge too far. Hire architects who build different, wonderful buildings, not a building I’ll know from blocks away is a Marriott without having seen the signage. Or worse, something I’ll think of as an “old Marriott” once it’s no longer a Marriott-branded hotel.
I doubt this has much to do with Alamo Manhattan and everything to do with Marriott’s corporate imperative for predictability and monotony.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.