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Cityscrapes: One More Hotel

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A map from a 2010 Powerpoint presentation to the City detailing plans for HemisFair development

The simple answer is, not well. After the Hyatt opened in 2008, the city saw slightly more than 736,000 convention room nights in 2010. But the number dropped to 637,593 in 2011, and 635,829 in 2012. The lingering effects of the recession certainly have made a difference. Yet the reality is that San Antonio is now seeing decidedly fewer convention room nights than the 724,882 it garnered in 1998 — before the opening of the last convention center expansion, before the “revitalization” of Houston Street, before the extension of the River Walk, and yes, before the Grand Hyatt.

And how did the City’s downtown planning consultants see the impact of this great boom in hotel development? The official word from the HR&A consulting firm in the “Center City Strategic Framework Plan” from December 2011 is that “downtown has experienced an imbalance of uses: hotels and visitor-centric retail are now the dominant businesses, not only in the immediate core of downtown, but also along many of the area’s major corridors.” HR&A went on to recommend that “creating a framework that allows other sectors of real estate to prosper, especially residential, will re-center the balance of residents to visitors and local-serving businesses to visitor-catering hospitality.” That means we don’t really want or need more hotels downtown if our real goal is a healthy, vibrant core.

We’re left with the question: why put a 26-story hotel tower atop Joske’s, a sensitive site adjacent to Alamo Plaza? Is it really to give downtown a “shot in the arm” as one local developer suggested, or according to Ben Brewer of the Downtown Alliance, to avoid sending a “negative message.” Nope, that’s not it. It’s really about desperately trying to accommodate yet another out-of-town developer, and attempting to aid the fortunes of a failing downtown mall, while supporting the legion of present and former city staffers and lobbyists dedicated to making development deals “work” even as they threaten our most valued sites. And as the “deal” to make two prime sites of HemisFair Plaza available for new private development — that almost certainly translates to “hotel” — at the corner of Alamo and Market Streets moves ahead in the state legislature, look for even more grand rhetoric and promises for one (or two) more hotels.

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