As we all drag collective ass into the new year, it’s nice to nostalgize about a time not so long ago when Austin’s “hotel shortage” was something people worried about. That’s certainly not the case these days, with thousands of new rooms either built, underway, or planned across town.
Outside of your Fairmonts and Homewoods and other major chains, there are roughly 17 boutique hotels in the city according to the Google search I just did, and it’s a national trend that’s a particularly obvious fit for a city with so much cultural cache — I know Austin’s cool and all, but have you heard the way people from other cities talk about this place?
Anyhow, back in 2015 we heard that the folks behind Chicago’s Guesthouse Hotel planned to build its second location on South Congress Avenue. Now that the 79-room, “extended-stay style” hotel’s site plan has entered the review stage of the city’s permitting process, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at this project and its unique site, which I think genuinely might be the oddest location for a boutique hotel the city’s seen yet.
2510 South Congress Avenue is the narrow canvas for this development, a 1.53-acre property currently occupied at the front end by a shuttered Chinese food drive-thru with some truly awful Yelp reviews. It’s a good two miles out of central downtown, located behind the H-E-B at the corner of South Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street.
You can learn a lot about the state of a neighborhood via the appearance of its closest H-E-B, and this location is designated as “scary” by the Judgmental Map of Austin. Perhaps a more respectful way to put it would be that this particular intersection isn’t as gentrified as other areas of South Congress Avenue.
Other than the grocery store, all you’ll find in the immediate area is single-story shopping centers and fast food — although I guess there is a pretty nice boot store just down the street. It’s not an overwhelmingly economically depressed or unfriendly part of town, but it’s absolutely a bit of a strange place for a moderately swanky-looking hotel. Still, I’m not getting paid for my stupid opinions, so let’s roll:
Designed by the locals at Levy Architects, the Guesthouse Hotel certainly looks the part in the renderings we see here — you can tell how skinny the building is to accommodate the unique constraints of its location.
The project’s 79 rooms will range from one to three bedrooms total, which the hotel’s developers say is part of the brand’s orientation towards family and business travel needs. The building’s plans include a pool, rooftop deck, coffee bar, and all the other amenities you might expect from a mid-range boutique brand. As you would imagine with such a small site, the hotel will include underground parking.
It’s not a particularly walkable area, and the location is farther south than any hotel of this variety that isn’t hugging I-35. It’s Austin, so you build with what you’ve got, but I’m still curious on how the developers settled on the property.
They’re probably banking on the gentrification of the general area continuing, which isn’t a very risky bet, but I still can’t get over the oddness of this site — and the two guys drinking beers behind the H-E-B while I took the above photo agreed with me.
Anyway, the project’s been dealing with a couple points of opposition from its neighbors for a few years now, mostly due to concerns about noise, traffic, and alcohol consumption. The property’s neighbor directly to the south is a former motel — hey, imagine that — now home to a church with a seemingly massive need to house its congregation. Due to the large number of people living at the site, concerns about noise are a bit more prominent than they might usually be at a church that isn’t continuously occupied.
Due to its tight spaces, the project’s developer KRUG successfully sought a couple of variance wavers in its city permitting process for certain design features, with some additional considerations seemingly intended to soothe any ruffled feathers in regards to noise:
Section 25-2-1067(F) Design Regulations. The first variance is to allow an intensive recreational use be placed within 50’ of properties zoned SF-3-NP. The Guesthouse Hotel proposes to add a small swimming pool and three small cabanas in the rear of the site outside of the 25’ No Build Line, but within 50’ setback. The edge of the pool is approximately 30’ from the closest SF-3-NP lot line.
In addition to a 6’ perimeter privacy fence and landscape berm at the edge of the property, the hotel is proposing to construct a 10’ high acoustic wall around the pool area. This wall will mitigate sound and block any views of the pool and prevent our Guests from seeing any of the surrounding homes. The pool hours will be from 9 am – 10:00 pm to minimize disturbance to the neighbors.
The hotel will construct a 6’ privacy fence and plantings at the edge of the property, to prevent headlights from shining on to the church property. This drive will provide access to underground parking as well as provide emergency access for the fire department. Basement parking will reduce the noise levels and eliminate possible issues with headlights for the adjacent church property. This driveway location will also push the proposed building to the north, 31’ from the church property; 6’ further than required by City Code.
— KRUG Development
I hope that’s enough to make this oddball project fit into the neighborhood — who knows, maybe this is what it takes to get a new H-E-B!