A few years back, the Statesman was reporting on the hotel shortage in downtown Austin (link).
Given the boom of events happening in downtown, it was convenient to frame the “shortage” in the context of the Convention Center lobbying for expansion and how the hotel market had been steadily climbing to a fever pitch.
Notably absent from the discussion were short term rentals in downtown Austin, as STRs are prohibited in just about every single condo building downtown, and city approved STR licenses are limited even within the building that does allow it.
And, while the new inventory should have provided breathing room, it seemed to stoke a fire in the belly of the old guard of downtown Austin hotel operators. Everybody wants the biggest piece of the pie of this expanding market, and they’re ready put some dollars down to get it.
When the commercial market began recovering a couple of years back, we observed announcements for one new hotel after another, and mystifyingly there continues to be news of more on the way: the Austin Proper project, a hotel project that will also have a condo component.
Among this new wave of hotels that are now complete, nearing completion, or anticipated to begin construction are:
- The vast JW Marriott (1,012 guest rooms);
- The boutique Hotel Van Zandt with its “when we get around to it” approach to construction schedules and its quirky Geraldine’s concept (319 guest rooms);
- The Fairmont and its innovative “sky bridge” to the Convention Center (delivers 2017, 1,066 guest rooms)
- The shiny new Hyatt Place at Brazos & 3rd (296 guest rooms);
- The contentious Hyatt House, Holiday Inn, and Hotel Indigo concepts in the Red River district;
- The highly anticipated but who-really-knows-when-it-will-get-built Hotel Zaza across from Republic Square Park (160 guest rooms);
- The Westin – coyly nodding to locals with the restaurant concept “San Jac” (similar to what Van Zandt and the Radisson seem to be doing) and live music themed décor, (366 guest rooms).
- Aloft/Element – corner of Congress & 7th Street, (410 rooms)
Westin Interiors / Art First Look & Renderings
(they were still undergoing construction – that’s why the boxes in some of the pics)
Altogether, these new hotel towers are adding a plethora of new rooms for nightly rent in downtown Austin (over 3,000 rooms in the last 10 years, per a Q4 2014 press release from the Hilton), and existing hotels are getting competitive with a renovation arms race.
We’ve recently started to see older hotels significantly up their game with costly upgrades and make-overs.
The downtown Hilton Austin on E. 5th, always ahead of the curve and artfully envisioning all of new shiny hotels on the horizon threw a mammoth, first-class event in the fourth quarter of 2014 to celebrate not only their established 10-year run of business, but also to relaunch their brand (“Capital”) and show-off the $22 MILLION worth of improvements to their 800 guest rooms, executive level, and pool / spa areas. I was at the gala – it was stunning, and effective. It was clear that The Hilton was a downtown Austin institution, and would not be meekly standing by as the flashy newbies started to pop up. Here are some choice pics of the newly renovated Skyline Spa (previously known as the Tower Spa). 5 Fifty-Five Condos residents who opt in to the amenities also get to enjoy these new renovations.
In their January 2015 story, Community Impact reported that the Hyatt Regency, just south of downtown, revamped their already enormous ballroom and added a new parking garage in 2014. The Omni downtown refreshed their look just a couple years ago, too.
Hotel Ella (previously The Mansion on Judges Hill), sitting on the northern edge of downtown Austin, also recently undertook a complete rebranding and updated their facilities and rooms, along with a change of management. It’s elegant, and if you are looking for a space to host a tasteful, smaller wedding – I would definitely recommend looking into this location.
Hyatt acquired the historic Driskill hotel in 2013 and did an $8MM revamp of the interior, too.
And, though likely not as strategic and certainly not as substantial of a move, the Radisson’s replacement of the majorly lame and exceedingly dull TGI Fridays with the ultra hip, hyper-local and upscale Chavez restaurant concept (UPDATE: Chavez is now Dine). to their hotel space was also an extreme upgrade and statement that made people actually remember that there is a Radisson in downtown Austin.
Additionally, we’ve seen applications for two new renovation permits of existing hotels in just the last couple of weeks. The Holiday Inn on I-35, adjacent to Ladybird lake near the Rainey Street District has applied for permits relating to exterior facade work, an interior remodel, and a 382 sf expansion of their fitness center. The Hampton Inn on 2nd and San Jacinto is also apparently planning an interior remodel, along with revamping of its breakfast area. We’re sure to see more of this on the way.
While all the growth and change can be exciting, we have to remember there are growing pains.
A boutique hotel concept just east of downtown on Cesar Chavez was recently shut down by the City due to 11th hour neighborhood protests, even though there had been initial neighborhood support, the locations were just blocks away from I-35 and nearby existing commercial uses, and owners had reportedly bent over backwards to accommodate each and every request of stakeholder groups.
Then, last week, two revered local music venues, The Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlies, rallied public outcry against the new Hyatt Hotel project construction behind their sites. (Hyatt – careful that you don’t kill the golden goose.)
The clash between commercial development and local live music / bar venues in downtown Austin is not new. In 2010, DowntownAustinBlog.org wrote an article on Echotone, a film exploring this emotionally charged issue. You can read the 2010 DAB article here.
It can be frustrating to see big-money hotels sprout up throughout Austin, often with a tone-deaf plan that ignores what makes their location interesting. All the while the most interesting local boutique concepts get shut down by neighborhood groups in the periphery of downtown.
C’est la Vie! These are first world problems. On one hand it’s all very exciting, but on the other hand – it’s sometimes like watching how sausage is made. Growth is not always smooth and rarely pretty.