A Grand Return? Um, Maybe.
For as long as I can recall, the Dallas Grand Hotel has been neither grand nor much of a hotel. Last time I stepped foot in the place, my brother was in town from Norman for Texas-OU -- this was in the early 1990s -- and it already had one foot planted in the grave. It's been closed for years, and during its final days it was but a shadow of a shell of its former self -- the Statler Hilton, which opened 51 years ago and bore the impressive imprimatuer of architect William B. Tabler. As you'll note here, the hotel at one time boasted 710 guest rooms and a rooftop jacuzzi with an enviable view of the city, just two of its many impressive features.
When Unfair Park HQ'd on Commerce Street, we spent many days walking by the building and lamenting its sad fate -- the cracked windows through which we espied abandoned desks and broken chairs and dusty floors and torn draperies. Just last night I was e-mailed, out of the blue, these photos of the hotel's interior -- and it looks like something out of a horror movie, especially this shot of a commode that looks as though it was coughed up from the bowels of hell. "The place looks haunted inside," a downtown real-estate-developing friend told me two years ago, "with everything left the way it was on the last day it was open." God, I hope not. The foreigners who owned the place promised something and delivered nothing except rot and decay -- though, perhaps, that's about to change.
Via Harvard Companies CEO Randall Turner's site, which has been linked to repeatedly in recent days, we learn that "a California Investor is negotiating to purchase the building that once housed the Grand Hotel and restore it to a first class, historic hotel." Also, he wrote late last week, "The new investor has also contracted to buy the adjoining former Dallas Public Library building and a nearby parking garage."
Turner, whose company specializes in downtown real estate, tells Unfair Park this morning there's actually little that can be done to restore the hotel to its former glory -- something numerous architects have told me over the years. After all, the ceilings are impossibly low -- under 8 feet -- and the rooms don't even have central air conditioning; they were cooled using wall units, as evidenced by the photo above. Turner mentions one option we've often heard as well: turning the former Grand Hotel into affordable apartments, in the few-hundred-dollar range.
But this morning, Turner says he's sure of one thing: The deal's darned near done. Now, we've heard this for years, and always the outsiders who own the place want too much and wind up doing nothing with the rotting joint. The hotel's owned by Far East Consortium International Limited, which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands. In its 2005 annual report, the FECIL listed among its holdings both the hotel at 1914 Commerce (it's actually on the Dallas County Appraisal District records as 1902 Commerce) and the former library, at 1954 Commerce. DCAD lists the Grand Hotel's value at 3,500,000; the old library's actually worth much more: $7,017,140.
I've had no luck reaching FECIL over the last few days; they've been notoriously difficult to reach for years. Redeveloping the hotel makes tremendous sense, of course: It is, after all, right across the street from the Main Street Garden, the reason all those dilapidated buildings along Commerce Street have been razed. Of course, one could ask what Dallas needs with another luxury hotel -- everyone else is. And, um, what about a convention center hotel? Heh. --Robert Wilonsky