Keep Hope Aloft: Digging Under Larry Hamilton's New Downtown Hotel

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After reading yesterday's story about the new aloft (yes, it’s a lowercase “a”) hotel project near the convention center, we called developer Larry Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Properties Corporation, to get the scoop on his latest project -- and, just maybe, shoehorn in some questions about the convention center hotel. Hamilton immediately pointed out that contrary to The Dallas Morning News piece, this is not just his project -- it’s a joint venture with Sava Holdings Ltd. of Irving. Hamilton also says it’s a $46-million project, not $34 million as referenced in The News.

Hamilton and Sava have plans to take the old building at 1033 Young Street and turn it into a 193-room aloft, which is a Starwood Hotel brand labeled “a vision of W Hotels.” There are only six open in the U.S. and one in Canada, but as you can see, Dallas is one of many cities with aloft hotels opening soon, with the one here scheduled to open in August 2009. “It will provide a downtown alternative with just as nice features and amenities as they have in Uptown,” Hamilton tells Unfair Park. (Frisco gets one, at 3202 Parkwood Boulevard, in January.)

The property, purchased in 1999 by Sava, is currently home to an old, vacated brick building, which was once a warehouse for the Santa Fe Railway. Suhas Naik, managing partner with Sava, says the exterior will remain similar, but it will obviously be cleaned up with new windows. Naik claims Sava held onto the property because of the lack of development downtown, but now that things are improving -- and because Hamilton stepped up as a partner -- doing the project made sense.

Included in the modern lobby will be an XYZ Bar, which will serve as a coffee area during morning hours. “Today people are looking for an experience,” Naik says, “With the aloft product, you’re able to get an experience for a small premium of $25 to $30 [per night].”

Hamilton, who submitted one of the six proposals to the city for a convention center hotel, says this project has no bearing on his proposal. In fact, he just closed on the purchase of an 84,000-square-foot parking lot on April 16 next to the aloft site, which will be used as part of his proposal. Presumably, this is the same property referenced by Mitchell Rasansky in the February 19 Economic Development Committee meeting, where he revealed Hamilton purchased the property for one-fifth the amount that the city is paying for the Chavez land.

When asked to confirm the purchase price, Hamilton balked, citing confidentiality. After some prodding, he said, “It’s a little less,” while laughing. “It’s quite a bit less.” He then said it was in the ballpark of 25 percent less per square foot than the Chavez property.

“Frankly, we think it’s a good idea for the city to get control of the Chavez site. We need to juice up that whole area,” Hamilton says. “But we think our site would be a good site too.”

Hamilton confirmed that there is an underground tunnel leading to the convention center under the site, but he has no idea what shape it’s in because both ends are sealed off with concrete.

“It’s something of an unknown,” he says. The site is smaller than what the city is hoping to use for the hotel on the Chavez property, but Hamilton says there are approximately 12,000 square feet of city streets that could potentially be vacated.

Since all six developers for the convention center hotel must submit a proposal using the Chavez land, you gotta wonder what someone with his own land thinks about that part of the city’s requirements. “Well, I’m not at liberty to respond to that because we’re supposed to stay silent,” Hamilton says. He added that he doesn’t know when the proposals will be released to the public. “We’ve submitted our package, and now we’re just sitting here waiting.”

I have a feeling no matter how good Hamilton’s proposal is using his own (and much cheaper) land, his only shot is to wow the city using the Chavez property. Because once the council votes Wednesday to buy the land, something is going to have to sit on it. And why not a convention center hotel? --Sam Merten



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