Anyone who follows Fort Worth’s real estate news knows about the buzz around hotels, apartments and townhomes coming to downtown. So when a 16 story AC Hotel, from a division of the Marriott Brand, went before Fort Worth’s Downtown Design Review Board on Thursday, Nov. 2, there was plenty of interest. Construction is set begin construction in the first quarter of 2018 with about 18 months before the project is completed.
The applicant, Epperson Company (represented by Don Epperson), and the owner Jackson Shaw sought out a certificate of appropriateness from the board to construct their 16-story hotel. The companies had attended a previous board meeting requesting approval of concept and were approved, on the condition that the board wanted to see more renderings and more information from the groups.
Brian Skett, an architect representing the project, spoke to the board, noting that the companies had followed previous requests to “enhance the pedestrian experience,” including moving the hotel lobby up to the second floor and have two retail locations and entrances on the ground-level.
Additionally, the new application points out the addition of pedestrian lighting down Fifth Street, having a patio on the second floor off Fifth and Main streets, having outdoor seating available, moving potted trees into tree grates and using a column of stucco to separate the new facade from that of the old Kress & Co. building facade, which they have incorporated into their design.
The owner of the hotel is Jackson-Shaw, Merriman Anderson is the building architect and SMR Landscape Architects Inc. is the landscape architect for the project.
Melissa Konur with Downtown Fort Worth Inc.’s Design Review Committee and Downtown Design Review Board staff recommended approval of the request.
“We wholeheartedly support this application,” Konur said.
The hotel also plans to have a suite with 270-degree views of downtown on the 16th floor. The original 15-story design called for 218 rooms, but developers didn’t say how many rooms the hotel would have with the additional floor.
Cassandra King, Downtown Design Review Board member and vice chair, motioned to approve the request and her motion was supported unanimously.
More contentious was the WeWork signage issue. Coworking office provider WeWork came to the September board meeting to request waivers for crown-of-building signage and were ultimately “continued” and requested by the board to come to the next meeting with renderings of the sign superimposed on the building in the day and night so they could make a final decision. (For more information on that case, please visit https://goo.gl/r1eGqB.)
Their time had passed and they once again presented their signage waiver request to the board. Board staff, and Konur with the DRC, recommended approval of the sign with white as opposed to black lettering.
Brandom Gengelbach, executive vice president of economic development at the Fort Worth’s Chamber of Commerce, also spoke to the board in favor of the signage, saying the chamber’s job “is to attract business and jobs,” and the chamber “is absolutely in favor of this project.”
It wasn't all positive, however. Sundance Square’s Johnny Campbell once again spoke in opposition to the signage.
“I have been concerned that this sets a precedent,” Campbell said, adding that the city and Sundance are “tickled to have them in Fort Worth.” they just don't find their signage appropriate.
Campbell also cited some of WeWork’s other buildings in Dallas and Seattle, noting that neither had crown-of-building signage and yet are still successful.
While board members Andrew Blake and Gwen Harper disagreed with Campbell, saying the board is there to prevent precedent through their disciplined review of each case on an individual basis. Board members Chris Brim and King, however, felt that even if no precedent was set, the signage presented didn’t do anything to improve and enhance the Fort Worth skyline.
Brim motioned to deny the waiver and all but Blake and Harper approved. The motion to deny passed 4-2.
The board also:
— Added Tracy McMackin and Ryan Johnson to the board.
— Unanimously selected Kirk Millican to serve as board chair.
— Unanimously selected King to serve as board vice chair.
— Motioned unanimously to deny crown of building signage for a new Hilton Garden Inn being built at 607 Jones St.
— Motioned unanimously to approve blade signage and request a logo florette be changed to an architectural element for the Hilton Garden Inn being built at 607 Jones St.
— Motioned unanimously to deny an application for signage installation at a Texas de Brazil restaurant, located at 101 Houston St. due to board members, staff and DRC stating they felt the signage was not what would best represent the business and its needs. The board recommended the applicant come back with a request for blade signage.
— Motioned unanimously to deny a request by Tarrant County and Bennett Benner Partners for a waiver to not install pedestrian lights in a new 79-space parking lot at 111 W. Fifth St. due to safety concerns for pedestrian foot traffic in the area.
— Motioned unanimously to approve construction of a rooftop terrace and observation deck at 411 W. Seventh St.
— Motioned 6-1 to approve a recommendation to the City Plan Commission and City Council for an alley vacation between Henderson and Mill Streets on behalf of Colonial Development Partners LLC and Peloton Land Solutions Inc. to the best of their ability.