With the opening of Dickies Arena in November, the city and developers are clamoring for available plots for central-city hotel rooms to accommodate visitors to the 14,000-seat arena and surrounding Cultural District attractions.
At West Lancaster Street and University Drive, the tall construction crane that went up last week is the site of such a hotel. And it is likely the only memorable feature of the five-story, 60,000-square-foot Home2 Suites, an extended stay brand from Hilton being built by Georgia-based Southeastern Development.
Rectangular-shaped, it is made of brick with a stone veneer covered outside by an insulated exterior –– or, in constructionspeak, an “exterior insulation finishing system” –– and a plastic-y, stucco look. The brand is usually the most colorful of the big chain hotels off the highways or in suburban areas near airports. This big chain has at least one aesthetic advantage over its rivals: a brightly colored recessed stripe set against a tall, dark block at the main entrance or the drive-up porte-cochère. The dark hues are contrasted by a brighter color, typically beige or white. The Home2 Suites stand out against the creamy, tan, stucco La Quintas or traditional brick designs adopted by Holiday Inn. And that’s the purpose behind the brand standard manual compiled by the architectural and design firm FRCH of Cincinnati. The 318-page book details the nitty-gritty of creating a Home2 Suites: from room size to sidewalks and from greenery to operational standards. The standards apply to the Cultural District plot, as well as the locations in Cityview, Fossil Creek, North Lake, and Bedford. At least those communities need a little color.
The bar was already low at the neglected intersection, with the hotel replacing a Goodwill drop-off station and several abandoned storefronts. Stretching a few blocks and abutting the Bell Lancaster apartment homes, this Home2 Suites also fills what is likely the remaining undeveloped plot at the edge of the West 7th Street corridor. The site has everything Southeastern’s portfolio boasts, though the suburban investment company, which is making its first foray into Texas, seems to emphasize access to highways ahead of access to museums and entertainment. What’s clear, according to renderings provided by the architects, Ponder & Ponder of Georgia, is that they are maintaining the low standards popping up around the Cultural District.
Along University, the chosen signature color is green. A recessed lime stripe contrasts with a dark green block. The palette is similar to a soldier’s uniform. The rest of the colors are neutral, with a white block at the other end, covering the parking garage. Street access to proposed ground-floor retail is along Lancaster as well, an ironic gift for a corridor unable to keep tenants. It’s also a requirement, given the location’s urban, mixed-use zoning. Parking is accessible from Lancaster and remains hidden from the street.
In terms of strategic advantages, this hotel has one: it is one of the brand’s few locations on a rare, expensive piece of land across the street from the entrance to a museum district.
Southeastern and Ponder & Ponder are not entirely to blame. The intersection hasn’t been a priority among civic, business, and even museum leaders. And the Cultural District Alliance, a group of businesses, museums, and other stakeholders, hasn’t taken full advantage of the possibility of an overlay. Those designated urban design districts allow neighborhoods to take ownership and force developers to work with them on building and design standards, much like Hilton’s guide tells developers how their hotels must look. In fact, the district is a candidate for a design overlay similar to ones on the Near Southside, in downtown, and in the Stockyards. But we have a hotel slouching toward the Cultural District and bowing toward the crowded corridor behind it. Green stripe and all.