Originally published by Midland Reporter-Telegram
By Joseph Basco
On Tuesday, Santa Rita Hotel developers, a consortium of local and in-state people from Overland Partners, Bond Partners, OGX Resources, Design Workshop, Arup, and The Round Table Group, came before City Council and the public to show the latest redesign of the project.
It marked the second time developers have reached out to the public for feedback, proving that the comments they’re receiving are causing changes.
In all, the redesign does not adversely veer from the original concept of the mixed-use hotel, as many of the features revealed in December remain. Santa Rita Hotel is still a multi-level boutique hotel with a fitness center, spa facility, high concept restaurant and whiskey bar, gourmet food market and special event space.
And the cost is still in the same range as the original estimates from December, putting the project somewhere in the $80 million to $100 million range. A portion of that cost is to be publicly offset, pending negotiations with the city of Midland.
The latest round of changes to the project include a 20-foot decrease to the height of the building — which decreases the number of floors from 17 to 15 — the predominant use of brick on the outside to blend with other downtown buildings, the elimination of the apartment and condominium space, an increase in office space and the addition of rooftop terraces, one of which is meant for weddings and another that has a swimming pool and bar.
“One thing that we’ve always looked at with this project is that this is a true city center project,” said Robert Watson, CEO of Bond Partners. “We’re keeping the amenities that we know would drive people to the downtown area. So when you look at the meeting space, you have a lot of different venues for meetings, from 10-person cocktail receptions to 300-person weddings, indoors or outdoors..”
Overall, the development has taken a bigger footprint compared to its December design.
Developers have also pondered a slight alteration to the hotel name. Developers decided to eliminate “No. 1” from the title but are still debating on a final name, weighing the inclusion or exclusion of “The” in the name, and if “Hotel” should be the first or the last word.
But one notable change is that the underground parking is now a four-story, above-ground garage with 359 spaces on the western side of the development, encompassing the entire North Colorado Street block from West Wall Street to West Texas Avenue.
The ground floor of the parking garage building will not entirely be parking but also will include office and retail space, Watson said. A garage entrance ramp from Wall Street has a 12 percent slope, leading to the second level of the garage building.
“The reason that we go up 20 feet is so that each level of parking works with the levels of the hotel and the public spaces,” said Tim Blonkvist, founding principal of Overland Partners. “So you can come up and go across directly into the ballroom area, the athletic club area or the pool deck area.”
The developers also matched the facade of the parking garage with the hotel’s brick outdoor design, making the establishment less like a parking garage and more like an actual building. The design choice also matches the various downtown buildings that have also chosen brick and mortar, including Luigi’s and Centennial Tower.
To explain the switch from underground to above-ground parking, Blonkvist said Tuesday that the underground water table was one concern the team had with an underground parking garage. The team found out about the water table through feedback from another downtown building owner who told them why it’s not a good idea to build below grade in Midland.
Spreading out the underground parking garage’s size, and therefore potentially encroaching into public property that won’t be their own, was another concern. Initially, this wasn’t a concern back when the city was going to financially support the underground parking.
“When the city basically backed out and said they’re not going to give money toward parking and find parking elsewhere for Midland Center, then it started raising questions about our parking being built in land that we didn’t own,” Blonkvist said.
And the third reason for the switch to above-ground parking, which ties into the development’s effort to make Santa Rita Hotel and the adjoining Centennial Plaza as green as possible, is so that plants can be planted at the ground level. If the project kept the underground parking, the plants would have had to be elevated so that there would be enough soil depth without encroaching into the parking garage.
Commenting on why the residential aspect of the hotel was removed, Blonkvist said the team has been researching the housing scene downtown now that Wall Street Lofts is open. The team found out that people in the lofts are being more attracted to a two-bedroom option, and lofts developers are interested in creating a second phase at another downtown location.
“Housing has come downtown. We love that and want that to happen,” Blonkvist said. “And if it wasn’t happening, we would feel compelled to want to do it in our project. But since others are taking the opportunity to do that around us, what we want to do is provide more of the amenities that they aren’t providing. So it would be a thing where we support them and they support us.”
Another consideration the team had when removing housing was parking. If residents lived in the development, then that would mean parking space would be occupied by tenants at night, Blonkvist said. Removing the housing opens up the parking space for special events or nightly events.
Looking at conceptual renderings and watching the presentation, the hotel emphasizes not just Permian Basin brown and black color schemes but also green, from the plants strewn all over to the energy-efficient building cooling methods. Blonkvist said he heard the comments from people the first time they conducted a public meeting about the project, and one of the concerns of the people was keeping the trees in Centennial Plaza.
Ever since publicly introducing the project in December, the developers have gathered feedback on the project, including the importance of keeping the greenery and public space, building the parking above ground to avoid the underground water table and making the hotel more accommodating for special events such as weddings.
Blonkvist and Watson noted how one person commented in a newspaper op-ed that the hotel was like something from Austin, and they said it was a fair statement. In response, they wanted to redesign the hotel to make it more Midland-like.
When the development team visited the Reporter-Telegram on Tuesday, Watson reiterated how this project is really meant for Midlanders and not just one economic demographic. He made clear that this project is not meant to have an air of pretentiousness and will have amenities that target everyone.
Blonkvist and Watson also commented on how OGX Resources’ Kip Agar and Richard Coats, the local financial backing for the project, have stayed committed to the project through revisions and knowing the fact the city still owns the courthouse.
“We’re dealing with people that are very interested in making this city better, and they realize the importance that a project like this has for transformation, right in the heart of the city,” Blonkvist said. “They’re thinking long term.”
Once developers acquire the old courthouse property, the developers’ goal is to get the financing and final design work together to start construction within the first half of 2016, Blonkvist said. Construction will then take 24 months to build. In other words, the grand opening of Santa Rita Hotel is at least three years away.
The original story can be foud here.