Houston multifamily developer Allen Harrison Company is preparing to clear non-historic structures on the Old Depot Hotel site for a residential tower. Illustration: Rhode:Partners.

Houston-based Allen Harrison Company has made its first public move on downtown Austin’s historic Depot Hotel at 504 East Fifth Street, by revealing plans to demolish the non-historic structures on site.  Until recently, the site was the location of Carmelo’s restaurant.

Michele Lynch, a land use specialist with Metcalfe Wolff Stuart & Williams, will make their case before the Historic Landmark Commission at this Monday evening’s session. It’s anticipated that City staff’s recommendation will be to approve the effort given the planned preservation of structures which are historic.

According to Lynch, Allen Harrison Company is planning a high-rise of approximately 30 stories, but the tower is still in the design stage and the exact height and square footage are yet to be determined.

Image: Texas State Society Daughters of the American Colonists

The tower will be for rental apartments, not condominiums, she added.

The architectural illustrations by Rhode:Partnersmake clear this will be an adaptive reuse project with a tower adjoining the more significant historic buildings.

A glass envelope screens a lobby that faces Fifth Street. The existing courtyard is expanded and used to provide connectivity between the historic buildings and the tower. Substantial use of glass partitions are being used to provide natural light and to create separation between the 21st and 19thcentury neighbors.

Lynch said the plans include the renovation of the historically significant structures, and to showcase them.

“The design contemplates restaurant uses in both the historic and new structures via a courtyard,” Lynch said.

Allen Harrison proposes preserving and expanding the existing courtyard to create a leisurely and walkable connection between the new and old. Illustration: Rhode:Partners.

Chef Carmelo Mauro, the previous owner, put the property on the market awhile back. He operated Carmelo’s Ristorante Italiano in the Depot Hotel from 1985 to early 2017, but cited the skyrocketing cost of downtown property taxes as the motivation for the sale.

The original buildings were erected from 1871-1872 by architect Abner Cook. During the 1870s, it served as the state’s first railroad station, providing shelter for railroad and stage coach line passengers. It was later a boarding house.

Allen Harrison proposes the demolition of the porte-cochere in the parking lot, the parking lot itself, an exterior stair between the building fronting Fifth Street and the building behind it—referred to as Building C–a non-original addition behind Building C, the site walls and a chimney.

Three historically significant structures will remain—the two-story Building A fronting Fifth Street, Building C and the structure perpendicular to Building A, what is being labeled Building B (see site plan below). The courtyard between buildings B and C will also remain.

The demolition site plan designates structures A, B and C (in green) will remain. All areas in red are to be removed. Image: Allen Harrison Company.

In the Rhode:Partners designs, when pedestrians walk past the open courtyard, they encounter an indoor dining area that is attached to historic Building C. But the use of glass and a few structural columns minimize the intrusion. It’s unmistakable that the rustic stone walls remain the prominent aesthetic feature.

The site is partially encumbered by a Capital View Corridor, so whatever gets built will need to vertically navigate that slice of the northeast corner.  Located across East Fifth Street, residents at the 5 Fifty Five condos and the Hilton will no doubt be paying close attention.

A Capitol View Corridor covers the northeast corner of the site

Allen Harrison purchased the property through a limited liability company named AHC-Seazen ODH LLC. The company has a hefty portfolio of properties in the Houston area and is in the process of building two more—the five-story Citadel and the 11-story South Main are scheduled to open in 2019.

The Depot Hotel site was clearly coveted for the size of the lot. Mauro supplemented the restaurant’s income by renting the lot as event space during South by Southwest, but a public safety city ordinance that passed in 2014 axed that revenue stream.

While the property was on the market, the broker, Lead Commercial, highlighted its size (0.6 of an acre) and location, “situated on the eastern edge of the Core/Waterfront District, the premier employment, cultural and visitor center of the region.”

Natural light fills a glass-enclosed dining area that separates the rear historic structure from the tower. Illustration: Rhode:Partners.

This article was written by Adolfo Pesquera and published in Towers.