After being told earlier this month that it would not receive a promised tax incentive from the city after all, the developer of the controversial Hotel Renovo planned near the Kimbell Art Museum on Camp Bowie Boulevard is pulling the plug on the project.
Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Shingleton, whose District 7 includes the planned hotel site, said the mayor and City Council lost confidence that Illinois-based Heart of America Group could develop a four-star hotel.
The Kimbell argued against the hotel’s initial design, contending that the planned height would “loom” over its property, affecting in particular an interior courtyard that features a famous sculpture.
“It’s a unique location and a unique set of neighbors,” Shingleton said. “We just never came to a mutually agreeable concept plan.”
Kirk Whalen, vice president and general counsel for Heart of America Group, said the company “so deeply wanted to be a part of the Fort Worth community.”
In a statement, Whalen said, “We are deeply saddened and confused that after years and millions of dollars of effort to bring a world-class hotel to Fort Worth, after dramatically changing the project to meet everything that was asked of us, and after providing absolute assurance of four-plus-star quality and an international affiliation, why in the final moment that we couldn’t satisfy some stakeholders in the Cultural District.”
The hotel project, featuring a rooftop restaurant and bar, is still listed on the company’s website.
Whalen said later that his company “started over from scratch” and completely redesigned the hotel. He said he is “astonished” at the turn of events.
“We submitted everything the city asked for,” Whalen said. “We continually asked senior city staff if there was anything else the city needed, and were repeatedly assured that they had received everything they asked for, and more.”
Reece Pettigrew, chief financial officer at JaGee Holdings, developers of Museum Place off University Drive, where the hotel was to be located, said they, too, were surprised and disappointed that the council withdrew its support. JaGee hasn’t had time to discuss what their next move is for the location but haven’t ruled out another hotelier, he said.
“It’s real recent news,” Pettigrew said. “We had been working with them for two years and believed all of the objections with the project had been satisfied. We believe and had been told that there was a great need for hotel rooms in the Cultural District. We’re back to ground zero.”
Heart of America was under contract to buy the land, but the deal had not closed, Pettigrew said.
It’s been nearly a year since the City Council told Heart of America Group that it would have to reduce the size of the project to receive an economic incentive from the city. In March, the council deleted from the proposed incentives that the hotel needed to be 12 stories, the height at which luxury hotels are eligible to receive incentives, giving the developer some flexibility.
The developer said it had reduced the hotel’s design to 10 stories, which greatly lowered the risk that the structure would cast a shadow over the sculpture garden, but it never made those plans public. The change veered from policy that incentives on high-end hotel projects must be at least 200 rooms. The incentive cap was lowered to $6.7 million from $7.2 million.
Shingleton said he, city and museum staff and others met numerous times for more than 16 months, but Heart of America never showed a new design. At one time, the company said it would install expensive “smart glass” for the structure, which can be dimmed and made darker to reduce heat coming from it.
Heart of America Group said it could have opened Hotel Renovo by August 2019, before the January 2020 opening of the new Dickies Arena in the city-owned Will Rogers Memorial Center. It was planned to be open as well to host teams in the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament in 2020.
The hotel was to serve as the headquarters for the the NCAA first- and second-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in the arena from 2020 to 2022. The arena is also hosting the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020 to 2022.
Shingleton said there are plenty of hotel projects in the works, particularly downtown, that will be done in time to accommodate the tournaments.
“I know that’s the case,” he said.
The hotel controversy, too, has set in motion the creation of protected-view corridors in the Cultural District.
Last fall — feeling the pressure of encroaching development, mostly from the West Seventh Street corridor — the museums hired a consultant to begin that process with the city. Being proposed is a design overlay district, which could regulate such things as height, setbacks, landscaping and architectural guidelines within a certain boundary.
The Kimbell was concerned for its Maillol Courtyard, a serene interior space featuring a nude sculpture by the French sculptor Aristide Maillol.