Bud Kennedy

New hotel planned for Magnolia Avenue, but not everybody’s happy

Plans for a six-story hotel at Magnolia and Henderson streets.
Plans for a six-story hotel at Magnolia and Henderson streets. Bennett Benner Partners Architects + Planners

Everybody wants to visit West Magnolia Avenue these days, and that’s what has some Fairmount neighbors worried.

Both Texas Monthly and American Airlines’ American Way magazine have featured Magnolia in the last month, telling travelers to come for barbecue, espresso and — yes, vegan ice cream on a street that is part hipster and part historic.

If Austin’s slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” — coined by a man from Fort Worth — then Magnolia is what keeps Fairmount funky. The street mixes artists and musicians with medical workers and media professionals, and the result is a smaller version of Austin’s South Congress Avenue without the boutique hotels.

Not for long. The City Council is expected to vote Jan. 24 on a zoning change for a six-story, 138-room hotel-condo development at 1205-1217 S. Henderson St. Plans show that the style would complement the 100-year-old B. Max Mehl Numismatic Co. building next door.

That’s on the north side of Magnolia, where the roof lines rise gradually from multistory apartments to hospital towers nearer downtown.

In the other direction lies the historic Fairmount neighborhood, and some neighbors are wary of too much hotel traffic.

“We’re for development, but that’s excessive,” neighborhood association officer Patricia Bradley said Dec. 14 before zoning commissioners approved the project. She added that residents worry that “things will be mowed over and large buildings will be put in their place.”

But that’s exactly what was planned when “urban design district” development guidelines allowed six-story buildings to promote a busy “village” feel north of Fairmount.

“We wouldn’t want the typical chain dropping down a prototype building,” said Mike Brennan of Near Southside Inc., which promotes neighborhood development and supports the project.

[Magnolia is] a place you go for authenticity. We want a hotel with the same spirit.

Architect Michael Bennett of Bennett Benner Partners

In other words, no sore-thumb box like the $2 million Chipotle nearby.

“This fills the need for a hotel and should help local business,” he said, adding that landowner Mike Dolabi and California developer Bond Partners plan garage space for extra parking.

Architect Michael Bennett of Bennett Benner Partners compared the project to the stylish Hotel Emma in San Antonio.

The hotel would be next door to the 100-year-old B. Max Mehl Numismatic Co. building, originally the headquarters of a nationally known rare coin dealer.

Magnolia “has become a cool place with interesting restaurants,” he said: “It’s a place you go for authenticity. We want a hotel with the same spirit.”

A flashy hotel drawing tourists would be great for the entire south side. Names and brands inevitably change along with the tourist industry, though, so it’s up to city leaders to ensure that the hotel building fits the character.

More visitors, diners and shoppers can only mean a stronger Magnolia.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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