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Boutique hotels make a comeback downtown

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While skyscraper hotels make up a big part of San Antonio’s downtown skyline, a growing number of boutique inns are also enriching the city center’s tourism reputation.

In the last 50 years, small hotels that were once de rigueur downtown have been replaced or overshadowed by the big chain hotels.

But in recent years, new boutique hotels began making a comeback to offer travelers experiences that reflect San Antonio tastes, from the rooms to the restaurants.

“We’re really fortunate in San Antonio to have a lot of variety in our hotels for visitors,” said Liza Barratachea, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association.

New rooms at smaller hotels in the downtown area continue to enter the market even as major hotel development has slowed in San Antonio.

Another round of boutique hotel announcements began in early 2019 with plans unveiled for a 195-room, high-end W Hotel by Marriott at 1603 Broadway near Pearl. Completion is expected in 2022.

California and Texas development firm Harris Bay in May proposed building an eight-story, 112-room “lifestyle” hotel at 151 E. Travis St. The planned Artista hotel is slated to have retail, a restaurant and a rooftop bar.

Located in an “opportunity zone,” the hotel will be eligible for federal tax breaks on capital-gains taxes in exchange for developing the area.

White Lodging, which operates numerous Marriott-branded hotels in San Antonio, said in early December it would develop a nine-story boutique hotel on South Alamo Street in La Villita. The 275-room property is next to the Marriott Plaza Hotel, which White Lodging bought in August 2019. A renovation of that hotel will happen at the same time the new hotel is being built over the next two years.

The modern luxury boutique trend downtown began in 2003 with the opening of Hotel Valencia Riverwalk at 150 E. Houston St. The 213-room hotel was the antithesis of the giant hotels sprouting up to take advantage of the large conventions attracted by the city’s expanded Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

It underwent a full redesign and update in 2017. A $10 million effort led by architect and designer Lauren Rottet brought the River Walk setting inside to evoke a Spanish Colonial and modern Mediterranean influence.

“There’s more people coming to San Antonio, so there’s more heads in beds,” said Trent Freeman, manager of Hotel Valencia.

In October, Hotel Valencia recaptured its crown as the No. 1 hotel in San Antonio and second favorite in Texas, as selected by readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

Before the renovation, the top San Antonio spot was held by Hotel Emma, 136 E. Grayson St., which is still high on the list.

Hotel Emma opened in 2015 in the upper floors and behind the former historic brewhouse of the Pearl Brewery. Emma has two on-site restaurants and the distinctive Sternewirth tavern.

The trend toward experiential travel also has led to significant investments and acquisitions in luxury or boutique hotel collections by the major hotel groups.

Intercontinental Hotel Group owns Indigo, which has lodgings at 830 N. St. Mary’s St. Marriott has W, Autograph and other collections, while Hilton has Curio and the like.

Valencia sales and marketing director Stacy Seaborn said San Antonio’s boutique hotels are thriving because of the increase in affluent travelers, particularly those looking for a cultural experience.

That also has a lot to do with the designation the city’s missions received as a UNESCO World Heritage site, officials said.

Boutique hotels aren’t just about the celebrities, professional athletes and well-heeled international travelers that prefer the small, luxury hotel experience, hospitality workers said.

Hotel Valencia found the top place their guests came from was Houston and the second was the San Antonio area, Seaborn said.

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