Convention center hotel: It’s a little late to say the design is ‘boring’

It’s good to know that now — months after all of the shouting and voting took place — the Dallas Morning News editorial board and architectural critic are worried about what the convention center hotel is going to look like.

The recent editorial expressed concern that the new hotel could possibly wind up looking like yet another "indifferent, monumental buildings whose sole contribution to urban life is bulk" downtown. The DMN editors gently prodded Mayor Tom Leppert to spend a little more time considering the hotel’s design, hoping that it will "add to the skyline of downtown."

The editorial also rightly cites the impending Dallas Arts District as a development that happened the right way. Interestingly enough, the city wasn’t in charge of the Arts District buildings’ design; in fact, the city had virtually nothing to do with the stunning architecture going up on that side of town. No wonder what’s happening there looks good.

All of this would have been good to consider before we voted rather than now, when it’s literally too late to do much about what the hotel is going to look like.

Like the editorial says, the foremost goal of the city needs to be ensuring that the hotel becomes a "financial success" given the role of taxpayer money in the deal. And you can be that will be top of mind for the city bureaucrats charged with running the hotel’s construction and overseeing the management company paid to run it — we can’t lose money, we can’t dip very far into the reserves, or the public is going to skin us.

Leppert told the News that the city was "fine tuning" the design now, but it’s too late to turn the existing box design into an iconic structure. The construction pricing has probably already been nearly finalized, because in order to fund the deal, the people lending the money probably wanted to know what the thing was going to look like. So fine-tuning, in this case, probably means deciding how many revolving doors to put on the entry and figuring out what color the inevitable glass exterior wall sheeting will be — a dark greenish, blue perhaps?

The problem with all of that is that the city is backing into the real estate development business, wallet first, which is just asking for trouble, especially with a project as big as the hotel. Think about the buildings downtown that impact our view of the city’s skyline — does the Earle Cabell Federal Building come to mind? The Convention Center buildings? Hardly. And the link is they’re government-built.

Then look at the Dallas skyline. How about the big green neon building? Reunion Tower? Or the new Hunt Oil headquarters? Or that office building across from the Fairmont that twists into the sky? Or even that big one with the hole in the middle?

Those buildings are iconic. They’re memorable. They’re inspiring. And if they were hotels, people might want to stay in them even when they didn’t have to, even when their convention wasn’t happening down the tunnel or across the skywalk. No one is going to want to spend a few nights in a federal building knockoff, and something like that isn’t going to help Dallas’ skyline, either.

In real estate construction, when you’re on the defensive economically, you’ll settle for safe and boring. And that’s not a strategy for making money with a $500 million investment.


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