Redevelopment deal will give old Dallas hotel new life

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The Lorenzo Ascend will have 237 rooms when it opens in about a year. It will include public art along Akard.

A $35 million project transformation will turn a vacant building on the southern edge of downtown Dallas into a boutique hotel.

The former Plaza Hotel at Akard and Griffin streets has been empty more than five years.

Now it’s being renovated into the Lorenzo Ascend Hotel and will reopen next summer.

“We plan to open in mid-2016, and it will have 237 rooms,” said Larry Hamilton, principal with Dallas’ Hamilton Properties, which is leading the redevelopment of the 12-story project.

With postcard views of the Dallas skyline, Hamilton said the upscale boutique hotel will serve the nearby Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and the fast-growing Cedars district south of downtown.

“We will be the only Ascend hotel in Dallas,” Hamilton said. “They are for travelers who are looking for something unique.”

Built in 1972, the hotel was a Ramada Inn.

Hamilton Properties started working with the property before the recession and studied plans to convert it to either a hotel or housing.

Finally, with the help of an $11 million loan backed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the developers have begun demolishing the interior of the 1972 building and will start rebuilding this summer.

Merriman Associates Architects did the redesign, which includes a new glass exterior and a resort-style pool on the ground floor.

Restaurant and meeting space will be on the top floor of the tower.

“We are trying to work with all the idiosyncrasies of the architecture,” Hamilton said. “There is going to be a lot of art in the hotel and around it.”

The developers will also build an industrial-style coffee shop made from steel shipping containers on the corner.

“We are very happy with the building and its new use and with the renovation and design of the hotel,” said architect Jerry Merriman. “We are also excited about how the building and the enhancement of the Akard Street pedestrian connection will assist in the linkage of the Cedars area to downtown.

“That street scape connection is important to the overall project and to its connectivity for pedestrians.”

Large public artworks will be on the Akard Street median and on the bridge across Interstate 30, thanks to a $2.2 million tax increment finance district funding.

“We are going to juice up Akard Street,” Hamilton said. “The idea is to make it a better experience to walk from the hotel to the convention center and downtown.”

The Lorenzo is the second hotel project in Dallas for Hamilton Properties. The developer also did the Aloft hotel on Young Street near the convention center.

And Hamilton Properties has converted more than a half-dozen old office buildings downtown into residential space.

The Texas Educational Opportunity Fund is a partner in the Lorenzo project.

“This is by far the newest building downtown we have redone,” said the fund’s John Greenan, who has worked with Hamilton on other projects, including the just-finished Lone Star Gas Lofts on Harwood Street. “We’re running out of old buildings to redo in Dallas.”

The Lorenzo is one of a handful of new downtown-area hotels in old converted commercial buildings.

Follow Steve Brown on Twitter at @SteveBrownDMN.