Monday, March 02, 2009

The owner of a vacant downtown Dallas hotel has 30 days to win public support for conversion of the building to affordable rental housing.

The owner of the Dallas Plaza Hotel hopes to convert the vacant downtown building into apartments that would include low-income housing.
View larger More photos Photo store The Dallas City Council on Wednesday gave Larry Hamilton time to work with neighbors who have opposed a plan to redevelop the Plaza Hotel — delaying a vote that could have killed the project.

Hamilton will apply to the state for low-income housing tax credits to help finance the renovation of the 12-story, 235-room hotel he owns at 1011 S. Akard St. near Interstate 30.

The council must approve such a move. And responding to neighborhood opposition and the lead of council member Pauline Medrano, the council’s housing committee last week voted to recommend blocking the application.

The nonprofit Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, the housing arm of Central Dallas Ministries, had planned to pursue the project. But members of the Cedars Neighborhood Association and others raised concerns about its proposal and housing experience.

Rather than have his building sit vacant, Hamilton proposed to take on the development alone. And before the matter came to a vote Wednesday, Medrano and an animated Mayor Tom Leppert took neighborhood leaders aside, persuading them to give the developer until March 25 to try to work out a mutually agreeable proposal.

“I’m very happy,” Phillip Robinson, president of the neighborhood association, said. “All we ever wanted was time to provide what the neighborhood thought was the best plan. I think Larry Hamilton can do it in 30 days.”

Medrano, who represents the area, said she, too, was optimistic an accord could be reached.

Hamilton, whose Hamilton Properties Corp. owns three downtown Dallas apartment buildings, said such optimism was heartening. “We’re hopeful we can come up with something that’s financially feasible but still meets the neighborhood’s standards,” he said.

Hamilton said the project’s size, cost and other details have not been resolved, but it likely won’t be as large as the 316-unit, $22 million to $24 million complex previously proposed. The heart of the development will be at least 148 residences for tenants who must meet income guidelines.

Approval by the council next month would only be a first, although critical, step for Hamilton.

His company will compete with other applicants statewide for about $45 million in housing tax credits available this year. It will request about $1 million, which would be allocated each of the next 10 years, giving the company $10 million in credits to raise money for the project, Hamilton said.

Hamilton Properties would sell its credits to investors looking to reduce their federal tax burden. City support of $2 million also has been proposed, but discussions have included a requirement that at least 50 apartments be reserved for the previously homeless. Other financing could come from loans and donations, Hamilton said.

Even in a sour economy, he is confident the project will succeed — if it receives tax credits. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs will award the aid in July.

“If we can get that $10 million” in credits, “we can put together an affordable housing project. I’m confident of that.”

Hamilton had hoped to redo the property as a boutique hotel. But when he couldn’t get financing, he approached Central Dallas Ministries about buying the building for rental housing. The hotel closed last week.

The original plan drew mixed reviews and raised a variety of concerns: The project was being rushed, its estimated rental costs were too steep, not enough units would be offered at market rates, the hotel purchase price was too steep and Central Dallas Ministries didn’t have the experience to undertake such a large project.

The plan also called for setting aside 50 apartments for the previously homeless. “Socioeconomics was not an issue for the neighborhood or the board,” Robinson said earlier this week. “We want to build a diverse neighborhood with all levels of income.”

The association voted against the plan, 39-15. Residents of the Buzz condominiums near the hotel opposed it as well.

Larry James, chief executive of Central Dallas Ministries, and John Greenan, the development corporation’s executive director, met with residents to discuss their plan and said they addressed as many concerns as they could in the limited time they had after the project’s conception.

“I hope they get it done,” said James. “Dallas has a shortage of fit, affordable, workforce housing. … We will do anything we can to help them go forward.”

His group plans to begin meeting downtown housing needs this summer with the City Walk at Akard project.

That development, at 511 N. Akard St., will provide 206 residences, most for tenants who meet income guidelines. Fifty apartments will be reserved for the previously homeless.

05:48 PM CST on Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Dallas Morning News