A local investment group is renovating and expanding the Best Western on East Commerce Street, adding a speakeasy to its basement, in a show of confidence in San Antonio’s hospitality sector and the St. Paul Square district just east of downtown.
The group, Weinritter Realty, is adding a fifth floor and 15 rooms to the hotel, at the corner of Chestnut and Commerce streets, so that it will have a total of 79 rooms, and is converting it to the boutique Aiden by Best Western brand, said Chris Hagee, CEO of Hagee Hospitality Group, which manages the hotel.
The renovation, following a design from Daniella Ritter, one of the partners in Weinritter, and local firm HSI Design Group, is expected to cost upwards of $3.5 million, he said. All the hotel’s rooms will be redone with a contemporary design. He expects the rooms to cost an average of $135 a night when the hotel opens in February or March of next year.
“Eventually Covid will be over and we’ll be back to a robust hospitality market,” Hagee said. “We’ll get back to what the real world looks like. Maybe at the end of next year or 2023, but we’re heading in the right direction, I think.”
The speakeasy, which has yet to be named, will be operated by Stanley Shropshire, owner of The Big Bib BBQ chain. It will offer music, primarily jazz and instrumental, and cocktails, beer and wine. The space it will occupy had functioned as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era and later was used as a laundry room, Hagee said.
The speakeasy is expected to open in spring of next year, he said.
The hotel’s new lobby will feature a bar and coffee shop and meeting space for perhaps as many as 100 people, he said.
The hotel occupies a two-story building, known as the George Icke & Bros. building, that was constructed around 1890, according to the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, as well as a four-story building that was constructed in 2001, according to the Bexar Appraisal District.
George Icke, a local grocer, constructed the building to serve as a grocery and home goods store run by himself and his brother William.
Weinritter Realty purchased the hotel in 2019, county deed records show. The firm consists of local residents Marc Weinstein and Tibor Ritter and Ritter’s wife Daniella.
For decades, local business owners and elected leaders have striven to turn St. Paul Square into a thriving urban neighborhood, with mixed success. Yet the neighborhood now seems to be having its moment.
A partnership between executives of Reata Real Estate and local developer David Adelman are working to transform the neighborhood into an entertainment district known as The Espee, with the former Sunset Station train depot now serving as a nightclub known as 1902 Nightclub, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The Baldwin, a 271-unit apartment complex built by local firm NRP Group, opened in the neighborhood in 2018. In 2019, NRP Group sold its majority interest in Austin-based construction company Virtus Real Estate Capital, which provided the equity to help make the project possible.
[ Related: Column: The Baldwin and similar developments deserve more transparency | Sept. 15, 2019 ]
With the Henry B. González Convention Center just across the highway, the neighborhood’s hotels and retail businesses have long relied upon convention traffic and business travelers, but those sectors have been hit hard by the pandemic. Hagee said he was optimistic that they would recover.
“We feel strongly about the area, and we’re in St. Paul Square to stay,” he said. “The market’s got to come back. This year was better than last year, and we anticipate 2022 will be better than this year.”
Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter
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