The Westin Dallas Downtown Hotel, a Story of Historic Adaptive Reuse

By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | September 11, 2016

As both Architect of Record and Interior Designer, ForrestPerkins transformed an iconic urban office building into a vibrant mixed-use property featuring a 326-key Westin hotel in Downtown Dallas. The adaptive reuse of One Main Place to hotel use required paying strict attention to the historic elements of the building in order to satisfy the requirements of the National Park Service and the Texas Historical Commission for achieving federal and state Historic Tax Credits for the owners, KFK Group. During the tax credit application process, the owners applied for and received approval for listing One Main Place on the National Registry of Historic Places. Repurposing this important downtown building has given it new life and contributed to the burgeoning renaissance of Downtown Dallas.

In early 2014, New Orleans developer Elie Khoury of KFK Group asked ForrestPerkins to evaluate a property in Downtown Dallas. Specifically, Khoury wanted to know if a hotel could work in the 33-story office building. After evaluating existing floor plans, ForrestPerkins produced sketches showing approximately 350 guest rooms and suites on the high-rise floors of the building with public spaces on the second floor and back-of-house functions in the basement. After a cursory evaluation of the red-hot downtown hotel market and based on the strength of the design sketches, KFK took possession of the property in less than six weeks.

The existing office building, designed in 1965 by famed architect Gordon Bunshaft of SOM Architects, was a stout poured-in-place concrete structure with 33-stories and five levels below grade. Its 1.1 million square feet occupied a 2.43-acre site bounded by four major downtown streets with entrances on Main Street and Elm Street. The Plaza Level, the first level below grade, had 60,000 square feet of retail space and featured a 20,000-square-foot outdoor landscaped plaza. The Plaza Level was tied to an extensive underground pedestrian tunnel system that connected several buildings downtown to below-grade shops and restaurants. The ground floor core contained three sets of elevators: low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise, that led to the office tenant floors. Originally designed as a banking floor for Texas Bank & Trust, the second floor was a dramatic 29,000-square-foot open space with 24-foot-high ceilings surrounded on all sides by full-height windows. Prior to vacating the building in 2013, Bank of America renovated 17 floors of the building to support its Countrywide Financial venture. Those floors were vacated when that venture failed.

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*One Main Place was designed by Architect Gordon Bunshaft in 1965 as the first of a three building ensemble connected with pedestrian tunnels and open plazas. Photography by Mark Silverstein*

KFK got busy with its marketing staff and engaged Hospitality Valuation Services (HVS) for a market study for the property. The study found that Downtown Dallas was under-supplied compared with other top tier cities. Increasing demand was outpacing existing supply. Occupancy levels increased from a little more than 50 percent a decade ago to 70 percent at the time of the study. Revenue per available room, or RevPar, was projected to increase by nine percent in 2015. The market was strong to develop an upscale hotel.

Selecting a brand was the next decision. Based on ForrestPerkins’ recommendation, the size of the guest rooms, the projected cost of the project, and the results of the HVS Market Study, it was determined to position the project as either a luxury brand or an upper-upscale brand. With the number of luxury hotels in and around downtown including The Joule, Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Rosewood, and W, however, that segment was considered too saturated. Also luxury hotels in the Dallas area do not command the same rack rate as other US cities. Fairmont San Francisco, for instance, gets a much higher rate than Fairmont Dallas, so the investment cost to do a luxury brand might not pay off. Based on the projected demand for business travel and the number of brands that were available downtown, the selection was narrowed. Favorable consideration was given to Westin since Starwood has an excellent reservation system, a popular loyalty program (SPG), and offers the option to franchise with independent management. Plus, Westin is a very popular brand for business travelers. Through ForrestPerkins’ good relationship with Starwood, they were able to make appropriate introductions and to encourage the selection of the Westin brand.

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Hotel Spa: Oasis Unplugged

The driving force in current hotel spa trends is the effort to manage unprecedented levels of stress experienced by their clients. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by demanding careers and technology overload, people are craving places where they can go to momentarily escape the rigors of their daily lives. As a result, spas are positioning themselves as oases of unplugged human connection, where mindfulness and contemplation activities are becoming increasingly important. One leading hotel spa offers their clients the option to experience their treatments in total silence - no music, no talking, and no advice from the therapist - just pure unadulterated silence. Another leading hotel spa is working with a reputable medical clinic to develop a “digital detox” initiative, in which clients will be encouraged to unplug from their devices and engage in mindfulness activities to alleviate the stresses of excessive technology use. Similarly, other spas are counseling clients to resist allowing technology to monopolize their lives, and to engage in meditation and gratitude exercises in its place. The goal is to provide clients with a warm, inviting and tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in addition to also providing genuine solutions for better sleep, proper nutrition, stress management and natural self-care. To accomplish this, some spas are incorporating a variety of new approaches - cryotherapy, Himalayan salt therapy and ayurveda treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Other spas are growing their own herbs and performing their treatments in lush outdoor gardens. Some spa therapists are being trained to assess a client's individual movement patterns to determine the most beneficial treatment specifically for them. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on these trends and developments and examine how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.