Austin high-rise plans preserve Old Depot Hotel

City’s Design Commissioner gives the green light, but has reservations

Stonelake Capital Partners' John Kiltz, Design Commissioner Samuel Franco and a rendering of the Old Depot Hotel at 504 East Fifth Street (Stonelake, Infravest, Gensler)
Stonelake Capital Partners' John Kiltz, Design Commissioner Samuel Franco and a rendering of the Old Depot Hotel at 504 East Fifth Street (Stonelake, Infravest, Gensler)

In Austin, the more things change the more they stay the same.

While Stonelake Capital Partners is about to add another high rise to the Austin skyline, the company is set on preserving the historic Old Depot Hotel next door. This week, the Austin Design Commission recommended the project for a downtown density bonus, which lets buildings rise taller than is typically allowed, the Austin Business Journal reported.

To qualify for the Downtown Density Bonus Program, a project must either incorporate affordable housing or pay a fee. Stonelake has opted for the latter — to the tune of $4.5 million.

The commission vote comes a little over a year after Stonelake first unveiled plans for the site that many know as the old home of Italian restaurant Carmelo’s, which shuttered in 2017 after 32 years in business.

Stonelake purchased the property at a December 2020 foreclosure auction from Nate Paul’s embattled real estate firm World Class with a credit bid of $17.8 million. Stonelake filed a site plan for the land on East Fifth Street in July 2021— the same year it closed its sixth real estate investment fund with $555 million.

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If approved by the city, the 37-floor apartment tower dubbed 5th + Red River will go up at 506 East Fifth Street, while the 150-year-old Old Depot Hotel at 504 East Fifth Street would be restored for retail use. Constructed in 1872, the Old Depot Hotel originally served as a boarding house adjacent to the passenger depot of the Houston and Texas Central Railway. The limestone structure went by many names — Railroad House, the Depot Hotel, Schaeffer’s Boarding House, and the St. Louis House — until it was dubbed the Old Depot Hotel when designated as a historic site in the 1960s.

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Plans for the building include 242 units with two amenity decks that would include the typical trappings of an urban high-rise, such as an outdoor kitchen and rooftop pool. The tower would be roughly 271,000 square feet: 221,000 square feet of apartments, 44,000 square feet of common area space and nearly 5,000 square feet of retail space, according to documents filed with the city.

In June, the Historic Landmark Commission gave an emphatic green light to Stonelake’s proposal for the project.

“This is the kind of project we want to see as preservationists,” said architect Tere O’Connell, who will oversee the rehabilitation effort.

However, Samuel Franco of the Design Commission felt less enthused, saying he would have preferred the developer to take greater recognition of the surrounding area’s historical significance as a center point of the Mexican-American community.

“I would love to see this space being a cultural testament,” he said. “I am just not seeing any of that come through here. That is important, from the community’s perspective.”

Stonelake did not provide comment.

— Maddy Sperling