|By Robert Evatt, Tulsa World,
Okla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 16, 2011-- From the outside, it may seem that nothing's happening with the $25 million conversion of the former City Hall into an Aloft Hotel.
But appearances can be deceiving, said Bruce Taylor, a partner in TOCH LLC.
"A lot of people think we've just been sitting on the building, but we've been busy," he said.
In fact, the interior of the 11-story building is already being gutted, and the group is six to eight weeks away from officially starting construction on the 190-room hotel.
Taylor and other members of TOCH, which includes Neal Bhow, Lee Levinson and the Snyder family, said that when the project is finished by late next summer, the hotel will be joined by separate spaces for a restaurant, banquet room and a new, one-story building connected to the onetime City Hall by a glass walkway.
"When we're done, that dark, black corner will be completely transformed," Bhow said.
One of the biggest changes will be the extension of Fifth Street into the plaza all the way to Frisco Avenue, which will give the hotel front-door access to roads, as well as a close connection to the Tulsa Convention Center.
Bhow said the agreement by city officials to extend Fifth clears one of the last obstacles preventing construction. Now the group is concentrating on completing design details and obtaining permits.
Macy Snyder Amatucci, whose family renovated the long-vacant Mayo Hotel into hotel rooms and apartments, said TOCH chose the Aloft brand not just because of its upscale, modern image, but also because of a strong track record of repurposing older buildings by brand owner Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
"We picked the Aloft brand because it fits the building, not the other way around," she said.
Although Starwood constructs and franchises new buildings for Aloft -- including a 136-room hotel at U.S. 169 near 71st Street owned by Andy Patel -- its renovated hotels have a variety of architectural designs.
Not only will the former City Hall hotel look different from Patel's, but it will also be distinct from the Aloft in downtown Dallas, which was converted from an old warehouse, Bhow said.
At an average of 395 square feet, the rooms will also be on the large side for Aloft, he said.
But the three will share the brand's ultra-modern interiors and amenities. One of the challenges TOCH faced in converting the former City Hall was figuring out how to put all of Aloft's required first-floor features within the relatively small lobby, Bhow said. The solution was to build most of the amenities, including the bar, swimming pool and exercise room, in a separate, one-story building connected to the main structure.
"The design will be minimalistic, but it will retain the historic feel of the main building," Bhow said.
The main facility will also include limited food service and meeting space.
However, the separate facility formerly used by the Tulsa City Council will become 10,000 square feet of banquet space and a restaurant. Taylor said TOCH is still seeking a partner to develop and run the restaurant, which likely will have 4,000 square feet for patio seating.
"There's going to be so much outdoor space," he said.
Previous Snyder family projects Mayo Hotel: 76 apartments, 102 hotel rooms
Redevelopment cost: $40 million
Detroit Lofts: 105 N. Detroit Avenue, 16 units
Redevelopment cost: $5.5 million
Robert Evatt 918-581-8447 email@example.com
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