August 2, 2023 533 PM
TRI-COUNTY — Three historic hotels in Alpine and Fort Davis could be undergoing major renovations under new ownership beginning later this year — a move to revitalize the roughly century-old structures, according to stakeholders, and to capitalize on a regional boom in tourism.
Local business groups in both cities, meanwhile, are hoping the improvement of lodging and amenity options will help revitalize the struggling downtowns.
Austin-based Byways Hospitality, which specializes in boutique hotels, is under contract to purchase the Holland Hotel and Maverick Inn in Alpine and the Hotel Limpia in Fort Davis from current owner Charles Mallory. The hospitality group is partnering with a team of architects, designers and restaurateurs — including Morgan Weber and Vincent Huynh of Marfa Spirit Co. — to carry out renovations, construct new amenities and overhaul the food and drink offerings at the sites. Post Oak Preservation has been contracted to oversee the preservation of the historic architecture.
Mallory — a Connecticut-based hotelier who has owned the properties for about a decade and plans to stay attached as a general partner — said he saw the project as an opportunity to actualize a long-term vision to improve the aging structures rather than simply preserve them.
“That’s what I’m excited about — the potential to really make these hotels noteworthy and significant sort of landmarks in the communities,” said Mallory. “This is really the moment to do it. We’ve preserved them and actually turned the lights back on in some cases, so I feel like I’ve brought them to this moment where they can really move forward.”
Plans for the hotels are preliminary, and the team is currently in the phase of raising the necessary funds from investors. Byways co-founder Collin Bibb, who recently moved to Alpine himself, said the group is approaching local investors.
Under the current plan, which was presented to the Alpine Business Alliance at a public meeting last week, the Holland Hotel will undergo a renovation of its ballroom and lobby bar. The hotel’s current restaurant, the Century Bar & Grill, will be converted into a coffee shop, while a new restaurant will be built on the other side of the hotel. The restaurant, per the presentation, will “provide an upscale take on Texas ranch cuisine,” while the bar will boast an “expansive whiskey and cigar collection.”
Bibb said the goal for the Holland is to provide updated furniture and fixtures that also feel true to the roots of the historic properties. “These hotels have served Alpine and the Tri-County area for over 100 years, and we just want to enable it to serve tourists and the community for the next 100 years,” said Bibb. “So [we’re providing] updated furniture that kind of seems like it might fit West Texas in the 1930s and 40s.”
The Maverick will undergo lighter improvements to its common spaces and rooms, and could be outfitted with an expanded pool deck. The team plans to buy the property behind the inn to add more units, said Bibb. Under the current plan, that property would potentially contain 20 shipping container units for additional guests. The space between the hotel and the additional units could serve as a courtyard and gathering space for programming, said Bibb.
Compared to the Holland Hotel and the Hotel Limpia, said Bibb, the Maverick Inn will provide a lower price-point option for travelers.
Changes to the Hotel Limpia in Fort Davis — which will also receive upgraded furniture and fixtures, renovated hotel rooms and the addition of ten new ones — center around a mission to provide enjoyable outdoor space for visitors, said Bibb, with an expanded courtyard, upgraded pool and outdoor seating for a new hotel restaurant. While the property is currently split in two by a road, Bibb said the team is hoping to make that road available to emergency vehicles only, allowing for a more cohesive outdoor space.
Byways is also under contract to buy the nearby Harvard Hotel, currently owned by Jeff Davis County Commissioner and Fire Marshal Roy Hurley, which they hope to use for additional rooms at a lower price point.
Byways would not share renderings of the planned renovations for publication with the Sentinel.
A timeline for construction on the projects is tentative, and dependent on the securing of funds, but Bibb said he’s optimistic they can raise the remaining equity in the next two months, then hopefully break ground in October.
The prospect of entering the hotel business in the Big Bend region is, at the moment, an attractive one, said Bibb. Tourism in the region is climbing. The group’s presentation notes that visitation to the National Park has grown 7% per year since 2012 and that total hotel spending has grown 12% per year during that same time.
“There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the project, and I think it has a lot of interesting financial aspects too, which underwrites really well for investors just by nature of the fact that the Big Bend area in general, and the tri-county area, has had such solid growth, not only from a tourism perspective, but also from a hotel growth perspective,” said Bibb.
Jim Street, president of the Alpine Business Alliance, is an enthusiastic supporter of the plan, hoping the revitalization and expansion of local hotels will in turn revitalize Alpine’s ailing local economy, which was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and is still struggling to recover. Street said that in an earlier survey, the ABA counted 32 empty storefronts, but said that number has since grown.
“There’s an entire half block, half of 100 block of North Fifth Street, that’s totally empty,” he said.
Part of the problem, he acknowledged, is the high cost of rent — a problem that will not be solved by hotel renovations. But he believes the increased foot traffic will help Alpine get back on its feet.
“[The hotels] will attract visitors downtown, it absolutely will help,” he continued. “Of course, the more people are downtown shopping, the more likely people will be to open shops and cater to that business.”
Reagan Stone, executive director of the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce, described Fort Davis as a place “on the up and up” since the pandemic.
“We have the highest occupancy rate that we’ve ever had — that means since COVID and before — so we have a lot of folks coming into town right now,” said Stone.
Like Street, he sees the hotel properties targeted for upgrades as an opportunity to capitalize on that boom in visitation. “We want to have the amenities to be able to make sure that tourists and visitors have restaurants and other types of amenities to be able to have a pleasurable time while they’re visiting,” he said.
The planned renovations are part of a larger hotel boom in the region, as hoteliers move to harness the climbing visitation numbers. Liz Lambert is currently undertaking the relocation and expansion of El Cosmico. Hotelier Tim Crowley, operator of the Hotel Saint George, has plans to build two new hotels in or near Marfa and is looking to premiere 320-acre event space The High Frontier in Fort Davis next year.
“My view is really that if we want to take Fort Davis to the next level, it’s going to be outside investment like [the Byways] possibility or The High Frontier as well,” said Stone. “So we’re really excited to see that.”