The developer interested in building a boutique hotel on the northeast corner of Fairhope Avenue and Section Street in the heart of downtown has scaled down his proposal and aims to seek approval on the site plan by early May. If he gets the go-ahead from the Fairhope Planning Commission, and afterward the Fairhope City Council, construction on developer Matt Bower’s three-story building may begin later this year.
At an informational meeting Friday with surrounding property owners, Bowers and Clay Adams of Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects unveiled new renderings of the hotel showing a three-story facade instead of the previous four. Adams said the new proposal rises to a height of 34 feet, 6 inches, well within the city’s maximum height restriction of 40 feet.
Previously, Bowers sought a variance from Fairhope’s ordinance to build a four-story, 40-foot building. He rescinded that proposal after receiving community feedback, and instead hopes the new building’s rooftop can be an open terrace and “gathering space.”
“We’ve had many meetings with the city and we’ve pulled our concept back,” Adams said, noting his firm has designed 34 other buildings in the downtown area. “The is the most important corner in Fairhope and we chose to respect the clock and try to incorporate it into our design rather than ask the city to relocate it.”
Adams said representatives of the city suggested they would also make improvements to the corner surrounding the clock, embellishing the curb outward toward the street to allow for more pedestrian space around the building’s footprint. The city will also retain a small pocket-park courtyard toward the rear of the building on Section Street.
“It will be an improved and more usable space,” Adams said.
The hotel will have four-to-five rooms on the second and third floors for eight-to-10 rooms altogether. The ground floor will include a 1,890-square-foot retail space, a small lobby for the hotel, elevator and stair access and a small utility room.
Adams said the concept would be a “personless” hotel guests could book online, with key codes provided upon check-in. Bowers previously said he would likely contract with a remote turndown service and may not require any full-time staff. On Friday, he suggested he would like to have a small café or other complementary retail outlet as a lessee, but said he’s had inquiries from several businesses and has not yet determined the first floor’s use.
“It’s not going to be a professional office, an insurance agency or a bank,” he said.
The handful of people in attendance were receptive to the plan and expressed concerns primarily over parking and drainage. Adams said the proposed use would require less parking space than a one-story restaurant on the same footprint, and guests will be encouraged to use the city’s parking garage a half-block away behind the Hampton Inn. He also said drainage would be improved as part of the project.
Bowers said he understands the city’s parking shortcomings, but said it is reminiscent of New Orleans.
“The pedestrian use of downtown is going to be highly encouraged … it’s meant to put people downtown walking the streets, passing stores and businesses, and spending money,” he said.
The city is currently conducting an unrelated parking survey, the results of which should be completed in the next several weeks. The Fairhope Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to review the site plan at its May 6 meeting.
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