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Developer hopes to turn Aurora into hotel, build new tower for its elderly residents

by Ben OlivoFeb 11, 2021
The Aurora Apartments, 509 Howard St., may soon undergo a renovation.
The Aurora Apartments, 509 Howard St., may soon undergo a renovation. Feb. 10, 2021. Photo by Ben Olivo BEN OLIVO | HERON

Local developer Mitch Meyer wants to build an apartment tower in which to move residents of the low-income Aurora Apartments building so that he can return it to its original use as a hotel.

Meyer is applying for $15 million in federal tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to build the tower, named The Cosmopolitan, a block from the Aurora, in Tobin Hill. He said he’s in talks with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for an agreement ensuring that all 105 Aurora residents would get apartments in the new building at the same rents as before.

Built in 1930 as a luxury hotel, the 10-story Aurora doesn’t have a sprinkler system for its elderly residents. The city has required that all high-rises install sprinkler systems by 2028 after a fire claimed six lives at the Wedgwood senior living tower in Castle Hills in 2014.

“You ever have an old car that you love, but it keeps breaking down?” Meyer said of the Aurora. “These old buildings just get really expensive to operate… It’s really hard to put a sprinkler system in when people live there. I mean, the building is solid concrete.”

Along with the sprinklers, the building needs work done to its roof and its electrical and plumbing systems, as well as its heating and air conditioning, he said.

In 2017, there was a widely-reported bedbug and roach infestation at the building, and it still suffers maintenance problems. Meyer recently had to replace a water boiler after residents went three days without hot water, he said.

“These things happen in old buildings. That’s why we want to build a new one,” he said. “We inspect every week. We do not have bedbugs.”

All residents of the Aurora are elderly and make below 30 percent of the area median income, Meyer said. Their rents are subsidized with HUD housing choice vouchers.

Meyer said that he fears he would have to let his contract with HUD expire if he doesn’t get the tax credits. A spokesperson for HUD didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“If we don’t get the tax credits this year, then (the residents) run the risk of not having a place to live when the contract expires,” he said.

The Cosmopolitan would be built on an empty lot Meyer owns at 311 W. Laurel St. It would\ have a rooftop terrace, a fitness area, a community garden and a dog park, he said.

Architecture firm Gomez Vazquez International has drawn up a design for the project, and Meyer has recruited Joeris General Contractors to build it. All in all, he expects it to cost around $23 million.

Meyer has submitted a pre-application to the TDHCA, said Michael Lyttle, its director of external affairs. The deadline for the full application is March 1. The TDHCA’s governing board will award the tax credits in late July, Lyttle said.

City Council will vote Thursday on whether to support Meyer’s application, along with ten others for separate low-income housing developments across the city.

Meyer has owned the Aurora since 2007. He said he had been “walking down the aisle” with a hotel company about transforming it into a location for their brand before the Covid pandemic upended the hospitality sector.

With the Covid vaccine now being administered, he’s holding out hope that he can still turn the building into a hotel. If not, he thinks it might work as an apartment building, after renovations, though he noted that its floor space is limited, which would make it difficult to position as upscale residential space.

“It would be a boutique motel or something with an extended-stay piece,” he said. “Something a bit more upscale.”

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