A stretch of East Commerce Street, which for years has been hidden behind construction fences, is set to come back to life next month with the opening of a 22-story hotel and four restaurants and bars overlooking the River Walk.
The Canopy by Hilton, a 195-room boutique hotel at the corner of Commerce and North St. Mary's streets, is expected to open in mid- to late-April, said its developer, Chris Hill, who owns the Esquire Tavern next door. The hotel’s management company has already moved in office furniture and is preparing to begin employee training, he said.
When plans for the hotel were revealed in 2016, Hill said he expected to complete it in 2018, but construction has been delayed by a number of factors including the discovery of unexpected utility lines underground and the difficulty of preserving historic structures on the site, he said.
"We are barreling toward the finish line," he said. "It's been a difficult project for a number of reasons."
On the Canopy's river level, there will be a restaurant and bar named Domingo serving South Texas-inspired cuisine using local ingredients, he said. The building will also feature a bar named Otro on a third-floor terrace overlooking the River Walk, serving cocktails and light refreshments. The bar will feature a backdrop of flowing water, said Patrick Shearer, president of Hill's development company, Crockett Urban Ventures.
The hotel, restaurant and bar will be managed by White Lodging, a company based in Indiana, which manages numerous major hotels in Austin, including the downtown JW Marriott. In San Antonio, it manages the Marriott Plaza on South Alamo Street across from Hemisfair.
The hotel will remain under the ownership of an entity affiliated with Crockett Urban Ventures, paying a fee to Hilton to be a part of the brand, Hill said.
At the other end of the block, Hill has spent the last several years restoring the historic, three-story Witte building, which has long sat vacant despite its prominent position overlooking a corner of the River Walk.
On the building's river level, there will be a tiki bar named Hugman's Oasis, named after River Walk architect Robert H.H. Hugman. The street level will feature a Vietnamese restaurant named House of Má, operated by Eric Treviño and Louis Singh, the team that opened Singhs Vietnamese the St. Mary's Strip.
The restaurants are also set to open next month, Shearer said.
"Both of them rely heavily on outdoor seating, so I think they'll be good examples of offering people a safe, fun dining experience as we get through Covid," he said.
The second floor of the Witte will offer a private dining room overlooking the River Walk, available for small events, Shearer said. The third floor is being renovated into four micro-apartments, with about 450 square feet each, probably renting for around $1,300 a month, he said. Three of the apartments will have balconies and river views. The apartments will likely go on the market next month, after the building's elevator is completed.
Even after the opening of the Canopy and the Witte building, Commerce Street will not yet be free of construction. On the property in between the Esquire Tavern and the Witte, developer Keller Henderson is in the early stages of constructing a 17-story apartment building named Floodgate. In February 2020, his construction team began demolishing three commercial buildings which had been on the site.
The stretch of Commerce is in a prominent part of downtown. Along with its proximity to the River Walk, it is a couple blocks west of Hemisfair, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Shops at Rivercenter mall, and two blocks east of City Hall, Main Plaza, and the cluster of properties that Weston Urban is developing into high-class residential and office space.
Shearer pointed out that after the opening of the Canopy and the Witte building, there will be five retail businesses open on that stretch of Commerce.
"I think it will add a lot of energy to the street," he said. "When Floodgate gets done, we look forward to having them activate their portion as well."
The opening of the Canopy follows a devastating year for the hospitality industry in which the Covid-19 pandemic sapped demand for tourism and caused most conventions to be cancelled. Nonetheless, Shearer said he is hopeful for the future of the downtown hotel market.
"We have seen leisure business come back to downtown in a strong way," he said. "There are lots of people who are looking for drive-able destinations where they can come for the weekend and do something different, and I think the outdoor areas of the River Walk and the family-friendly nature of downtown San Antonio work well for that."
Even as the vaccine is rolled out, the schedule of events at the Convention Center remains slim. The Canopy's target segment has always been leisure and business travelers, not convention-goers, Shearer said.
"I think it's going to take a while for the group business and conventions to come back, but we've already seen a strong rebound in the leisure travel segment," he said.
» The Floodgate apartment tower closer to reality with razing of East Commerce buildings (Feb. 6, 2020)
» Tiki bar, Vietnamese restaurant set to open early 2021 inside Witte building (Dec. 16, 2020)
» Gas-powered tiki torches approved for upcoming River Walk bar (Feb. 23, 2019)
» Canopy by Hilton expected to reach max height in October (Sept. 22, 2019)
» Renderings show 17-level, octagonal Floodgate apartments towering over River Walk (Dec. 2, 2018)
» Tiki bar, Asian restaurant, apartments part of Witte building restoration (Nov. 18, 2018)
Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter