June 23, 2011

Multiple developers have recently toured the Hawn Hotel in downtown Temple, and some of those developers are exploring options to move forward with revamping the 82-year-old building to its former eminence, Temple city officials said.

Last fall, Temple assistant city manager Kim Foutz said the city hoped to transfer the former hotel to a private developer under a redevelopment agreement with the city and in accordance with the Texas Historical Commission.

At the time, the city wasn’t pursuing any developers, per the advice of PKF Consulting, a real estate and hospitality consulting group.

Foutz said she hoped to wait between six months and year before drumming up developer interest in the old building, in hopes that the real estate and equity markets turned more developer-friendly.

Perhaps those markets have turned. City officials wouldn’t say who has shown interest, but Pat Riordan, a builder from Austin, said he’s been contacted by a potential developer from New York City and asked to take a look at the vacant structure.

Last winter the city paid $120,000 to have 10 dumpsters’ worth of asbestos hauled out of the building. Now, behind the boarded and locked entry façade are concrete floors and new studs, an old piano, and graffiti on the floor of the once-grand, ninth-floor ballroom.

Perhaps contrary to intuition, some see vacant buildings as a sign of business potential, not a downtrodden community.

“We look at it as a positive,” said Charley Ayres, director of business development with the Temple Economic Development Corp. “With the economy like it is, more businesses seem to be looking for existing buildings instead of having to build their own. A vacant building is like having inventory on the ground ready to go.”

Vacant buildings, if maintained, allow incoming businesses to open in a matter of months, rather than a year or more for those that have to build facilities, he said.

Of course, if those vacant structures become dilapidated and unkempt, they run the risk of blighting the city’s appearance.

Those structures, Ayres said, paint a negative picture of a town, especially of the town’s quality of place, and are detrimental to recruiting new businesses.

Vacant buildings could be an incentive for a zoning change or other planning policy maneuvers as a way to replace a dilapidated or unsightly building with a new home or business, said Brian Mabry, Temple planning director.

The Hawn is probably the most prominent of many vacant buildings in Temple. City officials don’t yet know how many vacant buildings there are in Temple. They’re compiling a list, in conjunction with a list of all city-owned properties, which should be completed this fall, said Shannon Gowan, director of communications.

“Vacant buildings can provide opportunities to prospective developers,” Foutz said. “Usually a developer will want to acquire multiple properties at the same time to have a positive economic impact on an area.

Vacant buildings can be a deterrent if there are too many clustered in one area and they are showing significant dilapidation.”

The Hawn isn’t without some disrepair, but it also has great potential. While plumbing and electrical items would need to be replaced, the building’s structure is deemed sound.

“There’s a great value in the concrete and steel,” Foutz said. “It’s a strong shell.”

The city purchased the Hawn in 2006 for $340,000 in order to control the building’s future. Feasibility studies showed the Hawn could be revamped to support a full-service hotel, condos, multi-family living and retail spaces, Foutz said.

About Temple:
Temple, Texas is a community with a diverse economic base that includes healthcare, distribution and warehousing, and manufacturing as the foundation. Within 180 miles of a population of 17.8 million, Temple is in a strategic location that is central within the southwest U.S. marketplace.