Historic Board OKs Drury Hotel Plans

New Proposal Scales Back Additions; Debate Focuses on Building Facades

Tom Sharpe | The New Mexican

The plan to redevelop former hospital property into a downtown Santa Fe hotel stayed alive Tuesday when the Historic Design Review Board agreed to let three new buildings exceed maximum heights and to consider moving the main entrance.

Drury Hotels of San Antonio aims to remodel the former St. Vincent Hospital building built in 1954 into a family-style, 200-room Drury Plaza Inn and put about 75 additional rooms in the adjoining Marian Hall, built in 1910, as well as construct three new buildings.

In November, the Historic Design Review Board asked the developers to scale back proposed additions to the south side of the old hospital building.

On Tuesday, the developers returned with new plans that reduced those additions, but asked that the board designate only two of the hospital’s exterior walls nearest Palace Avenue as primary facades.

Under Santa Fe’s historic-design regulations, primary facades are the sides of buildings that are most apparent to the general public and which include architectural elements worthy of preservation.

Historic Preservation Division Director David Rasch initially proposed that five of 12 exterior walls of the hospital be designated as primary facades – all facing either Palace Avenue or Paseo de Peralta.

Board member Cecilia Rios moved, however, that seven exterior walls of the hospital be so designated – including a central south-facing wall. Her motion was approved with only John Kantner, the board’s newest member, dissenting.

Steve Flance, a planner representing Drury Hotels, then asked board members if they would consider giving the developers an exception so they could build the primary entrance to the hotel on the central south side. The original entrance of the hospital building was on the northeast side. Even though no formal vote was taken, all members said they would consider such an exception.

The next crucial vote on Tuesday involved the plan to build three new buildings for suites or casitas to the south of the hospital building in an area now used as a parking lot. Regulations limit heights in this area to 18 feet, 8 inches. But Drury proposes two three-story buildings rising 36 feet and one two-story building that would be 27 feet tall. Part of the third story on one of the buildings already has been reduced at the request of the Business Capital District Development Review Board.

Rasch had recommended approval of the height exceptions, and the board agreed to go along with his recommendation, with only Rios dissenting.

During the public comment period, preservationists Marilyn Bane and John Pen La Farge spoke against granting height exceptions. Bane said this might lead to “a town of skyscrapers.”

Seven speakers, including lawyer Karl Sommer and land-use specialist Jennifer Jenkins, favored the exceptions. Jenkins said such an “adaptive reuse” is the best possible plan for the old hospital building.

Flance said after the meeting that the project remains viable, but that he will need to return to the board in the near future to get another height exception for a proposed parking garage off Paseo de Peralta.