One of the earliest medical office buildings within the Texas Medical Center campus has been transformed into one of Houston’s newest hotel properties.
Pearl Hospitality recently completed a redevelopment, re-purposing and re-branding of the 18-story icon — built as the chic and sleek Medical Towers Building in 1954 with turquoise-toned window panels and a sail-like tower floating above a platform of parking.
Newly minted as Westin Houston Medical Center hotel, the underutilized, aging property has been modernizied.
At a showcase of the newly completed 382,000-square-foot property, development team members said the project entailed collaboration with architects, preservationists and the hotelier. The process netted a design influenced by medicine, academics, art and nature.
As part of the office-to-hotel conversion, the former parking garage gained a level for the hotel’s hub. Lobby functions and extensive amenities share the fifth floor “pavilion,” which extends the full width of building.
A series of five massive skylights — with programmable lighting — further illuminates the open space. Terrace views eastward look across the healthcare mega-campus of 54 clinical, research and education institutions. Westward views take in the treetops of an adjacent residential neighborhood near Rice University.
Other amenities include a terrace-level pool, care, lounge, health club and 17,000-square-feet of meeting space tucked behind stainless steel doors and featuring translucent panels of agate as room dividers. Artwork by established artists from Houston and around the country jazz up the multi-use lobby.
Meanwhile, the parking garage has been restructured into three levels.
The building’s signature enameled turquoise panels remain, though like the rest of the exterior structure, they’ve been freshened up.
At street level, the building’s block of retail has been significantly updated into a “welcoming promenade” of new dining concepts and venues, said Archit Sanghvi, Pearl Hospitality’s operations vice president. Some have sidewalk seating, a big shift for anyone working or visiting medical center environments.
An international-style building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel targets a mix of guests, from academic and medical business professionals to patients and their families. The 273-rooms include a variety of suites, including ones offering an extended stay format.
Guests can book whether to infuse their room with aromatherapy selections. It’s an example of how wellness is common thread throughout the hotel, Sanghvi said. Programming also supports healthy living, whether participants work or live nearby.
With patients as hotel guests, one decision was to design with clean spaces in mind, he said. Thus, rooms have no carpet and easy-clean surfaces.
Modernist Roots Modernized
“The building is an excellent modernist design from a time when Houston’s suburban development and the Texas Medical Center were both exploding,” noted Anna Mod, director of the southwest offices of MacRostie Historic Advisors.
AIA Houston’s Architectural Guide indicates the original building is a modified version of the 1952 Lever House in New York City that was “Houstonized” by using the base for a parking garage.
The original building was designed in 1954 by Golemon & Rolfe, with architect Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, now SOM, which has been prominent in shaping the city’s skyline. The project, influenced by the firm’s 1952 Lever House in New York City, was SOM’s first in Houston and was a prize-winning postwar landmark.
In the property’s redevelopment, the project team included developer and operator Pearl Hospitality, BRR Architects, interior architect Baskerville, design consultants MBCM Inc., Collaborative Engineering Group, Henderson Rogers structural engineers and Texas HRE Construction.
Houston-based Pearl Hospitality previously redeveloped another of the city’s historic office properties into a hotel.That project, completed in 2014, transformed the long-vacant 1910 Carter Building into the 328-room JW Marriott Houston Downtown.
Sanghvi said Pearl Hospitality picked the medical center market for a project because it lacked a boutique-style hotel.
Texas Medical Center (TMC), launched around the same time as the original building’s completion, attracts an estimated 15 million visitors a year and employs more than 106,000. The 2-mile campus is served by a light rail line of Houston’s METRO.
As a hotel sub-market of the city, the area in and around TMC and NRG Stadium has been adding rooms at several price points, with more in the pipeline, observed Christian Abbate, senior vice president, DPC Hospitality, a hotel advisory and valuation firm.
In 2019, for example, room supply grew by 7.3 percent prior to the opening of the Westin, he said.
The sub-market has recently added a 182-room Residence Inn by Marriott and the 354-room InterContinental Houston Medical Center. Meanwhile, Houston Hilton Plaza’s renovation in 2019 increased its room count to 225 from 185. Next up are the 267-room Blossom Hotel Medical Center and a dual brand development on the campus of the Michael E. Debakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Overbuilt? Occupancy through November 2019 sits at 62.3%, compared to 63.9% citywide, DPC’s Abbate noted.
While at the moment supply is outpacing demand, “I believe the new TMC3 development (a major expansion of the campus in terms of land, scope and collaboration) will also be a game-changer in terms of research and medical development for Houston. So many of the new hotels are being built not only for the market as it exists but for what will hopefully be a much more dynamic and exciting market in the near future.”