Even as they hoped to turn over a new leaf and build community confidence, Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, the owners of the President Hotel, stirred fresh controversy and community skepticism. In advance of an open house last week to unveil their plans for restoration of the historic building and renovations to convert it from housing to its original hotel use, the owners produced a glossy brochure claiming support from respected local nonprofits and touting $2.4 million in community donations. However, a footnote revealed that the donations were “to be confirmed and subject to change” and “contingent upon the hotel being issued a building permit.”
Having not forgotten the devastating impact of losing 75 units of naturally affordable housing, protesters at the open house carried signs condemning the proposed conversion and handed out flyers criticizing AJ Capital’s attempt to curry favor through supposed charitable donations that appear instead to be mere quid pro quo, calling on the city to hold the project accountable to our laws without exceptions, and urging the owners to pivot and restore housing at the President Hotel.
AJ Capital stimulated a firestorm of public opposition last year when it announced its intention to convert the 75-unit downtown President Hotel Apartments into a boutique hotel and evicted all residents. The outcry led City Council to enact an emergency ordinance requiring relocation assistance for tenants and a new law banning conversion of downtown housing in “grandfathered” buildings (those built before current development standards were adopted) to non-residential use. In March, AJ Capital’s building permit application was deemed incomplete and in violation of numerous zoning laws, including parking requirements.
In September AJ Capital submitted a new application. Whether they can overcome multiple zoning hurdles remains to be seen. They contend that because all the tenants had vacated before the city’s new ban on certain residential conversions kicked in, the President Hotel ceased to be housing rendering their project not a conversion. A study submitted by AJ Capital concludes that with a valet program parking demand for their 100-room hotel will be just 30-40 parking spaces, though the zoning code for new hotels would call for closer to 200. The President Hotel currently has 10 parking spaces. Current law also limits new hotels to a Floor Area Ratio of 2.0, while the proposed project has a FAR of approximately 5.5.