Historic Redevelopments Providing a New Lease on Life : Q&A with William R. Franks
William R. Franks
HOUSTON – (Realty News Report) – Years before it was popular, William R. Franks, president of William R. Franks Real Estate, defied the demolition craze. Rather than tear down Houston’s historical structures, Franks gave them a new lease on life. Among his developments that fused the past and the present was the JW Marriott Houston Downtown, housed in the historic 102-year-old Samuel F. Carter skyscraper. Franks also helped redevelop the historic Stowers Furniture building in downtown Houston into a 173-room Aloft hotel. Built in 1913, the 10-story Stowers building is at 820 Fannin adjacent to the BG Group Place tower. Franks has been preserving Houston’s historic structures for decades. Is historical preservation a growing trend in Houston? Will some of the city’s vacant structures be rejuvenated though renovation? What does the future hold for preservation? Realty News Report recently sat down with Franks to discuss these topics and many others.
Realty News Report: You’ve done a lot of redevelopment and historic transformations in Houston. When and why did this trend begin?
William R. Franks: I have always been interested in history, architecture and the story of how and why. In 1988 I joined a New York investment group and started acquiring distressed assets in Texas. At that time Houston was the world’s capital of distressed assets. In 1994 we acquired our first Houston CBD property. This brought me into the downtown market and soon into the acquisition of many historic buildings, in need of redevelopment and repositioning them into an economic driver for the future.
Realty News Report: Is there one of your redevelopments, a favorite, that stands out?
William R. Franks: Historic redevelopment is like your children: you love them all, remember good moments and sometimes the challenging times as well. But, I would say my favorite is the J W Marriott Hotel Houston-Downtown. I was on the project from acquisition thru grand opening and I am still working on items and issues that arise. The transformation of the one hundred year old S. F. Carter Building into the J. W. Marriott is nothing short of a miracle. We started with an old ugly problematic corner building, a 1960s poor attempt at a modernization, stripping all of that cladding, years of cheaply done tenant improvements and doing a complete historical sensitive redevelopment, into the National Trust for Historic Preservation Award for the best Building of the year which also won Marriott Hotels Luxury Hotel of the Year for the Americas Western Region. This is what can be accomplished, if done correctly.
Realty News Report: What was the most important redevelopment that has happened in Houston?
William R. Franks: Houston is not known for its historic preservation so I would state, any redevelopment is important. In the 1990s there were a few of us that started this movement, in a bigger way. Which made it “cool” to be a historical redeveloper.
Realty News Report: Some old buildings have been turned into multifamily or lofts. In terms of demand, is there a limit to how many buildings can be used for residential redevelopment?
William R. Franks: The simple answer is No. There is not a limit and seems to be as much in demand as ever. In fact, maybe more popular, by more people, than ever. In the late 1990s into the early 2000s, we purchased the Southern Pacific Railroad Building in downtown Houston. It was a large building that had been occupied by the railroad company since 1910. We converted it into Bayou Lofts, a mixed use development of retail, garage, restaurants, office and high rise lofts. We were the second large conversion behind the Rice Hotel. Bayou Lofts still going strong today.
Realty News Report: You’ve been involved in a number of hotel projects. Does a building have to have certain qualities, or be of a certain minimum size to work as a hotel redevelopment?
William R. Franks: In historic redevelopment you must first study and take all things into consideration of what is the best adaptive reuse for this particular property. Once that is determined, you can head into the due diligence stage to see if it is going to work. Hotels are one product type that suits certain urban historic buildings, that are tight, not as large as today’s skyscrapers, may not have parking but are in a central demand location. It also may be a building that would not serve as well if rehabilitated back as an office building due to new high rise competition. But, would make a perfect hotel.
Realty News Report: What’s the status of the Imperial Sugar redevelopment in Sugar Land? Is there still a hotel planned there?
William R. Franks: Imperial Market & Hotel are scheduled for a groundbreaking at the end of the year with a grand opening in the fall of 2019. The project has been added the National Register of Historic Places and is 61% pre-leased to a superior array of restaurants and merchants that will establish Imperial Market as one of the major commercial and cultural destinations in metropolitan Houston.
Realty News Report: Anything else you’d like to add?
William R. Franks: I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about historic rehabilitation to ensure that buildings that are the story of our city and county are allowed to live to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren for generations to come. Anyone can knock down a building and build a new one but it lacks the history and importance of some of these major iconic buildings that built our great City. Looking back, I believe the city of Houston wishes it had back some of our history … like the Shamrock Hotel and others.