When Sam and I got to Main Street Garden around 2:15 this afternoon for the Statler-sale press conference, there weren't a lot of people around -- just a few folks lingering on benches, and maybe a half dozen diners seated beneath the Lily Pad's shade. A lectern stamped with the city's seal of approval had been set up; in front of that, a few rows of chairs. And so we ordered our beer and dogs and settled in for the show.
And within minutes, the place was packed -- with city council members (Natinsky, Margolin, Medrano, Hunt, Koop, Kadane), preservationists (Preservation Dallas's Katherine Seale, Veletta Lill), developers and downtown real-estaters (Ted Hamilton and Jack Gosnell among them) and other city officials. At which point Mayor Dwaine Caraway, but half a week into his temporary term, arrived to officially announce the done deal: "What mayor could ask for a project as important as this on his third day? Let's give these three days a round of applause."
Caraway spoke for a while, offering kind words for Tom Leppert -- whose "vision and commitment," said Caraway, have led to the revival of downtown. Then Ron Natinsky spoke, recounting the countless times he'd been told to tear down the Statler or just blow it up, like they'd done to the Baker: "A lot of people thought it would the quickest, easiest thing to do," he said. Then developer Leobardo Trevino spoke, explaining why he just spent $17.5 million on the Statler and the old library: "We feel a responsibility to bring it back. We need to respect the property."
Then Downtown Dallas Inc.'s John Crawford spoke, offering his favorite aphorism: "Success is a team sport." And then Lill spoke, repeating something the late David Dillon once told her: "If there's one building your going to save, it needs to be the Statler." Then Caraway gathered almost everyone in attendance for the photo you see above -- a grand gesture in front of the old Dallas Grand Hotel, which is very Caraway.
And then Trevino invited some of us inside the hotel, where a Ricchi Development banner already hangs on the driveway covering he wants to remove in order to restore the facade to its original look. And for the next hour, Sam and I wandered the Statler -- from the ground-floor Churchill's, still a sight in stained glass, to the rooftop sun deck, where the world's loneliest jacuzzi awaits company.
Trevino almost didn't get the Statler. There were other interested parties, say those familiar with the deal, among them Forest City (owners of the Merc and Continental) and Jack Matthews, who built the convention center hotel and has his own boutique-hotel redo in the works next to his South Side lofts. But city officials believe in Trevino, pointing out that despite some Friends' contention that not much is happening at the old LTV Tower on Pacific, it's well on its way.
(Angela Hunt, matter of fact, toured it this afternoon and said after the press conference she was "amazed" by the restoration in progress, which thus far has involved stripping the building of all its myriad add-ons and getting it down to the original concrete. She promises to post photos on her website perhaps as early as this evening; I'll post one or two when she does. Trevino also invited Sam and I to come take a look tomorrow during lunch; expect an account by Thursday's end.)
As a few TV stations' cameramen set up for quick shots of the lobby, Pauline Medrano, Sheffie Kadane and Ron Natinsky wandered up a flight of stairs and into old ballroom, Medrano explaining that her uncle used to work in the hotel. Earlier, during the press conference, Caraway mentioned that Natinsky had "worked tirelessly on the Statler [and] pressured the absentee owners to sell," referring to Hamsher International. Caraway said Natinsky had even gone to Hong Kong to meet with them.
As we wanted further and further into the musty maze, I asked the mayoral candidate about that. He said he didn't broker the deal, but served as an intermediary between Hamsher and Trevino: "I was the Kissinger of the deal," Natinsky said, grinning.
We stuck around for a good hour -- long enough that Trevino and other Ricchi execs offered to take us upstairs, to the top floor. Only yesterday, Trevino said, the city OK'd use of one of the working elevators, which sounds like a rocket and moves almost as fast. (It took all of five seconds to move from the ground floor to the 20th.) As you can see there's still furniture on the top floor -- even old Dallas guide books and Bibles strewn across desk tops and mattresses. Trevino says he's going to remove the walls, opening up every floor in order to rebuild ... though, still, he's not sure what it will become.
He says there's no plan yet, only a concept or two. Retail downstairs, absolutely -- perhaps by year's end. Residential, yes. But beyond that, he's not sure. He says he will spend the next several months gathering investors and formalizing a plan. He says he's in no rush. He says: "I want to do this right."
Then we strolled to the sun deck, which offers one of the most glorious views of the city.
"Are you intimidated by this promise you've made -- to not only redo the Statler, but to restore it to its former glory?" I asked Trevino.
"I was at first, but only a little," he said. "I was more nervous signing the papers."
We'll post a longer slide show tomorrow.