|By Nancy Sarnoff, Houston Chronicle|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 31, 2005 - The Warwick Hotel, a decades-old landmark in the Museum District, has been sold to the owners of the swanky Hotel ZaZa in Dallas.
The historic property could close down as early as this summer and reopen next spring as a Hotel ZaZa.
"We think the Warwick is a great property," said Charles Givens of ZaZa Fountains, the entity that purchased the hotel from Olympus Real Estate Corp. "It's a property with a real soul, and we're going to breathe new life into that soul."
Plans to reposition the hotel are still in the early stages, however, and Givens said there's a chance that the property may not be given the ZaZa moniker or shut down at all.
"Nothing is set in stone," he said.
It is known that the property at 5701 Main St. will be renovated to include a 10,000-square-foot spa, fitness facilities, 16,000 square feet of meeting space and a new restaurant. The room count will remain about 300.
It will be managed by Utah-based Gemstone Resorts International, which also manages Hotel ZaZa in Dallas.
Givens said he has not yet hired an architect for the Houston project and that "the style of the renovation is evolving."
"We're still thinking through what's best for the neighborhood," he said.
ZaZa in Dallas
The original Hotel ZaZa opened in Dallas in 2002. Located in the city's Uptown district, the stylish property caters mostly to business travelers, though the company keeps a list on its Web site of celebrities who have stayed there.
Givens developed the hotel with business partner Jeff Records. They are both based in Oklahoma City.
The name ZaZa, pronounced with a hard Z, is meant to be "thought-provoking and creative," Givens said.
"If you can name a computer company Google, you can name a hotel ZaZa," he said.
Givens said after the renovations, the Houston property will have a much broader appeal than its Dallas sibling.
"It will be more of a destination by virtue of the spa, the pool and the surroundings of the museums," he said.
The only place to stay
The Warwick, which overlooks Hermann Park and the Mecom fountain, was once the only place to stay in Houston.
Its location near the park, Rice University and the city's growing cluster of art museums is considered one of the nicest parts of Houston.
The Warwick was originally built in the 1920s as a luxury apartment hotel, part of a trend to develop these kinds of properties outside city centers near cultural institutions, Rice University architectural historian Stephen Fox said.
"It was sort of the new trend of elite apartments for well-to-do people," Fox said.
In the 1960s, Texas oilman John Mecom bought the property. He renovated it and added rooms. The new Warwick made national headlines and established itself as the fanciest hotel in Houston, Fox said.
But during the oil boom, other high-end properties were built, displacing the Warwick as Houston's premier hotel.
"It continued to be a very desirable place because of its location, but I think because it had gone through a number of ownership and management changes, it never regained its stature from the '60s and '70s," Fox said.
John Keeling, an analyst with PKF Consulting, said it's often overlooked because of its location between downtown and the Medical Center.
He said a hotel might be more successful there if it had condominiums to help subsidize it. "It's a classic site problem," Keeling said recently. "It's a beautiful hotel and location, but it's not near any demand generators."
ABOUT HOTEL ZAZA
--Developer: Charles Givens and Jeff Records
--Owner: Givens Records Properties Ltd.
--Management: Gemstone Resorts International
Source: Hotel ZaZa
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