San Antonio, Texas – A renovated luxury hotel near San Antonio International Airport aims to recapture the panache that was synonymous with its original name, La Mansion del Norte, more than four decades ago. Across from the North Star Mall, Estancia de Norte will replace a chain DoubleTree hotel, and is scheduled to open April 1. The pandemic might not be the ideal time to open a new luxury hotel, but the head of Presidian Hotels & Resorts — which will manage the property — said he is confident Estancia del Norte will be successful over the long term.
“Generally speaking, when you open a hotel, it takes about two years to get it to its optimal performance,” CEO Charles Leddy said. That’s how long it could take San Antonio’s hospitality industry to recover from the COVID-19-induced downturn. “Everyone is telling us that it is going to be 2023,” Leddy said. He predicted people will be traveling more in the second half of 2021 as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available. “I believe if we do our job right and create a really unique experience at this hotel, then we are going to do just fine,” he said.
Leddy expects to charge an average nightly rate of $149 at Estancia del Norte — less than half the normal price at other luxury hotels, such as the Hotel Emma by the Pearl and the Hotel Thompson San Antonio, expected to open in downtown in late January. In addition to competing on price, he said, Estancia del Norte will attract guests who don’t want to stay downtown. The hotel will employ 150 workers. Presidian plans to fill some of the positions with former employees from the DoubleTree and laid-off workers from other local hotels the company operates.
The original La Mansion del Norte opened in 1978. Local hotel developer Pat Kennedy positioned it as a sister hotel to La Mansion Del Rio, his hotel on the River Walk. The hotel now is part of the Omni chain. Kennedy sold La Mansion del Norte in 1988. The hotel lost its name and ultimately its elegance, becoming a cookie-cutter chain property under several different brands. It greeted visitors as the Sheraton Fiesta from 1995 to 2010 before becoming the DoubleTree San Antonio Airport Hotel.
Hotels in the airport area posted an average occupancy rate of 43.5 percent in of December, a drop of almost 31 percent from a year earlier, according to STR, which tracks hotel occupancy and financial data. The airport hotels filled about half their rooms in August and September, their best months since the pandemic hit in March. Consultants say hotels needs occupancy rates of 60 to 70 percent to make a profit. Room occupancy was above 75 percent for airport hotels in August and September 2019, STR reports.
Leddy is the majority investor in a development entity associated with Presidian. He said the partnership paid more than $15 million to buy the DoubleTree from a California investment group and poured $11 million into renovations. Most of the 263 rooms and 12 suites in the five-story hotel face an interior courtyard that features a promenade of palm trees. A Spanish-style titled lobby fountain is dry today but will be flowing when guest begin arriving in April. Local artist Sienna Dunis Ginn is creating a 21-by-6-foot tile mural for the lobby, highlighting the hotel’s history as well as scenes from San Antonio city life. Leddy partnered with local catering company Don Strange of Texas for the hotel restaurant. Don Strange of Texas CEO Brian Strange will open the company’s first brick-and-mortar dining establishment there. The restaurant, Lazo With Don Strange, will seat 180. The hotel plans to use its courtyard and 7,000-square-foot ballroom — along with the Strange company’s reputation — to attract weddings and other special events.
“There are a lot of people who have put off weddings and big events like that, and they are going to want to get back in — and the hotel could be very well-positioned,” said Paul Vaughn, senior vice president of San Antonio hotel consulting firm Source Strategies. Vaughn said the wedding business could pick up by fall as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Special events and celebrations fill hotel rooms, said Tucker Johnson, instructional assistant professor at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. While managed by Presidian, Estancia del Norte is part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, the hotel company’s boutique line. “It will give the hotel wide exposure to potential guests because they are part of the Hilton reservation system,” said Johnson, who teaches at the school’s San Antonio campus. Leddy said the hotel will pay more than 10 percent of its revenue to be part of the Hilton chain, but it’s actually more economical than operating as an independent hotel. He said independent hotels usually pay commissions of 15 to 18 percent to outside travel agencies, such as Expedia and Travelocity, for bookings. He said about 70 percent of Hilton guests book directly through Hilton.
Leddy, 44, said he had visited the hotel a number of times when it was a chain operation and always thought that he would love to restore its beauty. “I am extremely excited to reintroduce this grand hotel to San Antonio,” he said.