Cortez' Compadre

Inside Centre City Development Corporation's fourth-floor meeting room on Wednesday, April 14, downtown developer Peter Janopaul took the podium to address the corporation's real estate committee.

Janopaul spoke to the objections that a handful of residents had raised during public comment about his newest proposal to build an 18-story high rise on the back terrace of downtown's historic El Cortez building.

"Frankly, it is an old idea that historic resources must be elevated on some pedestal," Janopaul said. He added that the juxtaposition between the old El Cortez building and his modern design compliments the 1927 Spanish Colonial-inspired building, linking the past with today's aesthetic.

Janopaul has uttered these talking points before.

During the past four years he has fought hard to develop the parcel. In 2006, Janopaul submitted his first proposal for his 18-story building. Shortly after, the city's historical resource board started to raise concerns about the height and mass of the building and Janopaul scaled the design down to 13 stories. After agreeing to shrink the project, the city council/redevelopment agency approved Janopaul's proposal, despite continued objections from neighbors and historical preservationists. And then El Cortez homeowners filed lawsuits and progress on the project slowed; that is until last year when Janopaul submitted a new application for a development permit. This time around, Janopaul demolished the proposal for a 13-story residential building and resurrected his plans for an 18-story, 118-unit residential tower.

Shortly after the corporation chair Fred Maas introduced the agenda item, architect Ricardo Sabines presented sketches of the proposal. "Our objective was to create a sister building to the El Cortez, like friends sitting next to each other at the top of the hill," the architect said in a thick Latin accent. The designs showed a modern glass tower, ellipsoidal in shape, abutting the northeast façade of the El Cortez.

Those opposed to the project didn't agree that the two buildings had much in common.

"This is a tremendous distraction from the El Cortez. It calls attention to itself and frankly looks like the El Cortez in drag," one speaker said during public comment.

Other speakers referred to 777 Beech Tower as an "unpleasant shadow" to a "precious historical resource."

After public testimony, the committee gave their thoughts. All five committee members liked the design but questioned the location of the project.

"I'm disinclined to go through that process again," said committee chair Maas. "It's an abuse of staff time and my time to go through it again. I'm trying to put the wooden cross through..."

Maas stopped there and no further action was taken.

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