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Historic Preservation In Houston Means More Than A Wrecking Ball Thanks To Bill Franks

Historic Preservation In Houston Means More Than A Wrecking Ball Thanks To Bill Franks

"Houston's idea of historic preservation is the wrecking ball," William R. Franks Real Estate Services' Bill Franks told a crowd in New Orleans yesterday at the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) convention's discussion on the preservation of historic buildings. But Bill's bucking the trend; he's been preserving Houston's most storied buildings for decades.  

Bill got into historic redos by buying distressed assets during the oil bust of the '80s. At the time there were no historic preservation guidelines in Houston, so he was winging it as he went along. 

Bill Franks

Bill (pictured between panelists Ben Carter Enterprises CEO Quito Anderson and HRI co-founder Pres Kabacoff) has since done four historic adaptions in Downtown Houston. According to Bill, when you buy vacant historic properties everyone is excited and helpful at first, but when you actually start planning redevelopment, suddenly a litany of codes to work around start getting thrown at you. Bill is 82% finished with the renovation of the Stowers building (seen below), but recently got a call from Parks Services saying the project was in danger of losing its tax credits because they didn't like the pipes and sprinklers the city made them put in for fire code. The hotel lost some rooms trying to work around the problem and remain historic.  

Fellow panelist Pres Kabacoff (right) of Historic Restoration Inc agreed with Bill on the difficulty of preservation in Houston. He's done over 75 projects around the country but when he worked on the Humble Oil building in Houston it was almost the end of him. (Still, it put the taste in his mouth for major historic mixed-use projects.)

Historic Preservation In Houston Means More Than A Wrecking Ball Thanks To Bill Franks

Bill has now successfully converted the Carter Building to a JW Marriott and is working on preservation projects at four Houston hotels, three downtown and one in the med center. In August, the Stowers Furniture Building's three-year conversion to Aloft will be complete. 

While Bill is a pioneer in historic preservation in Houston, some might be surprised to find out he's also building a shiny new convention center hotel (breaking ground after the Super Bowl) and helping to pioneer hot new developments in young neighborhoods like Midtown, where he is serving as chairman of the Midtown District. Bill is proving you can cherish the young and old at the same time. 

Special thanks to Bisnow's Catie Dixon for the panel discussion notes.