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Is The Height of Tilman Fertitta's Post Oak Hotel Just a Tall Tale?

Story Count of Rockets Owner Tilman Fertitta's New Crown Jewel in Uptown Houston is Unclear
July 3, 2018

Credit: CoStar Group.

Houston Rockets owner and TV billionaire Tilman Fertitta’s new Post Oak tower is the talk of the town. With unmatched culinary offerings, a two-story combination Rolls Royce, Bugatti and Bentley dealership and direct helicopter access atop an opulent 700,000-square-foot hotel, the $400 million project is the height of luxury in Houston. But what exactly is its height?

Several discrepancies in The Post Oak Hotel’s height and floor count are bringing back age-old questions. From the Great Pyramids of Giza to the iconic Burj Khalifa, builders have always aspired to ever-greater heights to celebrate culture, promote cities - or simply to show off.

An organization known as the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is occasionally called in to settle the debates, such as when it ruled in the which-is-taller dispute between New York City’s One World Trade Center and Chicago’s Willis Tower - a contest that saw One World Trade Center come out on top.

"Developers have a tendency to exaggerate the floor count," Ben Mandel of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats once told the Associated Press.

The Post Oak Hotel was officially marketed and reported by news outlets as 38 stories, but the most up-to-date superstructure plans from the architecture firm Gensler, detailing the entire building plan from top to bottom, show 36 stories. The Department of Public Works & Engineering’s commercial prerequisite checklist also lists the property at 36 stories. Harris County Appraisal District’s most recent appraisal lists the building at 30 stories.

CoStar News requested clarification on The Post Oak Hotel’s floor count and received the following response from Jeff Cantwell, vice president of development for Fertitta's dining, hospitality, entertainment and gaming corporation, Landry's:

"The Post Oak Hotel building is 496 feet tall to the roof of the sky lobby. Its tower is 38 levels/stories. Counting the elevators or looking at typical sections do not illustrate the additional two stories. Two of the levels are only accessible by stairs or small lifts not shown on certain building drawings or sections."

In addition to questions about its height, the recently opened hotel is also facing dozens of liens adding up to more than $30.5 million for payment disputes, which have been filed in Harris County against Fertitta's company, the Houston Business Journal reported.

As for the Post Oak's building height, Rice University Professor of Architecture Ron Witte said the varying sources could all be right. For instance, there could be mezzanine levels, seen as floors within a single floor, which might not translate into total building height or floor count. Technical levels for mechanical infrastructure are also a grey area, but as they’re considered technical space, not program space, they would not be relevant to a building's total story count, according to Witte.

"The drawings on file with the Houston Planning Commission are going to show exactly what is there, whatever the building has been permitted for, with any addendums; that’s what’s going to get built," Witte said. "A project that big typically has a pretty clear way of being labeled."

Post Oak Rendering.

In CoStar’s review of Gensler’s copyrighted plans on file with the Houston Planning Commission, no additional stories, stairwells or small lifts were found. CoStar did find a request for building story count clarification from the commission in the agency's review of the superstructure plans. Gensler’s response indicates the plans have been corrected to reflect the accurate number of stories, which does include a 13th floor. Those plans show 36 stories at every reference.

The building’s exact height measurement is unclear as well. At the height claimed by Landry’s, the Post Oak Tower is the 37th tallest building in Houston. But at the height listed with the Houston Planning Commission, the tower is 39th, putting it just behind BHP Billiton’s new 477-foot Uptown headquarters at 1500 Post Oak Blvd., a stone’s throw away.

Federal Aviation Administration permits list the building's height at 489 feet, superstructure plans from Gensler list the height at 475 feet and Landry’s claims the height is 496 feet. CoStar’s own verification measurements using Nikon Forestry Pro lasers to calculate the height from the ground to the highest point - a measurement tool used only for special projects - found the height to be 495 feet.

In New York, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat eventually sided with One World Trade Center after determining the 408-foot structure atop the building is technically a spire, not an antenna, which would not have counted. The council is unlikely to weigh-in on The Post Oak Hotel, but extending the logic means The Post Oak Hotel’s crown would count, bumping it above BHP Billiton by 19 feet.

The Post Oak.
Photo Credit: CoStar Group.

The 250-room hotel is the crown jewel of Fertitta's growing empire. As of 2018, Fertitta’s net worth stands at $4.4 billion, according to Forbes. On top of being chairman and chief executive of one of the nation’s largest restaurant groups, Landry’s, Fertitta also owns Golden Nugget Casinos, the Houston Rockets and hosts CNBC’s hit show "Billion Dollar Buyer." As chairman of the University of Houston’s board of regents, Fertitta is as big as it gets in the bayou city.

Whether Fertitta’s place in Houston is as big as he claims it to be will remain a debate for cocktail hours.

Gensler did not return messages seeking comment. Landry’s did not respond to follow-up questions.

Kyle Hagerty, Houston Reporter  CoStar Group   

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