Catering to History Hicks takes events gig to Main Street

Houston caterer Jackson Hicks has handled weddings, balls and celebrations in the city's finest mansions in River Oaks and Memorial.
John Everett / Chronicle
Jackson Hicks will transform the former First National Bank lobby on Main Street into the Corinthian ballroom, able to handle 500 diners. The building, completed in 1904, was once Houston's tallest.

Later this year, Hicks will be going to a locale that has not packed such a prestigious punch: the north end of Main Street.

What's drawing Hicks to Main Street is an ornate room with a rich history. The building, constructed in 1904, was originally the home of First National Bank.

The old bank lobby features a 35-foot-high ceiling, fluted Corinthian columns, marble floors and plenty of exceptionally large windows.

Hicks will transform the old bank lobby into the Corinthian -- a place that can easily seat more than 500 for dinner and handle a cocktail party with 2,000 imbibers. A balcony over the lobby will enable the caterer to pack in even larger crowds if need be.

"We think it will be a great benefit for our city," said Hicks, head of Jackson & Co. "I think we've missed the point when it comes to historical buildings. We've torn down many wonderful old buildings."

Hicks' firm has leased 30,000 square feet in the building at 201 Main St.

"He does an outstanding job in his field. He will become another major anchor on Main Street," said developer Ed Wulfe, chairman of the mayor's Main Street Coalition, which promotes the planned growth of the city's spine.

"He will make a major revitalization statement," Wulfe said.

The creation of the Corinthian ballroom will also be a lift for the effort to sell the rest of the building as loft-condominiums, said developer Frank Garvey of Garvey Builders, which is working in partnership with Hicks on the ballroom project.

Garvey is carving up the remainder of the eight-story building into 62 lofts called the Franklin Lofts. Garvey said the first units in the building should be ready for move-in within a few months.

Typical lofts in the project will be priced at between $250,000 and $400,000.

Next door, Garvey has built a seven-level parking garage at the corner of Main and Congress. The garage will have 11,000 square feet of retail space.

Garvey is hoping to secure a merchant to operate a small grocery store in the retail space.

Some observers in the real estate community have raised questions recently about the health of the downtown loft market, particularly in light of the shrinkage at Enron Corp., which had been the largest downtown employer.

However, Roger Huffine, a downtown realty agent with Heritage Texas Properties, said he knew of only three pending loft sales that had collapsed because of Enron's layoffs.

So far this year, the downtown loft market has been strong, said Huffine, who said he sold $1 million worth of downtown lofts last week alone.

Houston Realtor John Daugherty said the Franklin Lofts had been reviewed by a number of his agents and the project appears to be positioned for good sales velocity.

Having Hicks in the building adds some prestige to the Franklin Lofts project, Daugherty said.

Garvey's group bought the 160,000-square-foot Franklin Lofts building from the county government in 1999 for $4 million.

The building has been vacant for a decade, and the county had considered demolishing the old structure, which was run down when Garvey acquired it.

The building originally was built to house the First National Bank at a cost of $228,000. When it was completed, it was Houston's tallest building.

The bank building, designed by the Sanguinet & Staats architecture firm, was expanded in 1909 and again in 1925.

First National Bank occupied the building until 1956, when the bank merged with City National Bank and relocated.

A short time later the building was purchased by the T.J. Bettes mortgage company and later by the Lomas & Nettleton mortgage company.

After a lengthy construction process, Garvey's firm has completed a number of model homes in the Franklin Lofts.

By: Ralph Bivins
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle