Hotel SLO: Is it an eyesore or just hip and trendy?

After being kept under wraps for months, the exterior of the 78-room Hotel SLO has finally been revealed.

There are still finishing touches to be added — which should improve the facade — but our first impression is ... ugh. WHAT’S HAPPENING TO OUR DOWNTOWN?

Hotel SLO might look fine in a big city like San Francisco, or Los Angeles or New York. But we aren’t those places.

For San Luis Obispo, this building is massive, lacking in character (which could come with the addition of those finishing touches) and its weird, industrial siding looks like rusty corrugated metal you’d find on a battered shed out in the desert, surrounded by tumbleweeds, broken beer bottles and dead coyotes.

The overall effect is more government office building with a hipster facade than luxury hotel. Thanks to the battered-looking metal siding — which, we’re told, will weather to a more uniform warm bronze — some Tribune staffers have dubbed it “Hotel Waterworld,” after the dystopian Kevin Costner movie that takes place on a flooded Earth where every bit of material is reused.

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Hotel San Luis Obispo is nearing completion at 877 Palm Street. It stretches from Morro Street to the Palm Theater in the downtown core. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

On the plus side, the rooms look lovely in the renderings, but at $400 a pop (suites are as much as $1,000) most locals probably won’t be seeing much of those, though there will be public access to parts of the hotel, including the restaurants and a pedestrian paseo.

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A rendering shows a room at the future Hotel SLO in downtown San Luis Obispo. Courtesy of Hotel SLO

But the bones of the building won’t change; for the next century or so, we’ll be staring at the outside of a behemoth that’s swallowed up much of Chinatown.

True, the new Hotel Cerro is also big, but it’s not as conspicuous; it somehow manages to blend in with its surroundings.

Not Hotel SLO — its sprawl is the architectural equivalent of a really bad case of man-spreading.

So who’s to blame?

Not the current City Council or Planning Commission or Architectural Review Commission. This project was approved back in 2009, after years and years of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and fist-pounding.

And believe it or not, what you see today is actually a scaled-down version of the original design for a 75-foot-tall building.

Which makes us wonder: Was the revised project approved out of a sense of relief?

Were we won over with pretty architectural renderings?

Or were we so blinded by the promise of bed tax dollars that we sold out our downtown?

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Siding that resembles rusty, corrugated metal has been used extensively on the exterior of Hotel San Obispo. It’s expected to weather to a more uniform bronze color. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

That “we” includes The Tribune Editorial Board.

While we had concerns — mostly about parking — we ultimately agreed with the City Council’s 2009 decision to approve the project, calling the final plan a “credit to the applicants, the City Council, advisory board members and city staff.”

But it wasn’t just us.

Here’s what we reported about the final decision to approve the project: “Even some of its former opponents told the council and the Copeland Properties representatives that they either completely or generally approved of its final incarnation.”

On paper, the “final incarnation” may have looked wonderful. But in it’s current state —which, remember, is still incomplete — it’s pretty much being panned by passers-by.

A rendering shows the Palm Street entrance to the new Hotel SLO in downtown San Luis Obispo. Courtesy of Hotel San Luis Obispo

Here’s one unsolicited comment: “Isn’t that the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen?”

If it’s any consolation, maybe Hotel SLO will grow on us ... sort of like the Madonna Inn did back in the day. It went from being an architectural oddity — so pink! and what’s with those bare boulders out in front? — to a beloved local landmark.

Let’s hope that’s the case for Hotel SLO, because there’s no do-over for multi-million dollar construction projects like this one.

Meanwhile, the city had better double-down on preserving what’s left of downtown SLO’s smallish-town charm ... starting with no more overgrown buildings — no matter how much tax revenue they promise to generate.

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