Downtown park idea by TSC students great idea, stands little chance by city leaders?

THE REAL DEAL
By JERRY DEAL
Architectural students from Texas Southmost College have come up with some good plans for the barely used downtown Lozano Park, located across the street from that controversial structure known by a few names including the Baxter Building, across the street. Their various plans involve that certain structure in their park ideas.
Unfortunately, I believe any of those plans stand about as much chance as trying to move the building a few blocks down the street.
The students, who have unsuccessfully offered other ideas to Harlingen city leaders, although being successful in their ideas in Brownsville, believe there can be good use of a downtown, even small park. The offered their studies to the city downtown board.
A couple of my usually reliable informants say the city plan is more along the way of believing it could be used as parking space for those residents occupying the low rent apartments at the building.
Of course, the city by law will have to offer parking to all those using the downtown area, but the e are have been ways to get around tgat, like that is reported at the city’s other, higher cost, building that once was a housing development.
Lozano Park, although not large, has a stage and could be and should be used more, since it sits right in a vital part of the downtown area
This writer a few years ago made use of it to introduce the city to new baseball players when there was a RGV WhiteWings in town Scores of people came to get autographs and the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce participated as did the city’s police and fire departments.
Keep it as a park, rather than an ugly main street parking lot!
Let us see what really happens.

37 comments for “Downtown park idea by TSC students great idea, stands little chance by city leaders?

  1. Bill DeBrooke
    May 14, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Actually, Lozano plaza is a ‘Plaza’ not a park. The reason the Downtown Board advanced the funds to acquire the property from the Kattan and Dawi families was so that it would be available for development in the future. A Parking Lot was NOT one of the plans.

    Part of the reason we work with the architecture students is to give them experience in the field. While it is true they have had limited impact thus far some of their ideas will take shape on ‘A’ Street.

    Unfortunately, in Harlingen, moving things forward is like herding cats or pushing water uphill.

  2. Kenneth J Benton
    May 16, 2016 at 9:25 am

    What do you expect from “leadership” that advocates section 8 housing incented by low income housing tax credits and which lies repeatedly to willingly, duped sycophants?

    But then you too must share in the shame as you refuse to allow for the expansion of the tower or development of a parking garage which would support commercial uses.

    When I was in high school the saying among my classmates was that a few funerals were all that were needed to fix this community. Now we are all long of tooth and despite a large majority which hopes for change, voter apathy mixed with “free stuff”, bread and circuses, and just plain ol intimidation assures no change.

    Low income housing in the tower, a main street parking lot where a retail use should be, and trash dumpsters uglying up every street is where we are, Bill. And you know like I do that even if you got a commercial use it would likely be yet another pay day loan business.

    $14 million for a convention center to invite tourists to come see what we have to offer. NADA

    $ 52 million to bring in a business offering part time low wage jobs.

    $ 17 million for Brownsville rail relocation while our port dies and the needs of commerce and the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge are ignored.

    Those are the facts. But the old guard has spoken. So be it.

    • Gage D
      May 16, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      Well said

  3. Bill DeBrooke
    May 16, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Ken, I fully support the construction of a parking structure when all the pieces of the puzzle have been put into place. We are not quite at that point yet. When the time comes I would support retail on the first floor with parking above and residential above that. But, we are not there yet. As to the Tower, I think most people know my position on the proposed development. It makes little sense to be discussing the expansion of the Tower. The right answer is to develop the Tower understand that it is a fairly small building even though it is tall. It is the same square footage of the Famsa (x) store across the street. Considering the usable square feet on each floor sell one unit per floor on four through nine. Let everyone do their own build out and save about $3,000,000.

    Look at the bright side Ken, they could be spending real money.

    • IA
      May 18, 2016 at 8:11 am

      What do you mean by they can be spending real money?

      • Bill DeBrooke
        May 18, 2016 at 9:30 pm

        First, it was a joke because most of Ken’s ideas involve OPM, other peoples money. Secondly, the proposed project involves Tax Credits. The developer hopes to be awarded Tax Credits by the state so that he can sell them for 80-90% on the dollar to cut his investment cost. Unfortunately for the downtown that means 75% of the units will be affordable housing. That means packing more lower income households into Census Tract 109 where the Downtown is located. In the City as a whole 37% of the households have an income below $25,000. In 109 it is 61%. Last year Property Crime and Violent Crime in 109 was roughly double that of the City as a whole. But like I said, mostly it was a joke.

        • IA
          May 19, 2016 at 8:50 pm

          Kenneth J. Benton, what is your response? Being a former candidate for mayor I hope you have one.

          • jjr
            May 19, 2016 at 11:33 pm

            I wonder what classification that building and property that the blashka tower was swapped for would be? HTM? Harl’ taxpayer money?

            In all seriousness what would you classify it as BDB?

          • Red Barchetta
            May 26, 2016 at 7:09 pm

            Kenneth being a “former candidate for mayor” is a bit is a stretch. He and the others never were viable candidates.

          • jjr
            May 27, 2016 at 10:17 pm

            I gotta say Benton,when you don’t respond it just makes you lose credibility and gives credence to the likes of folks like RB.

  4. Bill DeBrooke
    May 20, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Seriously, the metal building on North Commerce across the street from Fair Park Blvd. would have to be considered obsolete. If you recall, it was a beer depot for the Schlitz brand if I am correct.

    For years it sat there empty and was owned be someone from out of town. When Spring Dynamics, an automotive industry supplier, looked at opening a plant in the valley the EDC made a deal to purchase the building. Normally one would expect to place Spring Dynamics in an industrial park but instead this building was chosen. I do not know who paid for whatever remodeling was done but most of it appears to be specific to that firm.

    When Spring Dynamics moved out the EDC was left with this building in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was listed for sale and no buyers appeared. I can get into the reasons this swap made sense for the Downtown while having little effect on tax payers of Harlingen if you would like but to answer your question, the building from an economic perspective was and is obsolete.

    • IA
      May 20, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      How can a building that is appraised at over 500,000 dollars be considered obsolete? Let’s just say it was the property alone and from an economic perspective how does it makes sense to swap the property alone for a dilapidated structure like the Baxter Building? I would bet that the property alone is worth way more than the Baxter Building.

      • Bill DeBrooke
        May 22, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        The Appraisal District lists the value as $360,000. The land as $158,000 and the improvements as $202,000.
        This is a ‘big picture’ question. We have already established that it would be expensive to demolish the Baxter Building. Mayor Card looked at that alternative when he could not get Wayne to do anything with the building. The nine story building is an Arte Deco Skyscraper. It is probably the most historically significant building in Harlingen. It is structurally sound and again could play a prominent role in the community and Downtown if properly restored.
        The metal warehouse building does have value but not to a company that is trying to make a profit. The sidetrack has been removed and it has poor access to the freeway. I assume Wayne jumped on the trade because he thought he was getting the better side of the deal. In all honesty, he did not. However, for the City of Harlingen, the citizens and the Downtown to win we need to show the building some respect. Stuffing the building with Affordable Housing is a very bad idea. There is no parking, no grocery store or any of the other services this project will require. Jerry Deal comments: Thank you for a very likely situation for involving this structure.

        However, I do understand the Mayor and Commissioners jumping on this deal. People, as you have, questioned the deal and have continued to complain that the City got taken. The City only got taken if they fail to properly consider the future of that building.

        It is time we look at what we can accomplish if we try. Look at the front page of the VMS today (Sunday). Let’s pony up and improve the Lon C. Hill Park. It is time we allocate as much money to ‘Quality of Life’ projects as we do to companies that want to be paid to come to Harlingen. If we do more things like this park idea, they will come for free.

        • Bill DeBrooke
          May 23, 2016 at 7:19 am

          By the way, I did a little research on this property. Until 2010 the total assessed value was $245,000. $207,000 on improvements and $38,000 on land. In 2010 someone at the appraisal district decided the land on Commerce was under valued and anyone that owned property addressed on Commerce got the shaft. Values on land went through the roof. In this case an increase of $120,000. It wasn’t until this swap was taking place that the appraisal district decided to double the value which on protest was reduced to the current $360,000.

          • IA
            May 23, 2016 at 5:53 pm

            Bill DeBrooke, if it would have been I or any other “citizen” of Harlingen we would have been slapped with code enforcement violations until we were so in debt to the city that they would have just took the building. Your buddy got rewarded with an up to code building and land. You can try to whitewash it all you want but the swap is what it is and that sure looks like favoritism or cronyism whichever you prefer to call it.

          • jjr
            May 23, 2016 at 9:47 pm

            BDB,this is what I am looking at and that building screams money pit. You can talk about it’s “historical worth” but for the EDC to swap a perfectly good building for a dilapidated structure makes NO ECONOMIC SENSE AT ALL.

            You can throw your numbers around all you want for the perfectly good “obsolete” building but it will be in the millions just to bring the money pit up to code and from what I have heard about the foundation,well,I don’t trust it’s structural integrity at all.

            Anyone can drive by it and look at the bricks coming off of it. How long before someone is hit by a falling brick and than the taxpayers have yet another lawsuit to pay for?

            It sure as Hell looks like all the EDC,the mayor and the commissioners did was take a money pit off blashka’s hands and turn it over to the citizens of this town.

          • jjr
            May 23, 2016 at 9:54 pm

            By the way BDB,John Silar’s words make TOTAL SENSE TO ME.

            John Silar on December 22, 2015 at 8:37 am

            All the good intentions by all the good old boys will never put Humpty Dumpty together…this project will be a black hole, aka money pit. The building was ill conceived from inception and no amount of remodeling can turn it into a viable investment.

            Investment is the key word here. Development should be left to the private sector. Our tax dollars should not be put at risk. I am a Texas registered architect (emeritus) and have made my career working in the private sector…no public works projects for me in over 20 years. I have been the architect for several high rise rehab projects over the years. The bottom line is this…can the rent structure generate enough income to pay back the investor tax payer and sustain the future heavy maintenance of the structure in the future?

            Examination: Who would live in downtown Harlingen and pay the rent required by an apartment in this building? What business will locate on the first floor without access to adjacent parking? These aren’t the architectural or code compliance issues. The building was built before modern HVAC systems. It doesn’t appear the floor to floor height will accommodate modern HVAC duct work.

            Has the fire marshal been consulted regarding emergency egress (exit) and is the elevator shaft able to accommodate the minimum size modern elevator? The building envelope (walls) was constructed before modern temperature controlled buildings were designed with insulation and damp proofing. What will happen when the HVAC systems are turned on and the dew point is reached with in the wall and mold begins to grow?

            There are so many issues that must be dealt with when attempting to renovate a building of this vintage and no one had demonstrated knowledge or consideration of these issues.

            I suppose only time will tell if this project proves to be successful, but I am opposed to risking tax payer funds…let the private sector take the risk and if there is indeed a reward, let the private sector reap it. Jerry Deal comments: I hope all read this!!

            http://myleadernews.com/wp/2015/12/baxter-building-project-appears-to-be-a-good-move-hopefully/

  5. erlkonig
    May 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Harlingen downtown murals made the Houston Chronical. Good job downtown people.

    http://www.chron.com/life/travel/article/A-road-trip-to-South-Padre-doesn-t-have-to-be-7556399.php#photo-1874221

    • erlkonig
      May 20, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      They should of mentioned the restaurants and waterholes at least; Colleti’s, Carlitos, Rio Grande, etc…

  6. Bill DeBrooke
    May 24, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    For the last twenty five years I have been listening to people ask why we bother to work with a bunch of old buildings that nobody wants and anyway they should be torn down.

    You may not like what Harlingen is today but I can promise you that without the Downtown it would be a lot worse. The Downtown is the heartbeat of a community. You remove a strip mall and no one will notice but if the Downtown is not performing the community is in decline. Our Downtown is recognized annually by the State because it sets an example of what can be accomplished with a little cooperation and a lot of hard work.

    If it were not for the support of people across the valley and tourists visiting the Valley the Downtown would not be as successful as it is. For some reason older locals do not appreciate the Downtown. The younger generation by comparison has discovered the Downtown and are very supportive.

    As to the Tower. No one has asked my opinion on the Tower project. Certainly not the Mayor or Commissioners. The Downtown for the most part was excluded from those discussions. I have never thought of the Tower project was a money making proposition. It needs as noted above, a great deal of work. Structurally, the building is sound. Probably one of the strongest buildings in town. My theory has always been to have the City (4B Corp.) give the building and a $500,000 low interest loan to a group of three investors (not really because there is no money to be made here) who put in $500,000 each. Retail goes on the first floor. The second and third floors are reserved for offices. The top six floors are sold as one residential unit per floor. The investors put in the windows, rough in the utilities to each of the floors 4-9 and the owners of those floors as they are purchased build out to suit their desires. The 25 foot building next door that comes with the deal provides one parking slot for each of those six floors with garage doors front and back. Entry from the parking area is into the lobby and the elevator which does not have to meet the size requirement of modern elevators via key code takes you straight to your floor. A couple of years back when these discussions were starting I thought $125,000 would be the starting price for the lowest floors and increasing as you went higher. That is about $35 per square foot.

    When you had sold the top six floors and convinced a couple of offices to occupy 2&3 probably trading rent for build out for a while you were done. This does not imply that you made any money. In fact I think at best this is a break even deal. But honestly, who cares. You have saved a very important building, the density does not adversely impact the Downtown so every one wins.

    I know, you don’t like that someone got the building for free. I do not know what the City has in the building currently, maybe 200K tops. Compare that to all the deals the City has done in the past ten years and this is chump change.

    • erlkonig
      May 25, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      I was hoping that a boutique hotel would get chosen but sadly there may not be a market in downtown for that yet. Second choice would of been middle to higher end apartments, same thing regarding market apparently. Now commercial lofts with first floor retail and micro brewery/pub in warehouse next door could be a viable project, and should be explored in lieu of low income housing. Don’t get hung up on lack of parking, nobody in Austin seems to care about that kind of thing but love the revenue from fines and the towing companies make a killing.

      Fair Park: Construct a new baseball stadium on triangle of land on the other side of Commerce north of West St. and Attract AAA or AA baseball club in a downtown stadium that ties downtown with La Placita district. Build parking lot or structure at Commerce Street, Jefferson and B street. Use land between Municipal Auditorium and Harlingen field to be a new museum district with potential to get a UT RGV partnership for an aquarium and/or planetarium (ULA, SpaceX, TSTC venture). Build structures to match existing architecture of auditorium complex.

      • Bill DeBrooke
        May 25, 2016 at 10:00 pm

        I was told a couple of hours ago that the Texas House of Representatives website will be live streaming info about the pending projects for tax credits including the Baxter project at 10:00 am tomorrow May 26th.

        I think that triangle is a problem. It may not be a Super Fund site but because of past use it has problems. A parking structure might be better suited on the north side of Van Buren between ‘A’ and First streets. It could serve the Baxter development, the Reese, the City Hall if moved to the Compass Bank building and other projected developments.

        Personally I would like to see the museum moved to the Bert Odgen building but as a more realistic option, the Casa del Sol block on Madison. Those two buildings total 20,000 square feet effectively doubling the size of the current museum.

        The trick as always is getting the City to understand the value of focusing its assets in one place. The current museum sits in the middle of the school property and we do not even own the parking lot to is needed for operation. If it is called the ‘Art and Heritage Museum’ it seems to me it ought to be where it “Art’ and ‘Heritage’ is.

        Speaking of Art, Friday night after 5pm is the monthly Art Walk. It includes art on Jackson Street, ‘A’ Street, Commerce and the 400 Block of West Van Buren.

    • erlkonig
      May 25, 2016 at 3:00 pm
    • IA
      May 25, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      I have not met one person who is against historical restoration but I have met many that are adamantly against all the favoritism and funding for the special interest here in Harlingen.

      • Bill DeBrooke
        May 25, 2016 at 10:02 pm

        Life ain’t fair. Life is indifferent.

    • jjr
      May 25, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      For the last 25 years I have not seen long lasting great paying jobs for this town’s residents. No above poverty level paying jobs in industry and manufacturing. Is your downtown offering the citizens above poverty wages? Is downtown creating an economic plus for the citizens to live on?

      Step back and analyze what you are saying BDB. Ask yourself where is the manufacturing and industry for this town? So citizens can spend their money downtown because they have great paying jobs.

      You make it sound like downtown is the lifeblood for the residents here AND it is for people like you. But it is certainly not a fruitful future for those who want a decent living wage.

      Now,I have nothing against old buildings and particularly like Victorian era architecture but the EDC should have NOTHING to do with historical restoration.

      What is the purpose of the EDC?

      Let’s look at what Brownsville’s EDC recently did for that city,

      http://myleadernews.com/wp/2016/05/sata-group-to-build-a-plant-in-brownsville/

      I am not going yet again into detail about the “tower” but the bottom line is,it’s a MONEY PIT now stuck to the citizens here or should I say “CHUMPS”.

      It should have been legally taken from the owner who refused to bring it up to code and not swapped out for an up to code building along with property. That act sure looks criminal to many folks around here.

      But like you,yourself states,”Compare that to all the deals the City has done in the past ten years”,it’s just business as usual,right BDB.

      • Bill DeBrooke
        May 26, 2016 at 1:57 pm

        The Downtown Improvement District is an assessment district. There are 126 separate properties that pay an annual assessment. Ninety percent of those properties are owned by small business people. It is the highest concentration of locally owned businesses in Harlingen.

        These business people because they are local spend their profits locally unlike the national chains where the profits go elsewhere. Our role in Harlingen is not to create manufacturing and industry. Our role is to provide Harlingen with a Downtown that functions and functions very well, thank you.

        The EDC (4A) replaced a function that was historically performed by the Chamber of Commerce. Until fairly recently the Chamber with a Board make up of important business people provided the incentives to bring business and industry to town. With the passage of the 1/2 cent sales tax to fund the operation of the EDC that function was institutionalized as a City function.

        Almost every city in the country has a variation of the EDC. They are all going after the same manufacturing companies. What helps a company make a decision whether to move to a particular city is not entirely based on the financial incentives. The people running those companies and the team they bring with them are concerned about the quality of life they and their families will have. The Downtowns role is provide a positive experience to residents and visitors.

        I realize that there is nothing I can say that will make you feel more positive toward Harlingen. It must be tough getting out of bed in the morning knowing that this day will be worse than yesterday.

        If it helps at all, a big part of Harlingen’s future lies with the Hospital District and the medical school. Those professions are highly skilled and well paying. They may not be manufacturing but they will lead the way to a bright and profitable future.

        • jjr
          May 26, 2016 at 9:34 pm

          You misconstrue my point.

          What kind of person would feel positive about leadership that has done what it has done in your words, “for all the deals the city has done in the last 10 years.” I have nothing against the city but I will dissent against the leadership for dealing the citizens bad deals.

          You know what the “tower” deal is turning into and it will not be good for your downtown. You don’t want section 8 downtown and now you feel like I have felt about the leadership which has done this to you.

          It is not tough at all BDB for a person like myself to get out of bed. I am not the one that has gotten screwed. I don’t deal with crooked people,I don’t involve myself in shady deals,I don’t mislead people and I don’t take advantage of people,a situation or government handouts. Government handouts whether it be city,county,state or federal.

          I take solace in Karma BDB and believe it works because I have seen it come to pass on selfish people’s lives.

          All I want for the people here is opportunities for them to prosper with good paying jobs,hopefully this will happen like you say with the hospital district and medical school. But let us not forget what has been done and who has done it.

          • Bill DeBrooke
            May 27, 2016 at 6:14 pm

            I did not imply that I thought the deals were bad. My point is that this is not a lot of money.

            You are correct that this proposed use of the Tower is about as bad a use as one could imagine with the possible exception of a nine story house of ill repute. We don’t however use the term ‘section 8’ anymore. It is now ‘affordable housing’. A much more sensitive term.

            As to you not accepting handouts, I do not believe you are correct. I do not believe it is possible to get through life without being affected in some way by the government impacting your life. If you recently filled out a form 1040 in that form the government allowed you a credit against your income for breathing. They allowed you another handout for not filling out the long form. If goes on and on. I go to movies on Tuesday because old people get in cheaper. Plus there are no screaming kids like on family night.

            We both know the solution to your problem. Put a slate together and run for Mayor and Commission. My only advise, well actually two pieces of advice. First be careful what you wish for. Second pick people to run with you that the general public would on a cold day in hell actually vote for. Nothing changes if the only message you have is, “I don’t like you or your friends”.
            Tell me you vision of Harlingen’s future. Lay it out so that I can wrap my head around it. Make me cry when I see what we can accomplish if we just try.

          • jjr
            May 28, 2016 at 3:32 am

            Money is money,I don’t like to see it thrown around like it has been. Whether it be a 1000 or 200,000.

            I don’t like political correctness. Just like George Carlin once said,”if we were still calling it SHELL SHOCK instead of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,veterans would be getting the help that they deserve”.

            Calling something for what it truly is,addresses the dilemma but instead,now,the public is brainwashed into changing the description as to try to soften what the meaning truly is.

            But PC is a whole other animal and discussion.

            I guess I am just ol’ fashioned when it comes to the distribution of taxpayer’s money. I don’t like it going to special interest or those who suck off the government constantly.

            As for the government impacting lives,well,they screw a majority of Americans everyday. Just take OHbombanation’s ACA.

            Honest,hard working and mostly Christian Americans are being taken and the forms don’t help.

            I am not the only person that feels the way I do. And many have thought of running for a commish’ seat. But when you look at the voter turnout numbers,there is a sad truth.

            Just look at how many votes the incumbent mayor got in a city of 65,000 with at least a voting populace of 25,000.

            The special interest know all about the voter apathy and they take full advantage of it. It would be a waste of time to try and run for a seat for someone like I or my comrades.

            It’s not about a grudge or score to settle BDB,it’s about what is right and wrong.

            But I will give you this BDB and you know I don’t necessarily agree with you. If you were to run for mayor I would vote for you.

            WHY? And I know many are thinking the same thing.

            “Tell me you vision of Harlingen’s future. Lay it out so that I can wrap my head around it. Make me cry when I see what we can accomplish if we just try.”

            You got pull and I will hope that next time around you will run to make this city what it was again.

            Hell,I voted for OhNONO the first time he ran just to give him a chance. I have no problem with giving people chances to make America or this city great again.

  7. IA
    May 26, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Bill DeBrooke on May 25, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Life ain’t fair. Life is indifferent.

    How to Spot a Sociopath
    http://www.wikihow.com/Spot-a-Sociopath

    • IA
      May 26, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Do you think there are any Sociopaths here considering Harlingen’s politicians and city government Bill DeBrooke? A simple yes or no answer will cure the curiosity.

      • Bill DeBrooke
        May 27, 2016 at 5:54 pm

        My degree is in Sociology not Psychology. Over the years I have met and worked with many City of Harlingen employees. I have found them to be hard working honest people. Generally, they are people who care about the community and try to do a good job.

        There is always a ‘but’ in an answer like the above and the ‘but’ is this. I do not believe they are encouraged to ‘think outside the box’. I do not know how the message evolved but it is pretty clear that laws, codes and ordinances are narrowly defined. Perhaps that is the way it has to be in an organization this size. I do know, after having been fired several times, that there is more job security in not being too creative on the job.

        Harlingen’s politicians, where to start? They, over the years, have been very interesting to watch and interact with. Again, most just want to do what is best for the community and get out of office as soon as possible. Others have come into office with a grudge to settle and I suspect have found out that it ain’t as easy as it looks. Still others viewed the seat as a stepping stone and another line on the resume.

        If I could change one and only one thing about people serving on Commission or as Mayor in Harlingen. As soon as they are elected I would (I being the City) give them a two or three week tour of selected towns and cities across the country. I would have them see what can be accomplished with effort and as a result the world did not come to an end. I would show them how the chains that come to Harlingen treat other cities and compare that to how they treat us. I would show them how attractive city streets can be with only modest sign regulations. Ah, but I dream the impossible dream. We do it this way because we do it this way and that is how we do it.

        • jjr
          May 28, 2016 at 3:48 am

          I gotta’ confess BDB,I am digging what you are stating.

        • IA
          May 29, 2016 at 6:24 pm

          Well said Bill DeBrooke.

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