El Jardin to be sold; HACB to buy historic former hotel downtown - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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El Jardin to be sold; HACB to buy historic former hotel downtown

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Posted: Monday, November 4, 2019 9:30 pm

The board of Housing Authority of the City of Brownsville voted Monday to give HACB Executive Director Carla Mancha authority to proceed with the purchase of the former Hotel El Jardin on East Levee Street downtown.

The vote followed an engineer’s final report concluding that the derelict structure, abandoned since the mid-1980s, is still structurally sound despite the decades of neglect. HACB, which expects to close on the deal by Thanksgiving, anticipates spending up to $16 million to restore the historic building, which opened as El Jardin in 1927. The purchase price is $750,000.

HACB’s plans for the restored structure include some portion of affordable housing, though the housing authority plans to solicit input from the community and potential developers on how the building can also serve as a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

The East Levee Street derelict has seen more than one would-be savior come along announcing big plans for restoration and re-use, only to see those plans fall through and the property revert to its owner, Marta Martinez, who inherited El Jardin from her father, Marte Martinez, in 2008.

With the purchase by HACB, however, the former hotel appears to be on solid ground. Mancha said her agency sees the project as part of a “bigger vision for downtown revitalization.”

“Of course HACB’s mission is the creation of affordable housing, but at the same time what’s also very important is that whatever we do complements the growth of Brownsville,” she said.

Mancha noted that the purchase comes at the same time the city has launched a completely complete overhaul and modernization of its planning and development codes, which ultimately should provide more flexibility in El Jardin’s redevelopment, whatever form it takes.

“On a personal note, I’m very excited,” she said. “Not only are we preserving one of the most historic buildings in the community, but we’re also going to be part of something very historic for our future.”

Patricio Sampayo, HACB board chairman, said the acquisition presents an opportunity to convert the old structure into a community asset that will help spark a downtown resurgence.

“El Jardin is not just a building,” he said. “It’s a historic landmark. Saving the El Jardin is of vital importance to Brownsville’s history as well as an investment in the future of our downtown.”

District 4 City Commissioner Ben Neece said it’s thrilling to know the old hotel will again be part of the downtown community, and that he’s confident HACB will succeed with this project given successful track record on other projects. Neece said he’s been in close contact with Sampayo on the project and that “the prospects look very positive.”

“Students will be able to take advantage of this great housing opportunity,” Neece said. “I look forward to this being another catalyst for downtown development and hope it encourages community-conscious businesses to follow suit, especially to replace the grocery store that recently departed the downtown area. This additional population of downtown residents should be an incentive for businesses to consider downtown as a place to do business.”

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez likewise praised the deal.

“This purchase by the housing authority will change the entire area and will positively contribute to the revitalization of downtown,” he said. “They have shown an unparalleled commitment to Brownsville over the past few years and I am excited to see this project kick off.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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