COMMENTARY: Downtown renaissance - Brownsville Herald: Editorial

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COMMENTARY: Downtown renaissance

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Posted: Monday, November 25, 2019 11:19 am

A united effort by residents and public administrators is essential for the maintenance and stability of any city. Community decline is inevitable if citizens do not maintain and refresh their properties. Likewise, public agencies must use the public’s money to perform the work to maintain and refresh its properties and the public’s infrastructure.

However, combining these actions with entrepreneurial abilities and money not only avoids decline, it is the engine of growth. Entrepreneurial efforts must be encouraged to avoid city distress and deterioration. If not, merchants, professional service providers and people flee the malaise.

H-E-B’s recent flight indicates the decline of downtown.

Decline causes other problems: less personal safety; disproportionate use of public resources; increased drive times to satisfy daily needs; sadness and anger arises; people lose self-esteem, personal and city pride. The decline spreads. Once started, the cycle is difficult to break.

The unproductive buildings in downtown are a call to action to align efforts to fix it. Downtown has not attracted “significant” private investment in decades. One bright spot is the recent entrepreneurial efforts of a fantastic pizzeria (shout out to Santa Barbara Dante!).

The investment seen in downtown is long on risk and short on return by normal standards, indicating an inadequate number of city residents frequenting downtown. Residents spend their money and time in the outer reaches of the city, even other cities. Why shouldn’t they, given the conditions of downtown?

It is a vicious cycle.

Current County Judge Eddie Treviño, when serving as city mayor, and his group of city commissioners, administrators and civic leaders dared to ask; “Can downtown Brownsville be substantially revitalized to restore its glory days?” The answer proffered by a group of experienced urban renewal entrepreneurs: “Yes, we can! It requires cooperation and participation of several public agencies. The process will be long, multi-faceted and require an overarching strategy with smart tactics to produce the renaissance.”

The Treviño group embraced a strategic plan and took decisive action to attract the “significant” investment to turn around downtown. They initiated forward-thinking negotiations to reengineer and redevelop the Rio Grande Riverfront and the downtown railyard with their experienced entrepreneurial partner and federal D.C. agencies. By necessity, the Trevion group initiated the community planning process resulting in a downtown planning ordinance titled “downtown revitalization.”

The section describing how to turnaround downtown is titled, “The Rio Grande Esplanade,” a name coined by Steve Tillotson of Muñoz & Co., the well-recognized and acclaimed architectural firm of San Antonio.

These seminal actions spawned additional decisive actions by a second group, the Ahumada+Martinez group. Their actions secured authorizations from several agencies & entities. These decisions and authorizations are the foundation of the downtown renaissance. Smartly, they focused and coordinated efforts and resources on the riverfront and railyard.

However, the process is not yet complete. Of the nine public agencies required for the turnaround to physically begin, seven authorizations to proceed are secured. When the final two agencies evidence their authorization to participate, downtown Brownsville is at the threshold of creating its renaissance.

The Riverfront Boardwalk portends to attract tens of thousands to downtown, where people will gather, businesses will double and triple sales and happiness will prevail!

Unfortunately, we have lost helpful Brownsville-minded thinkers in the process, Frank Yturria (RIP), George Ramirez (RIP) and others to relocation or retirement. However, large-scale real estate undertakings are akin to a four-leg relay race; successors must grab the baton from their predecessors and advance it toward the finish line.

The current group of civic and city leaders, the Mendez-Neece-Treviño group, are well positioned to grab the baton and advance the third leg of the race toward the finish line by forging and securing the formal participation of the final two public agencies, the county and the state.

If we emulate the well-coordinated decisive actions of those who preceded, the previous efforts won’t be in vain. We must seize the opportunities presented by the proven strategy and tactics. Keep to the plan, stay the course.

Advancing the third leg sufficiently allows the entrepreneurial partner to grab the baton and run the fourth leg of the race to the finish line by advancing up-front 100% of the capital costs of all public and private improvements, with the assurances that it will be reimbursed for the public’s share of the costs from the new taxes generated by the upfront investment and new operating businesses when the taxes are collected by the participating agencies.

The first two legs of the race secured the most difficult authorizations to proceed. We can now set the pace and path to success to secure the authorizations of the final two agencies. Carpe diem!

C. Samuel Marasco is president of LandGrant Development, a commercial real estate development, investment and management firm specializing in urban renewal in the international region of the U.S.

C. SAMUEL MARASCO

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