Thursday, September 22, 2005

The El Jardin Hotel Key to Revitalizing Downtown

After a five year absence, you come back to Brownsville and decide to go to downtown to check out what’s new. As you approach downtown from the 77/83 Expressway, you begin to notice something strange, thinking that you vision is somewhat blurry. You rub your eyes and take a look at downtown again but it’s still there. Or are you seeing double? As you get closer to downtown, you then realize that you’re not seeing things but instead, two El Jardin Hotels! One behind the other!

You arrive at downtown and immediately head over to the hotel on 12th St. When you reach Levee St, you see a site that downtown had been waiting see for a long time; the El Jardin Hotel renovated and as a plus, an exact twin right behind it. The Capitol Theater is finally under going renovations as had been proposed many years before. New businesses are sprouting up to reap in the profits of the 510 people living in the hotel. But wait a minute, who would live in a hotel? Well, by this time, it’s not a hotel but student housing for UTB/TSC! Students are walking to the campus and to ITEC (former Amigoland Mall and now part of UTB) via sidewalks that mirror the paseo on campus. The Village at El Jardin (as it could theoretically be called) is only 2 ½ blocks from campus and only six blocks from ITEC.

As you drive around the El Jardin and head on to Elizabeth St, you begin to see the extent of the revitalization that had happened since the El Jardin was renovated. HEB tore down the old building and rebuilt it into a much larger facility to handle the influx of not just the Mexican Nationals but the students living just blocks away. There’s also a Star Bucks, Hard Rock Café, The Gap, and other businesses that have begun to take advantage of the influx of students. Other historical buildings that have several floors or more are beginning to renovate the upper floors to accommodate the still growing university student population. By now, UTB has grown to 15,000 students and 17,000 including staff and faculty. The campus is now twice the size it was just five years back with new buildings sprouting along University Blvd. Tourism has increased as the majority of the students are out-of-town and foreign students living at the El Jardin and at the Village at Fort Brown at UTB. The Capitol Theater has now begun its renovation into a major performing arts theater that encompasses most of the block. Shock has now set into reality and you begin to think to yourself, how did all this happen in just five years? Vision. Someone saw an opportunity to turn the El Jardin into student housing and took a risk and paid off.

Of course, the above is just a taste of what could happen if the El Jardin Hotel is renovated. At this point in time, the El Jardin could only be profitable as student housing because of the growing university. It would not make money as apartments, or condos, or even as a hotel. The population is not there nor is the infrastructure such as a major grocery store, national retail stores, etc that people would want close to their home as opposed to students who would have no choice but the Village at Fort Brown, The El Jardin, or some far away apartment that would require you to drive a long distance to get to school.

Why is the El Jardin Hotel the key to revitalizing downtown? As I mentioned in my article below, it’s the chicken or the egg. What comes first, people or businesses. In my opinion, people must come first, but more specifically, students. As mentioned earlier, students need food, grocery stores, night clubs, hang out places, clothes, and so on. Downtown currently has all these things. Attracting people who live in the north part of Brownsville will not be easy because of the explosion of stores, restaurants, major retail stores, etc. Students are easier to attract because of their limited choices for housing, especially those that are not from here and would rather stay close to the university for security and ease of getting there. Students that are not from here generally have more money to spend with. If the university is going to hit 20,000 by 2015 or so, then the problem becomes with housing many of these students. Currently, there are about 250 rooms available at the UTB dorms. I don’t think that UTB will have the funding to build new dorms or be able to buy up all the condos in the peninsula and renovate existing structures in time to house these students. Students needing housing will find it elsewhere. This is why turning the El Jardin into dorms is of the utmost importance.

There was a company that had intentions of buying the El Jardin Hotel. They were going to renovate the existing structure and build an exact twin behind it with a beautiful plaza in the middle, a food court, and a first floor retail section. The combined space would be able to handle 510 students and staff! Five hundred students living in the downtown district ready to spend and help downtown flourish within a short few years. It was a magnificent report and drawings of the proposed student housing but unfortunately, UTB turned it down for whatever reason they may have had a few years ago. The company then decided to not buy the hotel and nothing came of it. Not the hundreds of students walking the streets of downtown, shopping, eating, or hanging out. No major retail stores to handle the influx of students or other owners turning their buildings into dorms. Just the same old downtown with the same people who are only attracted to the dollar stores and second hand stores.

Nothing will change until the El Jardin rises up from its grave. The El Jardin is the key and only hope of ever seeing downtown regaining its former glory. Till then, we can dream just like my dream at the beginning of this article.

14 Comments:

Blogger Mayra said...

If UTB won't invest in it the project then efforts should be made to attract another private college housing company, such as College Park Communities.

7:17 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Who are these companies Mayra? Maybe I can get in touch with these companies. The compnay that wants to built the twin El Jardin is just lookin for a leaser to begin the construction.

If I can convince one of these companies to lease, then my vision would come true in just a short while.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Mayra said...

College Park Communities

Jefferson Commons

University House

American Campus Communities

The Exchange

University Heights

Crossing Place

DTI Properties

11:40 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Many thanks Mayra!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TonyL

2:20 PM  
Blogger David said...

Let me know how I can help! I know that this is somewhat off the topic but what if the city considered luring another university system into the area as well? Maybe the Texas State University system could be lured into creating a new university which would help pump more money and jobs into the local economy.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Mayra said...

Tony!

I read the article in the paper today. Looks like ideas and talk are rippling. David is right, it may do some good to lure in another university but I think just in general, the city could use more options in the private and public service sector...create some good old fashion competition to keep the big fish on their toes!

10:51 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

David, if you want to help, join Preservation Brownsville. This month I'm going to be hold the board member's meeting but next month will be the general member's meeting. If you're interested, let me know.

Your idea of building a UT campus here in B'ville is very interesting. But here's the problem with that:

The UT system does not allow colleges or universities to teach the same degree plans within a certain area. That means that if Kingsville has a program in Civil Engineering, no other college or university can teach it within a certain distance to avoid (you got it, competition!). That's why UTB doesn't offer Civil Engineering or Electrical Engineering (Pan-Am has it). UTB offers Electrical Engineering Technology (requires lower math and lower engineering skills) I know cuz I'm in that program.

Well, I agree with you that bringing another UT campus would be great but unfortunatly, the state doesn't.

Monopoly. Go Figure!

TonyL

10:58 AM  
Blogger TonyL said...

I forgot to mention that if your interested in knowing more about Preservation Brownsville, go to the sidebar links and click on Preservation Brownsville. I'm still working on it though. I just got it up and running last week.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Mayra said...

Tony,

I think the institution David had in mind was Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos) which is not part of the UT System. They just changed their name a few years back. Other systems to keep in mind are the A&M system or a private college (maybe even a specialty private college like a liberal arts college, international business or affairs school, an art school, a music conservatory (which may give some momentum to the renovation of the Capitol and could base it's school in El Jardin), or a Hotel and Restaurant management school.

12:46 PM  
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Blogger jon said...

While searching for new trane air conditioner info for my house I stumbled onto your blog. I totally agree!

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9:48 PM  
Blogger Mayra said...

Hey Tony,

You should activate word verification on your blogs to deter the spam comments. Little buggers those things can be!

Mayra

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IS student housing the only solution to the Jardin? Private Dorm? Extended stay Hotel? Condo? Apts.? Office? Not that familiar w/ CBD Brownsville so just throwing things out...

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im glad I found the article. Hipsters, coffee houses and bars and over priced rentals. Is that the best the United States can produce. I prefer Mexican culture.

6:20 PM  

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