Wednesday, May 24, 2006

10 Reasons for Repopulating Downtown

Revitalizing downtown is not just about fixing the facades of the historic buildings but convincing people to move back into downtown, which, in turn, will trickle down to revitalizing the area.

But here comes the chicken or the egg situation. People don't want to move to an area that does not have the accomadations and conviniences of large shopping centers or grocery stores within a mile or so, which downtown lacks sorely. By the same token, national retail & restaurant businesses are not going to go to an area that lacks people, especially where the income level is not justifiable to them. So how do you redevelop the downtown when the majority of the people and businesses don't want to be the first to do so? Ha, that's the problem that has plagued downtown B'ville for so long since after its fall in the early 1980's.

With all these new shopping centers and an expanded mall recently, people will see the northern part of the city as more attractive therefore attracting more businesses, which then creates a loop of bringing more people and then businesses and vice versa. It begins to actually create its own growth without outside help. But what is happening today in north B'ville didn't happen overnight not even six years ago with the Sunrise Mall renovation. It happened decades back when developers were building new subdivisions with promise of peace and tranquility from the hustle and bustle of downtnown. The Valley International Country Club (VICC) and the Brownsville Country Club (BCC) were one of the firsts to develop on the FM 802 rd where it was once a two lane and cattle would outnumber people. What a difference 30 years years makes! Now, it's the north side with the hustle and bustle that even surpasses the downtown traffic congestion. it appears that now, people want to live in an area that is rapidly getting overcrowded with vehicles, people, and parking lots. From an airplane, you would think that there was a huge ant hill taking over the north section as massive parking lots and stand alone buildings begin to creep into what once was brush land. slowly, land that belonged exclusively to animals now is reigned by humans. Where once birds were the prominant voices of the land is now drowned out by the steel creatures with their engines, load mufflers, boom boxes, and the whir of the wind as the these creatures slices through the atmoshpere where it could be heard for a mile out at speeds unheard of in the animal kingdom. Nature must now compete with man and their unsatiable need for space.

Many large cities and even towns across the nation are beginning to take notice of the above mention and have begun or already have implemented revitalization efforts to resurrect their downtown district not just to help keep undeveloped land from being desacrated but for many other reason as well. Here's what I believe that downtown should be redeveloped and repopulate it.

I. Minimizing the Impact on the Ecology.

This is the most obvious one since I had just mentioned it above. Too much land is being overtaken and there is now less land for the our animal neighbors to enjoy without human presense. People then complain that there are wild animals in their backyard, but who can blame these victims of human intrusion. When I walk around the Paseo de la Resaca (between FM 802 & Paredes Line Rd), which has an excellent hike and bike trail, I see at night a buch of jack rabits, sand pipers, snakes, and other creatures whose land is slowly being paved or built over and have less space to hide and hunt in their area. Now they are reduces to just a few acres of land that at one time stretched for hundreds of miles. And even this tine area will no onger be their home. What will happen to then is unknown cuz no one does research here about these dispalced animals. By reconcentrating people back into downtown, it will help minimize the destruction of the undeveloped land as well as imposing ordinances where once the downtown can no longer support more people, then, and only then can developers go outside of the downtown area but this last option would be highly improbable as it would send a negative image about B'ville not freindly to developers but then what other options would there be to keep developers in downtown?

2. Up vs Sideways

This is definately true. Their is more space up than sideways. you can hold more people in an acre of land going up than gobbling up land for the same amount of people. Parking garages are usually built into the existing building so as not to take so much space and minimize the impact of unsightly humungous parking lots. Sure, living in apartment style is not for every one but at least offer the option. Some would rather live in single homes and that's fine but there is a lot of space for single home in and around downtown, within a mile radius. There should be a combination of high-rise & mid-rise apartment and condos along with 1 to 2 story homes that can, with careful planning, be integrated together but not be too unsightly where all of a sudden there is a high-rise next to a one-story home. There would have to be intervals of residential homes next to mid-rises and fianlly high-rises to give the impression of a skyline that is well managed and eyepleasing.

3. Economic Cost

As a city grows, mostly for reasons of creating a larger tax base, so does the cost of providing utilities such as light and sewer, police, firefighters, ems, paved roads along with maintanance, schools, and other miscellaneous costs. Is it really worth the time, effort, and money to annex land that will not pay for itself? I can see annexing along the expressway but annexing any other part of the city is futile and costly to tax payers. Lately, the city has been annexing mostly empty land or land that has few residential areas, which means that in the future, the city will have to provide all of the above but will the city get a return on its investments? How does the city justify the expense just to look bigger on the map? As a city grows further and further away from its downtown, the more expensive it becomes to provide the above mention services, especially considering that the costs of everything goes up every year. Ultimately, the city would need to either raise taxes or go for bonds, which is the same as raising taxes on an already over taxed taxpayers in one of the poorest cities in the nation where the per capita income is aout $9,800/year. No. The answer is not to continue annexing land that will not even break even, but to reinvest in the areas that are already have the services in place. By repopulating the downtown area, it is possible to increase the tax base by building highrises and even single family homes within a two mile radius. As more people move closer together, the city is able to recieve more in taxes without the added stress of adding new services. PUB wouldn't have to continue spending on building new sewer lines or power poles and the city would not have to maintain city streets that it would have to be built in the future (already, the city has over 350 miles of streets). The further sideways a city grows, the bigger the demand for services to these areas. The city would eventually go bankrupt without raising significantly the already high taxes. BISD wouldn't have to continue building new schools or even daring to ask voters for more money to catch up to the outer edges of the city. The city would, in time, recieve more tax money than it would spend creating a surplus and then reinvesting the surplus back into the community. The era of bonds and tax raising would be a thing of the past.

4. Fewer Miles to Get From Here to There

Living within the downtown area, where sidewalks exists, would help foster an active walking activity by walking to your nearest convinience store, retail store, restaurant, banks, the downtown district or even work! The future downtown will encompass new hike and bike trail creating safe places to get from one place to another. With diabetes rated the number one risk factor in the Rio Grande Valley, what better way to beat this disease than by "walking" away from it. People would not need to rise by car to reach the nearest store or bank. Most people could opt to walk there instead. Nothing would be further than a two mile thus, even if one had to use their car, it would not take more than a few minutes without the hassle of fighting through traffic at the bottlenecks near the expressway. Also, students going to UTB/TSC would be spend less in travel cost by living near the campus, thus saving in gas and money, which is in short supply when going to school.

5. Preserving the Historical Nature of Downtown

As more people move closer or into the downtown, more of the historical structures will more than likely be rescued and restored. There would be more interest in restoring these structures to attract those who are interested in living in these majestic buildings. Before long, say about 20 years, most if not all of the buildings will have occupied upper floors versus today where only the bottom floors are occupied. With more interest in living in downtown the more interest in bring the buildings back to life.

6. Less Pollution in Brownsville

Living in downtown provides the opportunity of walking rather than driving as the downtown offers sidewalks from St Charles St. to nearly all the way to the Expressway 77/83. It's safer to wlak in downtown without the worry about being hit by a car when crossing a major intersection such as Boca Chica Blvd or FM 802 (though there is still dangers from getting mugged but that could happen anywhere at anytime). With more people walking than driving means less pollution from car exhuasts, which in turn creates better breathing for everyone.

7. Downtown View

Living in downtown would provide a view like no other place in the RGV. I know cuz I've been to most of the tall buildings including the 14-story Villa del Sol apartments and the view is phenominal! talk about being able to see a large swath of Matamoros adn into Mexico along with the international bridges, view of UTB/TSC with its beautiful architecture, to the north east and east with the view of the Port of Brownsville as well, on good sunny and clear day, the view of the skyline of SPI (only at 14 floors and above) and the view toawrds north B'ville where all you see is a sea of green! Not to mention the incredible view of the downtown historic buildings. It's just amazing to see all this and can only be viewed from the downtown area. If developers woudl take the time to go into the upper floors (especially the Villa del Sol), the would see opportunity ($$) knocking ont heir doors and build high-rises to take advantage of these amazing views. Really, no other place in the valley could you find a view such as this.

8. Within walking Distance

Living in and around downtown would provide short walking distances to the UTB/TSC, Matamoros, downtown, the soon to be built MultiModal Transportation Terminal, Glady's Porter Zoo, the various parks such as: Washington Park, the newly renovated Dean Porter Park, Lincoln Park, Hope Park (along the river), St. Charles Park and the future Linear Park in front of the Federal Courthouse and its future hike and bike trail the Historic Battlefield Trail and the Texas Trail of Trees. Phew, those are a buch of parks located within a mile or so from the downtown district.

9. The Future West Loop

Once the West Rail Relocation Project (will remove all RR tracks and build a new rail bridge west of Brownsville) is complete, it will free up the existing railroad tracks from the B&M Int'l Bridge to near Alton Gloor. This, in turn, will become the future West Loop. It's not determined yet if it will become a limited access highway such as the expressway or a boulevard. in either case, a new direct acces to north Brownsville and the Expressway 77/83 will be built to downtown. This means more people will be able to get to downtown other than the expressway. With any luck, the future West Loop will become an expressway style to help move people in and out of dowtnown without congesting the existing expressway. The West Loop will definately help with revitalizing downtown.

10. A Place Like no Other

Living in downtown would be like living in the past while looking into the future. As new projects such as mid and/or high-rises make their way into downtown providing views as mentioned above, it will provide an experience where you can walk or drive in downtown while seeing the historic structurte with modern buildings (once built in the future) and having a feeling of nostalgia. there is so much history here that can't be felt or seen anywhere else in the Rio Grande Valley. Living in downtown is really living "On the Border, By the Sea."

Well, these are my ten reasons for living in downtown and I'm sure I have thought of others but can't think of them right now. I hope this article helps you all to see the opportunites in repopulating downtown and maybe even convince you of doing the same. As for me, I'm waiting a while longer to be able to buy a midrise building and living in the upper floor while renting the rest of the building. I dream about this every day and look forward to enjoying the view and living in the past splashed with the present. hope to see you all there in the future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your breakdown is valid. I think that Brownsville needs to concentrate more on its efforts to restore the historic downtown buildings. This is the area where Brownsville is unique in the Valley. It really needs to take advantage of this.

For instance. The First National Bank building should be restored to its former glory. It's current configuration is hideous, but it's original architecture was beautiful.

Do you know whether the original columns are present under the current walls? If they are, I think it needs to be restored. It could be turned into a art gallery or even another bank.

I'd also like to see the same thing happen to the old Martinez building. What do you think?


2:32 PM  
Blogger Jorge Krieg said...

Tony, what is your obsession with the downtown area? I grew up in (around) the downtown area. To be precise, I grew up on Monroe (east) street. My grand-father built his house there (with his own hands) back in the 1940s. I always re-call when he would tell me how great and nice the downtown area used to be, and how much it had changed. My gramps is dead now (R.I.P), and he would not agree much with your enthusiasm with D>T. The main reason my gramps had with the downfall of the downtown area (and which I agree 100%), was because of the QUALITY of people that began to move in to that area. It all began around the late 1960s when residents of the downtown area began to migrate north to better and more spacious subdivisions. With time, many good Brownsville families left Brownsville for good. During the late 1970s early 1980s a strange thing began to happen to the dowtown area. A lot of mexican undereducated people with bad morals started to move in to the dowtown area. These people were mostly poor and undereducated. They slowly began to spread like a cancer around the downtown area. Crime rates sky rocketed, and slowly became a ghetto like area. In the early 1980s prostitution and drug pushers took over and really screwed things up. There were even She/men selling themselves and probably still are. The mexican influx even led to the downfall of public schoools such as Puetgnant (excuse the spelling if wrong). As I drive around the downtown area to see how it is doing, I sometimes want to cry. It used to be such a nice area, but now it looks like a mexican market square. All I see is trashy people (mostly), bars, and some illegals at times. If you want to revitalize downtown. I say, FORGET IT! It is a ghetto and is as good as dead. This kind of event has occured in major cities such as Chicago, N.Y. and countless other cities around the U.S.A. If UTB/TSC would not be there. The dowtown area would be 100 % trash. Just accept what downtown Brownsviille is... TRASH. It is a damn shame because of the history and great people that once walked and lived in the dowtown area. In short, I suggest you concentrate on making north Brownsville into a better area with higher standards.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is precisely why Brownsville's DT should be revitalized. The other cities mentioned have done it. Brownsville needs to recapture its DT. It has a lot of potential.

Getting more student housing for TSC/UTB is a great way to start the process.

8:59 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Concenrning the prostitutes and high crime, mostly a thing of the past cuz most of it has been cleaned up. I know cuz in our Downtown Revitalization Advisory Committee (DRAC) formed by the District 4 Commissioner Camarillo, this issue was brought up and the Chief of Police, who has been going to the meetings, has told us that the prostitutes (or at least the great majority) have moved beyond the expressway outside of downtown. I have driven many times at night to check it out for myself and it is true. As for the high crime rate, this has also been addressed and it is a lot lower than even 5 years ago but, granted, more needs to be done.

I do find one comment very interesting, though. It's about the "Quality" of people you refer to. I don't know if you mean to be discriminatory and make these people subhuman, which I don't agree with. I do agree than "most" of these people are more than likely less educated therefore not act in the same manner as your or I and does lessen the image of DT. But, again, this has been changing and is changing even as I write this. There are more "afluent" people moving in and even new apartments that will attract the middle class. New homes are being built there also attracting middle to higher income people. So, I estimate within 10 to 15 years, DT will have a different image.

I do have to say one thing. People like you who have very negative views don't help to reshape the world around you. It's people such as myself that go out of my way to help make change possible. If no one tries, then yes, it will remain a "trash" as you so vividly describe it. But with just a few months since the DRAC formed, a lot has change to help reverse the negative image of DT. Please go to http://www.brownsvilletexasonline (my website) and click on DRAC to see the minutes and agendas (I'm still loading up the remaining minutes and agendas and will be up by this weekend or so).

Please don't be so quick to give up on our DT just yet. There's a ot that's going to happen within the next few years to help reverse the downturn of DT. But it doens't happen over night and requires lots and lots of patience. The DRAC has the FULL support of the city commission than in times past and I honestly feel that this time, things will change for the better.

But, in the end, seeing is believing. So wait a few years or so to see the DRAC impact. Then complain if nothing changed by then. Have faith and that's all I can say. Faith.


8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, what about my questions regarding the First National Bank Building and the old Martinez bld?

I feel left out.


8:56 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Sorry Boris. My last comment was soo long that I forgot to answer your question. Here it is:

As far as the columns (called pillars because they were not free standing but built up against the building) are concerned, I don't think that they still exist or at least the 1st floor because of the entrace to the store. I studied it carefully and I'm convinced that they are no longer there but can't be 100% sure w/o taking off the dreaded exterior.

As for the Martinez building, that's harder to tell 'till the aluminum siding comes off. The New Orleans style balcony can definatley be rebuilt to it's original form cuz there is a picture of it from the 1910s.

Slowly but surely, things are coming around and there are buildings that are being restored or have already been restored such as: The Dancy Building, The Bollack Building, The Web Drug Store, Gem Building, El Tapiz (Park Hotel), Market Square, City Hall (Federal Courthouse & Post Office), First National Bank (6-story former First National Bank), and many others that I can't remember right now. So yes, there is progress in DT.

Thanks for the comment Boris,


1:27 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Oops, I said pillars but they are called pillasters.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

B'tx, Brownsville's future is it's history ("Back to the Future").

Other than Rio Grande City, Brownsville is the most historic city in the RGV. It has to concentrate on that. And this means restoring as many of it's historic buildings to their original facades.

It'll take money, but it will pay off in the end. Hopefully, the wealthy of Brownsville will see the light and pitch in.


12:42 PM  
Blogger Jorge Krieg said...

It'll take money, but it will pay off in the end. Hopefully, the wealthy of Brownsville will see the light and pitch in.


12:42 PM

Mr. Boris, are you crazy or are you pretending to be one? The majority of Brownsville's "wealthy" are classless people of new money (majority of it is dirty money). These people have no sense of history, class, or any idea of Brownsville's history so don't expect them to pitch in, brother.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Jorge about alot of the "New Wealth"-esque people in Brownsville. The unfortunate thing about alot of these people is the fact that greed is all that leads their lives, and with great reason too.

Greed commands a lot of people to do what they do everyday of their lives, especially in that extreme corner of Texas. I "understand" the fact that EVERYONE NEEDS a new plasma screen TV, that everyone needs to have a car that's not older than 5 years old, that everyone needs to get the newest and greatest cell phone, that everyone needs to wear the newest fashions straight out of magazines, movies, and MTV that has some phrase, logo, word, or sexual innuendo slapped across it.

A large portion of people in Brownsville (Kids, Adults, and even Parents alike) have become zombies to their own greed. Don't get me wrong; if you have the job/career with the proper income to "live large" in Brownsville, then I congratulate you. I can only hope to one day become as financially secure and in a position to really have the truly important things in life: Life, health, warmth, family, love, and protection.

I don't need a six-figure house when a cozy home will still keep me dry from the rain and warm in the winter. I don't need a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW when a great working pickup truck will still get me from here to there. I don't need a $65 pair of jeans when Levi's are on sale for $25 or $30. I'm not saying that we should all of a sudden just give up those material possessions that you've worked so hard to get in this life, I'm just saying that you don't need ALL of those material possessions.

My apologies, for it seems that I've quickly skewed off on a tangent. *Laughing at myself*

Its not so much about whether or not we should pump money back into Downtown Brownsville, its more about getting people to realise how much nicer Brownsville can get if we all change our thinking.

How many people do you see or know about nowadays in Brownsville that help others, with little to no benefit to themselves or their interests? I'm not saying that we should all just start giving money away to random people off the streets... but when was the last time that you helped just some random person on the side of the road change their flat tire, help push a disabled vehicle to the side of the road or to the gas station some 150 feet, let someone borrow your cellphone so that they can call for a ride, open a door for someone (even if 10 more people sneak right in behind that one), or even helped pay for anyone's (elderly or not) dozen eggs or gallon of milk or loaf of bread if they honestly and suddenly find themselves unable to pay for every necessary item in their handbasket ahead of you in line at El Globo or Lopez???

People's thinking has to change there in Brownsville. People have to realize that we ALL need to help change. Noone's going to want to change Brownsville if they feel alone in the whole process. You really do need all of Brownsville together in any new changes for any part of the city. Especially when you have leadership so divided. One person wants this, another wants that, yet underneath it all, there's still some deal being worked under the table that's gonna benefit them somehow.

I do feel that putting some sort of development, some sort of ideas or some sort of money into Downtown Brownsville is a good start for the overall health of the city. There are plenty of old, run down, EMPTY spaces on top of many of the shops and stores downtown. What if many of those were turned into lofts, or trendy apartments, or even trendy student housing for UTB.

What downtown needs is a revitalization. Keeping the look of old, yet with all new ideas. Have you ever visited revitalized downtown areas such as Houston, TX or Norfolk, VA? Parts of Houston's downtown area is once again seeing a great new growth as trendy lofts, apartments, and even condos spring up to house those that don't want to commute everyday to their downtown offices or universities. Norfolk is doing the same thing. Old buildings are being remodeled, new buildings are going up, and its coming alive once again.

In the minutes (almost an hour) that it has taken me to think of and type all of this out into some semi-recognizable blog comment, yet shameful attempt to use all of what I was suppose to have learned in my many years of school in Brownsville, a few things are certain. People's minds and ideas have to change there in Brownsville, revitalizing downtown is a necessary part of turning Brownsville around, and without a change of Brownsville's economic and occupational health, its not going to happen anytime soon.

I do have plenty of ideas, and perhaps I'll share them later, but for now I must get going. I have to go and get some warmer clothing for the coming weather here where I am working in Virginia. I am only up here for work, so I don't want any of this bashing about how someone else has left Brownsville behind. I myself am working hard up here to save money, get back to Brownsville to continue my studies, and hopefully be great in some branch of healthcare so that I can in some small way help at least some people in Brownsville.

Oh, and if in case you're wondering, I have actually done all of those things that I mentioned up in the 7th paragraph. Most of them on more than one occassion.


12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mr. Boris, are you crazy or are you pretending to be one?"

What the hell does that mean?

11:37 AM  
Blogger miaht82 said...

Seeing as how I am late to the party, I would just like to add in that the historic value of DT Brownsville needs to be the continous focus.
First of all, the parking has to be overabundant; don't make it a hassle for people to go downtown.
Add to the fact that UTB is there and focus on urban entertainment; bars, clubs, hybrid restaurants. Affordable housing/rental units (not talking section 8 or projects)should be the next step. Get some feet on the streets; possibly recent grads, young adults, as they are more than likely more willing to be the pioneers.
The retail will shift in the direction of the newfound residents and it is all small steps from there.
Slowly add in For Sale housing with loft condos or new construction.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholly and think you should friend Craig Grove on Facebook( )and you will find you 2 are thinking along the same lines

12:23 PM  

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