Redevelopment activity in Brownsville’s historic downtown continues to grow, notably on East Adams Street, where multiple projects are underway simultaneously.
Deputy City Manager Helen Ramirez highlighted some of those projects in an interview with the Herald, noting that local investment to renovate and re-purpose historic downtown buildings was at an all time high in 2019 and 2020. She credited a “business friendly” environment for downtown redevelopment cultivated by the city’s administration and commission as well as creation of an updated, streamlined development code and zoning map.
A key project Ramirez cited is Botica Lofts, a six-unit residential development and ground-floor restaurant at 1024 E. Adams St. across from Market Square. Completed in 1928, the building housed the city’s first municipal library. Brownsville-based architect Origo Works is the developer on the project, which consists of one- and two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. The first tenants were scheduled to move in Jan. 17, Ramirez said, adding that there’s already a waiting list for units.
“They’re completely leased out,” she said. “I know that they’re working on the final lease on the restaurant.”
Another Origo Works project that is mostly complete is also a 1928 building, at 1009 E. Adams St. across from the Brownsville Central Fire Station. The building is suitable for restaurant, office or art space, Ramirez said. Origo Works is also offering space in the 1882 Fernandez-Olvera Building, restored by former owner Larry Lof, at 1115 E. Washington St. on Market Square.
“They’re still determining the use for that building,” Ramirez said. “I believe they want to do a restaurant as well there.”
All three buildings are owned by Varco Investments. Ramirez said the city have been supportive of the projects and tried to streamline the process as much as possible for the developer in terms of permitting and inspections — in keeping with the city’s emphasis on encouraging redevelopment downtown. That priority is reflected in the city’s creation of a new Planning and Redevelopment Department, Ramirez said.
“We understand it’s harder to develop historic buildings … because you never know what you’re going to uncover,” she said. “It can be challenging, but at the same time it’s very rewarding when you see the building completed and now you have a wonderful piece of property with great bones being re-utilized and reinserted into the community.”
Ramirez said she expects more historic residential projects downtown, adding that the transformation of East Adams Street is underway and will be quite noticeable this year. She said the city plans a special zoning “overlay” to facilitate sidewalk and road improvements there, and that a parking study is in the works to find the best way of accommodating resident and visitor parking downtown in general.
Other downtown projects involve East Levee Street’s Hotel El Jardin, which was purchased by the Housing Authority of the City of Brownsville for housing and potential commercial space, Ramirez said. HACB is putting together its application for a state tax credit crucial to the project, she said. Also, the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation acquired the La Casa del Nylon building at 1304 E. Adams St. in 2019 to renovate and turn into the eBridge Center for Business and Commercialization.
Ramirez said the city has plans to move its communications and marketing department convention and visitor’s bureau headquarters into the space between the eBridge center and East 14th Street. The city is weighing its options before making a formal decision on what to do with the current CVB building at 650 E. Ruben Torres Blvd., she said.
The alley between East 13th and East 14th streets and paralleling East Adams will be improved and eBridge and the city offices will share a common outdoor space, Ramirez said.
“eBridge is a little bit ahead of us in terms of they’re ready to go out to bid for construction, and we’re finalizing our design,” she said. “That’s an extension of Adams Street as well. Adams Street is going through resurgence. I want to say it’s a renaissance.”
Another community partner helping to “transform our downtown” and expected to announce downtown projects this year is ComeDream.Come Build, formerly the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, Ramirez said, noting that developers and investors from the Valley and beyond who have overlooked downtown Brownsville in the past are taking notice of what’s happening there now. She invited anyone who hasn’t been downtown in a while to drive around and take a look..
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I think (investors) finally feel it is the right time. … Investors from Dallas are also looking downtown. What I hope is that we have a really good balance of mom and pops, our local investors, our local community partners, and outside investment as well.”
For information about investment opportunities in downtown Brownsville contact the city’s development community liaison, Retail and Redevelopment Manager Constanza Miner, at (956) 346-8116 or firstname.lastname@example.org .