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Wooden stairs are seen inside the San Juan Hotel on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in San Juan. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

The city of San Juan is considering all options for the future of the historic San Juan Hotel, according to city officials.

One of those options is to convert the site into an events center, but according to officials everything is still in the preliminary stages.

“There is talk as far as doing something there at the location,” Mayor Mario Garza said. “I know the (Economic Development Corporation) has some plans as far as making some kind of an events center there at that location. Right now, where it was approved for any type of demolition at one of our city meetings, it’s not concrete where we’re going to demolish it completely. We’re still talking and seeing how we can figure this out.”

The city purchased the hotel on November 15, 2023, according to Hidalgo County property records. Garza said that the purchase was made through the city’s economic arm.

Marco “Markie” Villegas, who is the San Juan mayor pro-tem and president of the EDC, echoed Garza’s statement, saying that nothing is “set in concrete” just yet.

“I don’t know where all this is coming from as far as the concern of us knocking (the hotel) down,” Villegas said. “Nothing has been in concrete. By far, if it is shown the kind of support for the old San Juan Hotel, we’re definitely going to make sure that the facade remains.”

He said that the city does not plan to change the outward appearance of the building.

“It was going to look the same,” he said. “I know there’s rumors out there about us actually tearing it down. We’re going to use as much as we can of that building to restore it. We’re basically getting both sides of the story.”

During the Jan. 23 city commission meeting, Brian Godinez, principal and Chief Executive Officer of ERO Architects, addressed the commission during a discussion regarding a “proposal for the preliminary design of the new downtown conference center in the amount of $40,000.”

City Manager Benjamin Arjona said that the project is part of the city’s downtown revitalization plan.

Arjona said that the city is in need of a multipurpose meeting/conference/events center. He said that the project must be “shovel-ready” before any grants can be considered.

“We’ve been kicking around some ideas about how to tie that building into the city hall, again, preserving the history of the community and then looking forward as well,” Godinez said. “We even walked the site with Mr. Arjona. We looked at some elements that are still there at the hotel that we might be able to repurpose and use for the new conference center just to kind of keep and preserve the history of that corner with the hotel in that new building.”

Later, the mayor asked Godinez if the plan was to demolish the hotel. “The idea is to demolish,” Godinez responded. The agenda item was unanimously approved.

“We did approve the demolition, just in case we need any type of construction to happen in the future,” Garza said.

The San Juan Hotel’s stucco walls and clay roofing are seen on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in San Juan. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Arjona did not return calls for comment.

The San Juan Hotel was originally constructed in 1919. The building underwent a restoration in 1983 before being designated as a Texas Historical landmark in 1986.

Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, who is a professor of Mexican-American studies at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said that she is concerned about the potential loss of a building that sat at the crosshairs of Civil Rights for Mexican-Americans in the Rio Grande Valley.

“My perspective as a professor of Mexican-American studies is it’s a site of a lot of pain,” Alvarez said, recalling the lynchings of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans on the property prior to the Chicano Movement of the 1960s.

“I can really understand just wanting to demolish that and erasing that,” she continued. “At the same time, I know that it is critical that as a community we reconcile that historical pain. Erasing and demolishing the site does not help with that reconciliation.

“I think it’s important for us to confront those historical moments that are very difficult and painful, and I think it’s important for the community to reclaim those sites so that they are used for the possibility of reconciliation.”

Here’s the latest update: 

Community members voice support for historic San Juan Hotel