Historic La Placita to join downtown businesses?

HARLINGEN — A two-block section of La Placita, the vibrant historic district once known for its cantinas, restaurants and entertainment, could become part of the Downtown Improvement District centered on Jackson Street.

The downtown board voted unanimously yesterday to recommend the inclusion of the portion of La Placita under the district, pending City Commission approval.

Bill DeBrooke, chairman of the downtown board, said half the property owners canvassed approve of the expansion of the downtown district, even though it will mean higher taxes.

DeBrooke, who owns seven properties in the La Placita area being discussed, said the maximum annual tax increase for joining the downtown district would be about $200 a year.

The area is located along West Van Buren Avenue and is bordered by South West Street to the east and South D Street to the west. Specifically, along West Van Buren, the properties proposed for inclusion in the downtown district are those from the street back to the alleyways on both sides.

The La Placita district is separated from the downtown district by the rail lines just west of South Commerce Avenue.

Among the notable businesses in the section are the architecture and design firm Megamorphosis and the Rio Grande Grill.

“This may be a terrible thing to say, but what’s the point?” asked board member June Ramirez.

“They’re sort of interested in being able to participate in what the downtown does,” DeBrooke said.

“Plus, they’re dying over there,” said board member Steve Aune.

The La Placita area was once a thriving business district for Hispanic business owners going back to the early 20th century.

The area still has bars and pool halls, but many businesses and property owners have taken an active role in improving the properties in recent years.

Several decades ago, the La Placita district had an opportunity to join the downtown district, DeBrooke said, and accepted funding for improved signage provided by the city at the time.

But a petition that was to be signed by La Placita property owners was never returned and the momentum for joining the downtown district withered.

There are a half-dozen or more vacant lots in the La Placita district proposed for inclusion in the downtown improvement district, or DID.

“The petition will go to the City Commission, and what they’ll probably do is modify the ordinance that established the DID on the five-year cycle” on which the downtown board operates, DeBrooke said.

The board also discussed the probability of adding another member to give representation to the additional businesses that would be added in the La Placita area.

The vote to approve the recommendation to expand the downtown district was unanimous.