In La Placita area, owners questioned on joining downtown

HARLINGEN — Business owners in the historic La Placita area are weighing the possibility of returning to the Downtown Improvement District.

With the exception of a two-block area along Van Buren Avenue which was incorporated into the downtown district last fall, the rest of La Placita remains outside the district.

But Downtown Manager Edward Meza said this week he was in contact with some of these property owners to feel them out on whether they might like to join the downtown district.

It comes with a price, however.

A special downtown district tax that amounts to 15 cents per $100 valuation would be imposed, and that’s on top of the regular 58 cents per $100 valuation the city imposes, Downtown Improvement Board members have said.

Steve Romans, owner of Romans Interiors on West Jackson Street, remembers when La Placita was part of the downtown district. His interior design store sits just west of the downtown district.

La Placita used to be within the downtown district, but the City Commission defunded the district — it was reconstituted in 1989 — after some La Placita business owners pushed for its abolishment because “they didn’t like either the tax assessment or some of the restrictions,” Romans said.

For his part, Romans says he would prefer being in the district again if enough property owners in La Placita give such a move their blessing.

“It needs to be 50-percent participation for approval,” Romans said. “Hopefully they can put that together because I think the downtown district including this area over here is a good thing.”

So what’s his prediction on a 50-percent approval?

“My guess is, it’s going to be close,” he said.

A two-block section of West Van Buren Avenue in La Placita was added to the downtown district last fall.

A three-block section of West Jackson Avenue from the rail lines to South E Street has been proposed to be added to the district, and this would include the Romans Interiors location. But property owners there still must be canvassed on whether they agree, Meza said.

Harlingen officials have shown increasing interested in improving the La Placita area, particularly Gutierrez Park and the old El Grande Theatre, and support working with property owners to revitalize it.

“The property owners downtown, and in this area, La Placita, they play a very important and vital role in this,” said Carlos Sanchez, assistant city manager.

“Whatever the city can put forward, it’s got to be a collaboration,” he said.

Sanchez said whatever happens in La Placita, a model has been set with the success of the Harlingen Downtown Improvement District.

“What’s happened in the downtown has been a result of that cooperation with business owners,” Sanchez said. “It’s showing results, and everybody is benefitting because of that.”