By FERNANDO DEL VALLE
HARLINGEN — Soon, a tall, stately apartment building will be jutting from the edge of the city’s downtown.
For nearly three years, Mayor Chris Boswell’s administration has aimed to make that a reality.
Now, the $4.5 million project to renovate the city’s tallest eyesore appears to be weeks away.
The Harlingen Community Improvement Board sold the nine-story Baxter Building to developer MRE Capital for $250,000 last week.
As part of a contract, the developer agreed to invest $4.5 million to restore the 91-year-old former office building into a 24-unit apartment development largely made up of low-income housing.
Yesterday, developer Daniel Sailler said construction would begin next month.
The project is expected to be completed in April or May of 2019, City Manager Dan Serna said.
Since late 2015, the city has worked with the developer to launch the renovation which Boswell pushed as the key to completing the downtown area’s revitalization.
“I’m very excited about it. I’m glad to see (MRE) take ownership,” Boswell said yesterday. “Obviously, it’s a huge milestone. It will be nice to have this iconic building that’s been in disrepair for a long time come back to life again.”
What it means to you
Serna said construction will not impact the city’s Historic Jackson Street business district.
During the project’s construction and demolition phases, the city plans to temporarily close the building’s section of A Street to minimize any impact to the nearby area.
“Jackson Street will not be impacted,” Serna said. “I don’t see a negative impact to the downtown. Construction will be limited to the building. We will make sure we mitigate any impact to shoppers and visitors downtown.”
The developer did not specify details behind the renovation.
At first, many downtown property owners said they opposed the project to turn the 1927 building into a largely low-income development.
Now, Bill DeBrooke, the owner of several downtown buildings, believes the project could pump new life into the downtown area.
“It’s better than an empty building,” said DeBrooke, who helped launch the area’s revitalization in the late 1980s. “It’s going to add a good mix of people to the downtown.”
However, DeBrooke remains concerned tenants could take up limited parking spaces from shoppers.
“I wish the project wasn’t as dense as it is because it creates parking problems,” DeBrooke said. “This is a tough project. Everyone spent a lot of time and effort so it can start. Hopefully, it’ll work out right.”
How we got here
Since he won election to the mayor’s post in 2007, Boswell made the building’s renovation one of his goals.
Since the late 1960s, the nine-story office building had fallen into disrepair, decades after serving as one of the city’s premier addresses at 106 S. A St.
For about 30 years, the city searched for ways to renovate the historic building that had become one of the city’s biggest eyesores, Boswell said.
Then in late 2015, the city entered into an agreement with MRE Capital to renovate the former flop house, blamed for standing in the way of the downtown area’s revitalization.
Boswell said MRE Capital has extensive experience in renovating similar buildings dating to the 1920s.
As part of the agreement, the building’s sale was contingent upon MRE’s success in requesting the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs award it $3.3 million in federal tax credits to help fund the building’s renovation.
After a failed attempt in 2016, the developer clinched the tax credits last year.
For the city, Boswell calls it a historic project.
“I think it’s the last big piece of the puzzle” to the downtown’s revitalization,” Boswell said. “This nine-story eyesore is now going to be renovated into something useful. It will certainly be more attractive. It’s going to be a positive thing for the downtown.”