Giant awakes: City leaders christen Baxter Lofts

HARLINGEN — It was a dream that turned into one of the city’s most historic renovations.

Yesterday, city leaders christened the nine-story Baxter Lofts, the city’s first high-rise apartment that came after years of planning.

In July 2018, they broke ground on the $4.5 million project to renovate the city’s tallest eyesore into a 24-unit affordable housing development described as the cornerstone to the revitalization of downtown Harlingen.

“It really is a great day in the city of Harlingen,” Mayor Chris Boswell said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

For more than 30 years, Harlingen’s leaders had talked about ways to rid the city of its tallest building after it had turned into a flophouse looming over downtown.

“It’s been a long time coming but certainly worth the effort,” Boswell told a small crowd on the building’s first floor.

When he won election to the mayor’s post in 2007, Boswell made the historic building’s renovation one of his administration’s goals.

“Construction was the easy part,” Boswell said. “The project took this building from a burned-out shell full of graffiti and turn it around.”

Boswell hailed developer MRE Capital as the partner that won $3.3 million in federal tax credits to help fund the $4.5 million renovation project.

“You guys have been fantastic throughout this entire project,” he said. “We appreciate your interest in Harlingen. This significant investment you have made has done a lot.”

When the office building opened in 1927, it stood as the tallest building in the Rio Grande Valley and one of the city’s premier addresses at 106 S. A St.

By the late 1960s, it had fallen into disrepair, turning into a flop house blamed for standing in the way of the downtown area’s revitalization.

Decades of plans

About 30 years ago, Jesse Robles was a member of the city’s first Leadership Harlingen class when former Mayor Bill Card challenged the group to take on the downtown’s revitalization.

“One of the first projects he gave us was, what would it take to revitalize downtown?” Robles, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board’s chairman, said. “For 30 years this building has been an issue for downtown. It was one of the top priorities of revitalizing downtown.”

The contract

In late 2015, city commissioners entered into an agreement with MRE Capital to renovate the nine-story building to its original condition.

“We took on the challenge,” Robles said. “Whatever it took, we’re going to see about revitalizing this building.”

As part of a contract, the Community Improvement Board agreed to sell the Baxter Building to MRE Capital for $250,000 on the condition the developer clinch federal tax credits to help fund the $4.5 million renovation project.

Under the agreement with MRE Capital, the building’s sale was contingent upon the developer’s success in requesting the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs award it to help fund the renovation project.

After failed attempts in 2016 and 2017, the developer won its appeal leading the agency to award $3.3 million in federal tax credits.

“Talk about the perseverance it took on the part of so many people,” Boswell said.

Baxter Lofts

Inside, one- and two-bedroom apartments feature wide-open floor plans, modern kitchens and panoramic views of the city.

“This building is going back on the tax rolls,” City Manager Dan Serna said.

Along its roofline, the building boasts a crown of ornate architectural features.

During construction, the developers meticulously restored the building’s brick finish.

“It really is a beautiful building,” Serna said.

For months, Baxter Lofts has piqued high interest across the area.

On Facebook, the high-rise’s page has drawn more than 10,000 views, Suzanne Davis, who oversaw the leasing process, has said.

As part of that process, tenants underwent background checks.

Because the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs awarded the developer $3.3 million in federal tax credits to help fund the project’s construction, MRE Capital was required to rent the apartments as affordable housing following federal guidelines.

Depending on income and other factors, Baxter Lofts has leased its one-bedroom apartments from about $239 to $600 while its two-bedroom apartments rent from $275 to $800.

Baxter Lofts, described as a “luxury” development, offers residents a unique opportunity to live in the city’s first high-rise featuring an outdoor picnic area, a community room, a small library including two computers and a fitness center.