El Paso downtown mixed-use plan depends on demolitions
City Council is expected to decide on Tuesday whether to allow the demolition of two Downtown buildings designed by El Paso architect Henry Trost in the early 1900s.
Although the buildings are not registered as state or national historic landmarks, the Historic Landmark Commission believes they are an important part of El Paso history.
The Borderplex Community Trust, formed by well-known El Paso businessman Bill Sanders and others in 2006 to acquire Downtown buildings for redevelopment, wants to demolish the buildings at 218-222 N. Mesa Street, where Radio Shack, a Chinese restaurant, and a discount store are located, as well as a vacant building at 230 N. Mesa at Mills Avenue, where a Payless ShoeSource store once operated. The plan is to redevelop the area into a mixed-use project.
David Bernard, a lawyer representing the real estate investment trust, said in a previous interview with the El Paso Times that it was not economically feasible to renovate the buildings.
The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously on Oct. 22 to deny the buildings' certificate of demolition.
According to city documents, the commission decided that the proposal to demolish the buildings was "inappropriate" since the structures were designed by Trost. Local historians have described Trost as El Paso's most famous and prolific architect.
In addition, the commission determined that the buildings still maintain some original detail on their exterior.
The Historic Preservation Office, which reviews any proposed modifications to the exterior of a building located within a historic district, is asking the City Council to appeal the commission's decision and to approve the plan.
In a memorandum to the mayor and council, Providencia Velazquez, the city's historic preservation officer, said the properties are not registered as state or national historic landmarks, and are not listed in the national register of historic places.
"The properties no longer portray the environment of a group of people in an area of history characterized by a distinctive architectural style," Velazquez said.
Mayor John Cook said council will have to consider the significance of the buildings to the history of El Paso.
Even though they were designed by Trost, the buildings do not meet the criteria to be recognized as state or national historic landmarks, Cook said.
The mayor said it will be important to look at the plan and what it brings to the table. He said the buildings are located at a very important corner in Downtown -- near the San Jacinto Plaza -- and should not be replaced with a warehouse type of structure.