Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Demolition Denied for Downtown Trost Building (Update: Approved by Council)

Update: City Council voted at its November 13, 2012, meeting to approve the demolition of the Muir Building, overriding the HLC's original decision. The vote was unanimous, though two Council Members were absent.

Original Post: 
The Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) has denied an application to demolish buildings on two parcels on a block near San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso. The owner of a three story building at 230 N. Mesa Street and two smaller buildings at 218-222 N. Mesa would like to construct a brand new development on the properties which are adjacent to each other. The decision was made at the October 22, 2012 meeting of the HLC board. The applicant may now file an appeal directly to the City Council which can override the HLC's decision.

Buildings outlined in blue could be demolished.
The application for demolition was submitted by the Borderplex Community Trust, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) originally created to facilitate the City's original Downtown 2015 Plan which was announced in 2006. Since then, the REIT has focused on purchasing properties, such as the Wells Fargo and Chase buildings downtown, but has made few moves in terms of revitalization. If approved by the City Council, this would be the first major construction project put forward by Borderplex in El Paso's downtown.

There is some controversy surrounding the possible demolition of one of the buildings, the John T. Muir Building at the 230 N. Mesa location, which most likely caused the denial of the application. The building was designed by renowned El Paso architect Henry Trost and constructed in 1914. The HLC received two letters of opposition from historic preservation groups. Although the Commission stated in the application that the "properties have been so altered that they are no longer the embodiment of distinguished characteristics of an architectural type or specimen; can no longer be identified as the work of an architect or master builder whose individual work has influenced the development of the city; and no longer embody distinguished elements of architectural design, detail, materials or craftsmanship which represent a significant architectural innovation," the letter from the Texas Historical Commission disagreed, stating, "its grandeur is still visible at the third floor terra cotta fa├žade."

Muir Building today (left) and in its original condition.
There are three other properties on the half-block where the development would be located, but it is unclear if Borderplex has made any attempts to acquire those lots. The Tejas Cafe building, located at 204 E. Mills Avenue, was recently purchased by the Lane Gaddy group of investors. On the other side of the block, the Walgreen's building at 200 N. Mesa Street is owned by the University of Texas, and the building at 209 E. Texas Avenue is owned by Billy Abraham. Walgreen's will be vacating this space and moving to a new location on Paisano Drive.

Borderplex has been silent on the proposed development, and no timeline has been given for the project. Borderplex was formed by Bill Sanders, a businessman known for creating REITs. Another Sanders company recently announced plans to purchase a Colorado-based bank.

Related: More Large-Scale Redevelopment Slated for Downtown

Historic Landmark Commission agenda:
Borderplex website: