Never Let a Crisis Go To Waste

Posted on April 21, 2012

The building that burned down on a Friday in April was not particularly important, despite the gnashing of teeth over its demise.

It might, actually should, end up as an opportunity. Let’s see what River Oaks, whose principal is Jerry Rubin, can do with this spot now. If it sits there for a couple of years, a rotten tooth in Downtown, that will be a travesty.

But aside from the cost to the community of the response, the lingering smell, the poor visual ad for Downtown within site of the Camino Real and the Plaza Theatre, this is not a long-term loss. Sure, John Wesley Hardin had an office there. Whatever.

It seemed a bit premature for City Manager Joyce Wilson and city Rep. Steve Ortega to go on a crusade against the owners of historical buildings and to talk about tougher codes and whatnot, when the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined [note: a month later, the cause still has not been determined]. Perhaps it’s a good negotiating ploy, a stick to whack these property owners, who have been sitting on their properties because there’s so little cost involved in doing nothing, and politically, it makes sense not to let a crisis go to waste. It was odd to see Billy Abraham quoted in news articles on the issue of property owners who don’t meet code without any specific reference to his status, which is to say, he’s a property owner who fails to upkeep his buildings.

The fire is bookended by something on the other side of Downtown, the bank going up across the street from the El Paso Times. In the past 20 years, the only other construction cranes I’ve seen Downtown on a private project (as opposed to government projects) was on the Mills Building. Oh yeah, and the International Hotel, as well, although that’s partly a government project.

Change is in the air, in many ways. Mr. Rubin, how are you going to be part of that change?

Addendum 4.24.12

Since the piece initially was written Rubin has been challenged to commit $30 million for a new building on the spot. And Rich thinks I’m wrong to bag on him, since he gives to the community in many other ways. I agree that his charity ought to be recognized, but he owns a gaping black hole in an important spot Downtown (btw, I’ve also been challenged on my interpretation of the building’s significance) and he needs to do something about it. Oh yeah, this is probably more important than that: The city put the Abdou Building on its list of historic and endangered structures Downtown. The criteria as reported by the Times are 1) state of the building, 2) number of unoccupied floors, 3) property taxes generated v. potential taxes. Uh oh …

Sito Negron

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