If things don’t work out with the Abraham Chavez Theatre, there is another possible home for the proposed Mexican American Cultural Center: the landmark Roberts-Banner Building.
El Paso businessman Lane Gaddy said he is offering the historic building, designed by famed Southwest architect Henry Trost, as a possible location for the 2012 quality of life project.
Gaddy said he has met with city representatives about using the 106-year-old building for the cultural center. His investor group purchased the mostly vacant building in 2012 and originally planned to transform it into office space with ground-floor retail.
“I have met with Mr. Gaddy regarding alternative locations in light of our discussions about the feasibility of the Abraham Chavez Theatre,” city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez Brown said. “I think he was giving us alternatives.”
Before considering a new location, City Council would have to decide if it will part ways with the Mexican American Cultural Institute.
MACI is a nonprofit that is fundraising to have the Mexican American Cultural Center at the Abraham Chavez Theatre. The city has set the project’s budget at $34.6 million, with a $10 million commitment from the city.
MACI has struggled to raise the necessary funds to bring the project to life. Its leaders say they have had a hard time fundraising because they have not secured a formal agreement with the city.
On Aug. 21, the city’s Bond Overview Advisory Committee recommended City Council consider a new location for the cultural center. The committee also recommended that the city return to the original $5.7 million authorized by the 2012 quality of life bond.
Former U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, president of MACI, said they only secured nonprofit status in November and haven’t had much time to fundraise.
Reyes said La Raza Development Fund, which is a community development financial institution, has given MACI $25,000 to develop a fundraising strategy. And, after visiting El Paso, the development fund said it would be open to lending up to $10 million for the project.
Reyes said he and MACI would like to see the cultural center go in the Abraham Chavez Theatre.
“We are prepared to stand up and tell people the amount of work and effort that has gone into this project,” he said. “That will ultimately be one of the defining projects, programs and facilities in the redevelopment of the Downtown El Paso area.”
Gaddy said the Roberts-Banner Building is a great choice for the project.
“It allows us to forestall a lot of the problems with the finances of the center by doing it there,” he said. “It’s also a location that has a lot of history relevant to the broader cause of the Mexican American Cultural Center.”
The building would qualify for state and federal historic tax credits if the cultural center was housed in it, Gaddy said. Those credits could be used towards financing programs or toward renovating the building.
An added benefit to having the center at the Roberts-Banner Building is its location next to San Jacinto Plaza where outdoor events can be held, he said.
“It really helps leverage available public dollars without having to have a huge capital campaign,” he said. “This is an opportunity to solve a lot of challenges Downtown in a very cost-effective method.”
In March, the city voted to give tax breaks to Gaddy and other investors to restore the Roberts-Banner Building. They purchased the building in poor condition. Broken windows exposed parts of the building to the elements for years.
Gaddy’s group was given a 15-year rebate of various city taxes, capped at $2.2 million, if his group invested $6.5 million to restoring the property.
Now that Gaddy is offering the building for the city to use for the Mexican American Cultural Center those arrangements may change.
“Multiple scenarios are being explored,” he said. “We just think the use is better as a civic space.”
But, for now, the city has an informal agreement with MACI that prevents it from looking at different sites. The current plan involves renovating the Abraham Chavez Theatre and constructing a new building that would wrap around the outside of the theater.
“We at City Council still need to make a decision on whether or not we are going to go into an agreement with the MACI group,” Hernandez Brown said.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Aaron Montes at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105. and (915) 777-4154. Twitter: @aaronmontes91