By Edith Martinez
Buildings that were once home to broken windows and moldy ceilings now house a culture of free spirits with modern options. The Martin Building is just one of the new choices for downtown living.
With its iconic “ElectriCity” rooftop sign, tenants enjoy both a mixture of classic and modern urban design. The building is now a part of downtown’s growing living spaces where rents start at $695, and are stylish as described by tenant Luis Piña.
“The building was completely vacant before,” Piña said. “It was not as appealing and now simply the location is everything. They are more modern and chic and I feel they are targeted toward young professionals who have careers and enjoy modern downtown living.”
Buildings are not the only thing undergoing change in downtown. Businesses are beginning to localize and are investing to make their location more attractive.
“The positives of the downtown revitalization efforts are that when they are successful, and to a large extent they seem to have been successful,” said Economics Professor Tom Fullerton from the University of Texas El Paso. “They will take areas that have fallen to disrepair and make them attractive. It also tends to revitalize areas and shore up economic efforts. I think the regional economy benefits from that.”
Although the renovations are a plus for residents like Piña, not everyone sees them in a positive light. Steve Fischer, attorney and occasional writer for the El Paso Times and Texas Tribune, has concerns about the problems that will come with the growth of Downtown El Paso.
“The common knowledge is that the more we build, the lower the taxes will be and that’s just not true,” Fischer said. “People say growth is good but too much growth just makes life miserable for the people. It’s not good because taxes keep going up, and more people come to the city which means more traffic, congestion, pollution, and accidents.”
According to Max Grossman, an assistant professor of art history at the University of Texas El Paso, the steps it takes to revitalize these buildings are a lengthened process because the buildings are historical landmarks, but worth the investment.
“The Martin Building is exactly 100 years old and is one of 24 National Register buildings in downtown El Paso,” Grossman said. “As such, it is eligible for generous federal and state tax credits for restoring the building. In order to take advantage of the tax credits, the owner must process a lot of paperwork with the Texas Historical Commission in Austin and the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. It can be an onerous process, but the financial incentive to proceed is quite strong.”
Architect Edgar Lopez from In*situ (In Situ) Architecture says some of the revitalized buildings were difficult to bring back to life. He has worked on remodeling several buildings downtown.
“The Mulligan building was the most difficult,” Lopez said. “You have to strip the building down to the bones, which means you have remove all the surfaces, walls, roof, and windows. You have to redesign everything from basement to roof. Basically you’re given an empty box and you have to work with it.”
As people flock downtown and make these buildings their homes, efforts of revitalizations are not in vain.
“The lofts are definitely worth the price I’m paying for them,” Piña said. “They are a huge attraction and it’s fun living downtown. It doesn’t feel like traditional El Paso it feels like a bigger city now.”