Central El Paso’s Manhattan Heights and Five Points neighborhood revitalization fuels new vibe

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Over the last five years, the Manhattan Heights neighborhood and Five Points business district have seen an influx of new businesses and young professionals, creating a new vibe in this historic Central El Paso area.

Susie Byrd,a longtime Manhattan Heights resident and former District 2 City Council Representative, has lived in this historic area since she was in second grade.

“These two city blocks were boarded up,” she reflected of the Five Points business district. “Maybe there was like a couple of salons. Not this kind of energy around the core of Five Points development.”

All that is changing as new businesses, such as bars, grills, a yoga studio and now an Ace Hardware Store, are opening in the area.

Christina Munoz saw the potential of the area when she decided to open Joe, Vinny and Bronson’s Bohemian Cafe in 2011. The cafe, the name of which is a play on its offerings – coffee, wine and beer – is considered one of the businesses that started the new boom.

“Because of urban sprawl, we had lost residents and we have lost investment in the area,” Byrd said. “I think you are starting to see in the last five years a real change. Places like Joe, Vinny and Bronson’s with private investment. [They are] investing in the historic fabric of the neighborhood and helping to revitalize it, to build new interest in the neighborhood to sort of inspire people to love this place.”

Munoz said she saw a need in Five Points to offer people a place to congregate.

“I’ve always loved this area,” Munoz said. “I thought there was a need for something in our neighborhood for people like myself to come and enjoy in our neighborhood.”

Joe, Vinny and Bronson’s has gained a loyal following.

Ramon Alvarado left the area to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Kansas, but whenever he is in El Paso visiting family, he makes a point to visit the cafe.

“It was like an island,” he said of the cafe being the first business along the street. “I think they took a risk. They started bringing in artists and musicians, and that was for me a very nice thing to have by my house. In my head they started it all, and that’s why I keep coming here.”

With growth comes growing pains. Among those are parking and noise concerns from local residents.

Even though she’s a member of the business community, Munoz understands the neighborhood’s concerns, having grown up in it. She serves as vice president of the Five Points Development Association.

“I live in the area,” she said. “We know our neighbors, the neighborhood, the neighborhood people. We started hearing complaints … about the concentration of people being in the neighborhood or parking in the neighborhood and it spilling over into that. That was of great concern to us.”

District 2 City Council Rep. Alexsandria Annello says the City of El Paso is working to address those concerns.

“The city has been looking at a noise ordinance,” she said.”We’ve had several open meetings with communities to discuss what the plan could be. There’s nothing in writing yet.”

Along with the small-business boom, new, younger families are now moving into the Manhattan Heights historic neighborhood.

Alex Gomez, a relatively new resident in Manhattan Heights, fell in love with the area and purchased a home three years ago.

“Just the character that it has, there’s no other home like this in El Paso. As soon as I walked in, I knew I had to buy it,” he said.

Elizabeth Williams, who moved into the neighborhood 12 years ago, says Manhattan Heights is a quaint, friendly area in which to live. She is known for owning the house with the elevator and the 1950’s cast-iron stove in Manhattan Heights. The sense of community in the neighborhood is what she loves most.

“Our neighbors have become our everyday way of living,” she said. “I really love that. I think it’s one of the charms of living in the neighborhood.”

Being a historic neighborhood, any renovations must be met with the approval of the Manhattan Heights Neighborhood Association as well as the City of El Paso Historic Commission. Williams serves as vice president of the association.

“Should the neighborhood have solar panels, they’ll weigh in,” Williams explained. “Somebody wanted to build a fence, we had to go to City Council to weigh in on those kinds of things.”

Gomez has learned how to navigate through the requirements.

“When I had the driveway put in several people came by making sure I had a permit,” he said. “I like that they want to keep the style, which is fine, that is why I bought the house. I really liked the way it looked. But the hoops you have to jump through make it really unappealing to buy a house like this. But I knew I was in it for the long haul, so it doesn’t bother me.”

Despite these types of challenges, Manhattan Heights is seeing an influx of new residents moving in and renovating their homes. Property valuations have jumped 6.3 percent from 2017 to 2018. The countywide average was 5.7 percent. According to Realtor.com, as of June 6 there are 14 homes for sale in Manhattan Heights, ranging in price from $111,000 to $995,000.

“Everybody should live in Central,” Byrd said. “Everybody would be happier in Central if they moved here. I try to tell people that all the time.”

This multimedia story was produced for the 2018 Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy by Geoff Campbell, Lorena Figueroa and Nicole Perez Morris.

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