By Juan Montoya
Citing a need for more parking space at Texas Southmost College, the board of trustees will be asked to approve a plan to raze the Jacob Brown Civic Center to make space for more student cars.
That move – which initially had the verbal support of the City oF Brownsville to share in the cost – is now generating questions on whether it is a good idea to tear down the local landmark to make it more convenient for students to get to their classes.
"I have already told (TSC President Lily) Tercero that I am not going top vote to demolish the civic center just to get more parking space," said trustee Ray Hinojosa. "The college is not a mall. It's a college campus. Students are supposed to walk to their classes."
Hinojosa said he was skeptical about the administration's claim that students needed more parking space closer to the campus since TSC has sold parking to the University of Texas at Brownsville during the course of the separation between both institutions.
"Why sell the parking, then?" he asked. "It makes no sense."
The civic center historically has served as a venue for some of the city's annual cultural events including the Latin Jazz festival, several Mr. Amigo Association events and associated Charro Days festivities, among others. The HEB grocery chain also holds its annual Feast of Sharing.
In addition to the reluctance of some trustees to demolish the historical landmark building, there is also a question of how much it would cost the college to do it.
In a letter dated August 20, city contract attorney Mark Sossi told the board that all it needed to do to acquire the civic center was to record and amended deed that would delete the section requiring that TSC pay $2 million to the city if it sells the structure to a non-public entity and; "create right of first refusal to the city in the evnet the property is sold or encumbered by a land lease."
In a letter back to the city dated Sept. 9, TSC attorney Frank Perez reminded Sossi that "During recent conversations between President Tercero and Mayor Martinez, it was mutually agreed that the Mayor would approach the City Commission to provide assistance, in the form of either services or financial contribution, for demolition of all or part of the Jacob Brown facility to provide needed space for additional student parking..."
Ten days later, Sossi burst that bubble.
"The city's offer of Aug. 20...was the only offer the city commission had extended to TSC and did not include such a demolition. The City Commission does not feel that the demolition of the Jacob Brown or providing funds for its demolition is something the City can reasonably do."
And so, after going back on his word, Martinez made the city hand over at least two historic buildings in return for a 10.02-acre tract it had donated way back in 2001, including the Kreiger House into which the UTB-TSC partnership had funneled more than $484,000 in renovations paid by TSC.
The refusal of the city to stand behind Martinez's promises now means that if the college wants to demolish the Ft. Brown Civic Center it will have to do this on its own and at its own expense. So which one will it be? Will TSC knock down the city landmark to make it more convenient for students to stroll to their classes? Or will TSC now preserve the center and build more parking somewhere else now that the city has pulled the rug out from under it?