Hope for hotel deal: Housing authority looks at El Jardin

March 28, 2019

A number of proposals for resurrecting El Jardin Hotel have come and gone over the years, but either they weren’t serious to begin with or the numbers simply didn’t add up for one reason or another.

Finally, it appears the decaying giant at East 11th and Levee in downtown Brownsville has a real shot at being put back into service. The Brownsville Housing Opportunity Corp., a nonprofit arm of the Brownsville Housing Authority that applies for tax credits to build affordable housing, has El Jardin under contract and will decide whether to buy and restore the property once the structural engineer’s report is complete.

That’s according to John Cowen, BHOC president and vice-chairman of the housing authority.

“We’re always looking for new potential projects,” he said. “We feel that the housing authority, through its nonprofits, can potentially restore that building using federal and state programs. It’s not going to be taxpayer money.”

The purchase price is $750,000 and the renovation cost is estimated at between $15 million and $16 million, Cowen said, adding that the renovated building could potentially contain 42 affordable housing units. The BHOC and the housing authority are fully capable of seeing the project through, he said.

Typically, housing authorities hire third-party developers, who expect to make money on a project, Cowen said. Brownsville’s housing authority is its own developer, however, which allows the money to go back into affordable housing in the community, he said.

Cowen said a crew has been hired to clean out the basement and first two floors over the next couple of weeks, then a structural engineer will be sent in to make sure the building is solid.

“If it comes back that the structure is sound I think we’ll close on the project,” Cowen said. “We can close any time before November.”

Getting the necessary tax credits is a competitive process, but BHOC stands a good chance of success, he said, noting that the nonprofit managed to land $30 million in credits over the past two years for housing projects.

Carla Mancha, the housing authority’s executive director, said BHOC has a “really good track record in securing tax credits successfully here in Brownsville.” Redeveloping El Jardin not only helps address a shortage of affordable housing but also aligns with the city’s goals of downtown revitalization and historic preservation, she said.

The hotel opened in 1927 but has stood empty since the mid-1980s, a frequent target of vandalism.

“I think it would be a fantastic project,” Mancha said. “It definitely will change the whole face of downtown.”

Confirming the building’s structural integrity to ensure the safety of families is “the utmost priority,” she said.

“Once we have the green light and we see that everything is good to proceed, this is going to be an amazing project for everybody,” Mancha said. “It is an opportunity that not every community has and it’s an opportunity that not just any housing authority will ever be part of.”