Brownsville: Majority of Funds to Restore Samano Building Are Lined Up
Feature Illustrations: Various views of the current condition of the Samano Building at 1158 E. Elizabeth Street. Images: Google Streets/VBX graphic.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Brownsville (Cameron County) — The city of Brownsville is awaiting approval of a request made to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reallocate $500,000 of federal funds toward the renovation of a historic downtown bank building for affordable housing.
This signifies one of the last outstanding contributions needed for the developer to proceed with construction on a $10 million project.
The City Commission, on March 16, approved a request from the city’s Office of Strategic Initiatives to reallocate uncommitted Community Development Block Grant funds from the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 to support the Samano Building Rehabilitation Project.
This project will provide up to 30 new direct jobs and up to 600 indirect jobs, house 40 individuals, be a site for the production and sale of healthy foods to a community struggling with the impact caused by the loss of the downtown HEB Grocery store, the influx of more homeless residents and the lack of good paying employment.
The housing is “permanent supportive housing,” a concept that provides housing for the chronically homeless.
Constructed in 1925, this is a five-story brick building that was originally the First National Bank. It later became known as the Samano Securities Building. The Samano Building is at 1158 E. Elizabeth St., the southwest corner of Elizabeth Street and 12th Street.
Architect’s concept rendering of the Samano building as it could appear with a grocery store at street level. Courtesy: Zain Islam-Hashmi.
The building and lot has a footprint of 6,000 square feet. It is the intent of the developer to establish a grocery and cafe on the ground floor. Downtown Brownsville is considered a “food desert” and is in need of a neighborhood grocery.
This project is an initiative of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB). The CDCB is a NALCAB Community Development Financial Institutions member. This relationship allowed CDCB to take control of the Samano Building, which is now on its books as Samano Housing LP Owner.
Once the conversion is complete, the building will be known as Samano Studios & Armand’s Grocery.
The CDCB issued a Request for Qualifications to select a general contractor on March 15. Responses were due March 26 and the CDCB expects to select the general contractor in early April.
The project schedule includes a Notice to Proceed in September, and to have substantial completion by August 2022. The budget as described in the RFQ provides a construction budget of $6.9 million, including general conditions and fees.
Zain Islan-Hashmi, a New Jersey-based architect, assisted the Dallas-based nonprofit buildingcommunityWORKSHOP (the project architect firm) by providing concept illustrations of how the abandoned Samano Building might be restored. He described the residential portion as “micro-affordable units.”
Efren Trujillo Jr., assistant director for Office of Strategic Initiatives, submitted the reallocation amendment to HUD and described the residences as 39 studio apartments and a single one-bedroom unit.
This is a 30,000-square-foot building, however, there are also plans to convert the roof into a rooftop hydroponics farm. If that is realized, the project would effectively make use of about 36,000 square feet.
Historic archive photo of the Samano building as the First National Bank. Courtesy: CDCB.
The City Commission’s action plan is to fund Community Development Corporation of Brownsville’s Samano Project from these three sources:
$110,208.15 from Fiscal Year 2017 uncommitted CDBG funds
$94,060.29 from Fiscal Year 2018 uncommitted CDBG funds
$295,731.56 from Fiscal Year 2019 uncommitted CDBG funds
The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville has pledged $4,306,791 of its own funds ($2,375,500 of CDCB’s pledge came from a Valley Baptist Foundation 2019 grant). The Rio Grande Valley Multibank, a CDCB affiliate, approved a $1.6 million loan.
The project has also been approved for $2 million in direct loan assistance from the National Housing Trust Fund, which is being allocated by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). This would be a deferred forgivable loan at 0% interest rate with a 40-year term.
The TDHCA Governing Board had to approve a waiver Sept. 3, 2020 of a department policy that forbade the use of NHTF funds for adaptive reuse projects. Following that vote, the Governing Board revisited the project on Dec. 10 and approved the award of $2 million, “for adaptive reuse of the Samano building that meets the new construction standards under NHTF.”
However, the Governing Board gave the TDHCA staff until July 2, 2021 to sign a contract for the loan.
The board also required that if the developer pursues National Historic Tax Credits, the standards must be approved by the Department of the Interior by May 14, 2021.
The remaining $1,431,291 was coming from a combination of Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program, and Capital Magnet Funds, according to TDHCA.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.