Viviana Frank: a data driven cross-pollinator of big ideas for the city she loves

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Those who live or work downtown and appreciate its phenomenal inventory of beautiful old buildings have probably noted that something good is happening to the St. Anthony Hotel annex at 916 Salinas Street.

De casualidad I asked Viviana Frank if she knew what was up with the two-story Doric columned treasure whose window apertures had been boarded up.

She texted back, “a lot,” and I deduced with happy relief that the future of the structure was in the capable hands of Frank Architects, the firm she and her husband Frank Rotnofsky own.

The 3,600 square-foot building was acquired in 2007 by the Frank family partnership, whose members are the children and grandchildren of the late Mauricio and Adela Frank.

Frank said her father had the talent for acquiring properties, and her mother the acumen for developing them.

The hotel annex, once divided into apartments, has been re-roofed with standing seam metal. Its interior has been gutted and its load-bearing walls reinforced. The wooden floor upstairs will be reconstructed with added support. Its four-pane windows have been replicated in their original design.

Frank said the revitalization of the structure was “coming together very quickly.”

The first floor and an exterior patio will be the new home of Cultura Beer Garden, the popular local phenom that showcases craft beer, live music, and food truck fare.

Frank said the second story will lend itself to receptions and art events.

“This investment is like a prayer for plans and solutions that are already in place to lift all boats for downtown revitalization,” she said, referring to District VIII’s Neighborhood Empowerment Zone, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, and its Business Improvement District.

A money-where-mouth-is champion of downtown reinvestment, Viviana Frank speaks with unvarnished enthusiasm about the work underway at 916 Salinas, its future tenant, and its value as a draw to bring more Laredoans downtown.

As though well she can see it, Frank said that a little creative engineering through policy and programs on the part of the City, Webb County, Laredo Community College, and the school districts could turn some downtown properties into apartments and homes. “Young families know this is a progressive place to raise children, and the elders find comfort in the tranquility of downtown. These demographics balance each other out. They end up being good neighbors,” she said.

Beyond the restoration of the St. Anthony Annex, Frank has long been a student of city making, one who has looked at what works in other cities and incorporated those ideas into the local Main Street initiative, the Farmers Market, the four-block approach to and from the Juarez Lincoln International Bridge, and others.

Frank’s architectural firm, along with Mario Peña, AIA, and other progressive like-minded urban designers were the creative fuse that worked with the City of Laredo to write the Viva Laredo Comprehensive Master Plan, a document that introduced into the local lexicon “walkability,” “bikeability,” “urban agriculture,” and “food sustainability.” Beyond the words, however, are their quality of life bearing on the Laredo cityscape and those who inhabit it.

Viviana Frank, who eschews attention and public praises for her work, is a data driven cross-pollinator of big ideas for a city she clearly loves.

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