Sí to Prop. B

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Those who ask for your vote for “El Centro Si”-Prop. B have been straightforward about the financing, scope, cost, and structure of the proposed downtown conference center.

The project is not a convention center. It’s a venue for conferences and a setting for social events.

Its $51 million cost will be shared by Palafox Hospitality and the City of Laredo.

As it is proposed, Palafox, the parent company of La Posada Hotel, will contribute $2.93 million in the value of the land; $7.37 million in professional services, architectural and engineering fees; and $7.1 million in an overall upgrade to the hotel.

The City’s contribution for the District VIII project will include the $12 million in reserve from the sale of the old Civic Center to the Laredo Independent School District; $4 million from the City’s capital improvement funds; and between $12.1 and $18 million to be raised from visitor supported hotel occupancy taxes and car rental taxes.

Among its promoters are José Ceballos, a consultant for Palafox, and Bill Skeen, project manager for the development of the conference center. When they speak of Prop. B, they say say that with its offering of between 48,000 to 56,000 square feet, the proposed conference center has the potential to host more than 650 events annually, attract 81,000 attendees, bring in 48,700 overnight visitors, and support 157 permanent, fulltime jobs. They envision an additional $18 million boost going into the Laredo economy.

Ceballos said the conference center is a replacement for the old Civic Center, which will be demolished after the first of the year for LISD administrative offices. He said the center will be a vital component that will help revitalize downtown by offering an event venue that serves business visitors to Laredo, tourists, and Laredoans who want to host a social event.

Skeen said the conference center will fill a gap for corporate event planners who want to host large events.

“Sustainability for downtown growth will come from the people who have had a good experience there and enjoyed its amenities,” Ceballos said, adding that a concerted effort from the public and private sector will foster downtown’s viability. “It will happen here as it has happened in cities all over the state. You can certainly see the private sector at work with restaurants and bars now on Iturbide Street and of course on Zaragoza Street. The proposed conference center is a prime example of putting private and public resources to work toward the same goal,” he said.

The project has the support of Mayor Pete Saenz, the City Council, and the board of the Laredo Economic Development Corporation.

SIDEBAR

I’ve considered both sides of the issues surrounding the proposed conference center. Of paramount importance to me is the possibility that the project will give downtown a shot at a sustainable return to commerce as a dining and entertainment district.

That end of Zaragoza Street with its old, historically significant edifices, plaza, Cathedral, and museums will offer new visitors an up-close look at our history, culture, and architecture.

For many of us who grew up in post-World War II Laredo, downtown was far more than the heart of the city’s central business district.

Before Mall del Norte and big box retailers, downtown was a hub on which our lives turned.

My end of downtown was Lincoln at Salinas in my father’s hardware store. A quarter block deep with wooden floors and pressed tin ceilings, that was the place from which I ventured along storefronts and streets where shop owners washed their own windows and changed displays

My good memories and those of other baby boomers are not the substance of persuasion to vote for Prop. B, but perhaps the legendary civility and pride of members of the downtown business community back then are, for they were the engine that fueled this City’s expansion.

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