(Laredo, TX – July 1, 2015) The City of Laredo and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) are asking for community input into the naming, development, design, and function of the four-and-a-half-block boulevard that is at the end of the IH-35 approach to the Juarez Lincoln Bridge (Bridge II) by hosting a series of charrettes, which refer to any collaborative session in which a group of designers draft a solution to a design problem. The public is invited to attend and participate in these charrettes, which will be held on Thursday, July 9 and Thursday, July 16, as well as Saturday, July 18, 2015 at the Laredo Center for the Arts, located at 500 San Agustin Avenue, beginning at 6:00 p.m.
“Aside from the outlet mall coming to downtown Laredo, these four blocks are the most important property in District 8,” said Council Member Roberto Balli. “The development there will offer an important aesthetic welcome to those who come to Laredo from Mexico. As the front door to not only our city, but also, this country, it will be the first thing they see when they enter Laredo. As the final area they see when they leave the United States and enter Mexico, it should have a lasting impression.”
Balli said he is “excited at the call for community input for design ideas” and urges Laredoans to participate in the charrettes.
Once a thriving part of El Azteca and the site of the historic Plaza de la Noria and La Escuela Amarilla (Central School), the boulevard is intersected by the east-to-west arteries of Hidalgo, Farragut, Matamoros, Houston, and Victoria streets. That nexus offers vital downtown connecters for Mexican traffic as well as South Laredo and the central Laredo area known as the Heights.
The proposed parkway is bound to the west by Santa Ursula Avenue and on the east by San Dario Avenue and historic El Azteca Neighborhood, which was established in the 1870s as one of the City’s first residential neighborhoods.
The area was torn down for the development of the end of IH-35 and the Lincoln-Juarez Bridge, known locally as Bridge II. As part of the highway system, the Texas Department of Transportation owned the property and was responsible for maintaining the area. This year, TXDOT agreed to deed the property over to the City of Laredo and to provide initial funding of $350,000 for improvements to the area.
“TxDOT’s generous donation is a good start, and so is the pro bono work of the architects,” Balli added, “but we will also ask the private sector to participate.”
He said his vision of the boulevard is not to merely upgrade the area from bad to good. “It should be spectacular. It should say, ‘This is who we are, and welcome to Laredo.’”
Balli said he envisions a landscaped tableau to showcase “urban art of significance, art that is remembered as a symbol of our city.”
Participating architects who are working pro bono to bring the project to fruition will host the three charrettes inviting public participation.
“This important stretch of land on which so much international and local history rests is the front door to the City of Laredo from Mexico. Our intent is to come up with a design that reflects the ideas of the community for how it should look and function,” said AIA member Frank Rotnofksy of Frank Architects, Inc.
“We want whatever we build in this first phase to be a statement of this city defining itself,” said architect Mario Peña of Hickey-Peña Architects.
Peña said he sees the boulevard as an aesthetic, sustainable green space with xeriscaped pedestrian walkways, statuary, and fountains.
“Those four blocks should be a self portrait of the city, our Statue of Liberty, our Champs-Elysée, our Avenida Reforma,” said architect Viviana Frank-Rotnofsky.
She noted that 13 city blocks of historic homes were destroyed to build the bridge and its highway approach. “What we do here will serve as homage to those who gave up their beloved homes for progress as well as homage to the massive loss of architectural treasures now gone forever. From something that was once devastating will rise something of meaning and beauty,” Frank-Rotnofsky said.
“The parkway development is an opportunity for us to tell the story of the people who once lived in these city blocks, the story of the teachers and students of Central School and the storied plaza that provided recess space for all youngsters attending Central School from the Azteca and Salvation neighborhoods,” said Rafael Torres, executive director of El Azteca Economic Development and Preservation Corporation, adding, “We have an opportunity to tell our urban history with the development of the area.”
“The timing is right for this project. It’s been on my mind since I came into office. We have a new city administration that believes in the project. I was happy to learn there were architects and others interested in bringing this area to life. We can all have a voice in this, even in giving it a name,” Balli concluded.
Among the other participating AIA architects and their firms are AIA president Talissa Molano and Juan Molano of Red Line Architects, Memo Cavazos of Cavazos and Associates Architects, and Monica Guajardo of SLAY Architecture. Also participating are interns Sam Cigarroa and Alex Martinez of the TAMIU Cultural Exchange Program.
For more information on the public meetings, please call (956) 724-7418 or (956) 722-8186.