Brownsville celebrates and promotes its history, and devotes significant resources to preserving and improving old structures and symbols of days past. Those efforts have paid off in many ways, one of which is recognition and support from historical commissions and societies.
Most recently, the city has earned the Texas Downtown Association’s People’s Choice Award for Best Public Improvement, for its renovation of the city’s historic Market Square.
TDA is an independent organization that promotes historic preservation across the state. Its membership includes Texas cities of all sizes as well as economic development corporations, chambers of commerce and other entities. It serves as a clearinghouse of information from its member communities, and conducts assessments and offers advice to them regarding historic preservation and improvement.
Brownsville earned the People’s Choice Award by receiving the greatest number of positive postings in a social media contest. It also received the most votes for best public improvement.
The city will receive its award Wednesday at an awards gala in Austin, where it is a finalist for the President’s Award for Best Public Improvement for a City over 50,000.
At its name implies, Market Square, in the heart of downtown Brownsville, once was the city’s economic center. As the retail market evolved from open-air markets to stand-alone grocery stores, strip centers and then malls, the downtown facility has been repurposed several times over the years. It has served as City Hall and even the municipal bus station. A major renovation in 2017 included a reworking of the center’s iconic dome which itself earned architectural recognition — and most recently it has served as the hub of a resurgent entertainment district and played host to several cultural events and craft and market fairs.
It’s the centerpiece of a Central Brownsville Historic District that recently was named to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.
Other Rio Grande Valley communities that have their own historic areas and structures should take note. This kind of recognition doesn’t merely celebrate historic preservation; it opens the door for funding, both public and private, that helps make future preservation and renovation projects possible. Historic designation has enabled many Brownsville business owners and investors to reconstruct, resurrect or repurpose once-abandoned downtown Brownsville buildings and inject new life into a oncedecaying center of town. Because the purpose of this specialized funding is to preserve historic sites, allocations bring restrictions on what can be done to the property. However, that helps preserve the historic look of the individual sites and the surrounding area.
And those improvements further increase the chances that more recognition, and possibly more funding to continue the renovations, could be in the city’s future.
It’s an investment in the past that offers promise for an even better future.