Posted on 02/25/2007 3:26 PM EST
AN EDITORIAL AND COMMENTARY ON THE NORTH UNIVERSITY MERCADO PROJECT
ON THE CULTURAL PATH TO ECONOMIC PROSPERITY
The idea that once and for all the mostly "forgotten communities" of North, and to some extent East Lubbock, may one day in the future get to see a traditional “Mercado” or marketplace built in their neighborhood has created a sense of excitement within some members of this city's Hispanic community.
Although we try to maintain a positive attitude about these types of projects, we are also realists and sense that a word of caution may be in order here before we all get wrapped up too tight in our Zarapes; figuratively speaking of course, and buy into all the hype!
We would remind our readers that former city manager Lou Fox was once heralded as the Mercado visionary who would recreate San Antonio’s Riverwalk and Mercado and that Lubbock would become a sort of miniature San Antonio on the Llano.
Well, as we all know, the “Fox” raided the henhouse and took off with all the golden eggs this city had to offer at the time and headed back south, his second home in France, or to raid another city council’s taxpayer’s account.
Aside from the cultural perspective, we agree that a project of this magnitude could bring about economic changes and opportunities to an area many neighborhood residents fear will suffer a geographical isolation once the Marsha Sharp Freeway is completed. In essence, the freeway itself will create a sort of a “concrete front-yard” to the Arnett Benson, Jackson, and Guadalupe neighborhoods; all mostly Hispanic.
And although there may not be historical buildings or architecture one can point to as symbols of the Hispanic population, these 3 neighborhoods are some of the city’s most historic simply by virtue of the personal histories of the people who have lived there for many, many years. Therefore, it makes sense for the community to want something that symbolizes our Hispanic heritage.
As the city and organizers of this project continue down the cultural road to economic prosperity, we would like to point out some of what we perceive as unfinished business when it comes to projects relating to our mostly Hispanic north side. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from past failures?
For starters we point to Fiesta Plaza. Here’s the way it was described in a Daily Toreador article dated 11/12/2003 by a Corbin Pemberton: “The plaza plans feature five different sizes of pavilions available for performers. Each area will be multipurpose. A small outdoor stage, a large covered pavilion and a multi-purpose court will each have full electrical infrastructure so they can be used for a variety of events,”
The above statement does not come close to describing what is out there now. After more than 4 years of construction, most people have no idea what Fiesta Plaza is and it surely has not led to more economic development.
The second thing we would point to is an unfinished Hispanic Cultural Center which was to be developed at the former fire station building at 3rd and University. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess if this project, which is led by Fiestas del Llano and supported by some city funding, will ever be completed. Initially, the center was seen as a place that would “sponsor art and theater programs, serve as a dance studio for folkloric dance groups, provide office space for non-profit groups and offer health screening and services to the community”, according to a 2003 AJ article.
It got the community’s hopes up. But, except for some landscaping work and the addition of some decorative columns; the original plans seem to all but have been abandoned; just like the plans to have some type of arch that would reach from one side of the street to the other and would stand as a symbol of our Hispanic culture.
Throw in the Vaquero Lake project which the Marc McDougal, Tom Martin and Gary Boren led city council just blew off in exchange for softball fields in SW Lubbock; the city boondoggle we call the Wells Fargo Amphitheater which no one ever uses; and you can see why we advise some caution here.
Having said that, a project of this type does have the potential of creating some economic opportunity; the major question is for who or whom? Will it go to the corporations and local businesses who can afford to have a commercial presence there versus those who can’t afford it? How will the aforementioned neighborhood residents benefit other than staffing the retail and commercial establishments providing minimum wage jobs?
If the powers that be leading this effort really want to make an economic impact; we offer the following suggestions for their consideration:
• The architecture and building designs selected must genuinely be representative of Lubbock’s Hispanic culture and not just a generic Mercado design. Case in point, a Taco Bell’s architecture doesn’t define the culture; and neither does the food they serve by the way.
• The city council must ensure economic parity or opportunity by passing city legislation that states that a certain percentage of all building and servicing contracts associated with the project must go to minority contractors. This must be a substantial percentage in order to create real economic opportunity.
• A minority business or minority entrepreneur preference scale of some kind must be developed to give small minority businesses or entrepreneurs equal footing. This would ensure that minority owned businesses similar to neighborhood restaurants like Joel’s for example can compete against chains like Chili’s or any other well financed franchise.
• The rezoning of the 2 block area between University and Ave Q, and the new Sharp Freeway and 3rd street which is scheduled to take place after completion of the Sharp Freeway should be taken into consideration; with the goal being that established design guidelines will complement Lubbock’s Hispanic culture. For example, zoning laws might require that the new commercial designs match the architectural style of the Mercado and vice versa.
Our point is that if we are to realize real economic success within these communities which traditionally have been left out of the economic equation; then new and innovative methods of developing this project must be implemented. Otherwise, we are likely to end up with the same old results, or worse; no results.
It would be a mistake to view this project as something that will benefit this city’s Hispanic community but then not take the necessary steps to ensure that the community has benefited. While we’re in support of the project we cannot be tempted into accepting short term gains at the expense of long term benefits.
Therefore we welcome a discussion of all the issues involved and offer El Editor as a forum where local residents, organizations, elected officials, and other interested parties can have a public dialogue which will only ensure that the present vision of a Mercado will one day become a reality.