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DESIGN INCLUDES MOVING PAVILION, PLAYGROUND, RESTROOMS TO NEW SITE
A long-term project to restore Cotulla’s historic Plaza Florita to its original design and upgrade public facilities at the site has been stalled this month by a cost estimate more than twice what City Hall was expecting to spend.
According to City Administrator David Wright, addressing councilors at their meeting Thursday, June 8, the city had been planning to spend approximately $600,000 on a portion of the plaza rehabilitation by relocating public restrooms and improving parking areas.
The sole bidder for the project, who was not named publicly during the council meeting, made an offer of $1.3 million for the job, Wright said.
“That was too high,” the administrator told the council. “We have rejected that bid, but we are inviting prospective bidders back to the table, to see what we can do.”
Although long recognized as a public meeting place and recreational area, Plaza Florita was given its present fixtures in the 1930s as part of a community improvement project. The site had previously been marked on city maps as “Mexican Plaza.”
When the park was developed, it was named after local benefactor, library and education advocate, and philanthropist Florence Maltsberger. Featuring a gazebo, dance floor, landscaping and palm trees, pathways, stone benches bearing the names of local families, fountains and decorative stonework, the plaza became a site for family and community events, church festivals, band concerts and school-related functions.
At the end of the 1990s, the city of Cotulla and La Salle County government worked together in an application for funding from the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife to improve outdoor recreational areas, which resulted in construction of a restroom building on a corner of the plaza, a covered pavilion with concert stage and basketball court, and placement of children’s playground equipment and a sand volleyball court on the property.
The improvements also resulted in removal of some of the features for which the plaza had become a favored spot by local families, notably the names of those whose long involvement in the park’s development and upkeep had served historical interest.
An application by the city to have both the plaza and its adjoining Welhausen School recognized as historical landmarks has been successful, and both are now registered nationally.
According to the city’s former administrator, Larry Dovalina, the plaza played a significant role in the Hispanic culture of the community, making it one of fewer than two percent of the nationally recognized historic landmarks highlighting that aspect of American history.
The city has developed a plan for the rehabilitation of the plaza that includes removing the modern-era restroom building and the covered pavilion, basketball court and playground equipment, and reconstructing them on an adjoining property.
Failure by the city to rebuild the features that were funded by the state grant will require payback of the money to Texas Parks & Wildlife, according to City Hall.
Recent purchases by the city have included the Jimenez Store, the Catholic church Guadalupe Hall and, now in negotiations, the Vasquez Store (formerly Red Store), all of which face the plaza and may be adapted for public use.
New restrooms, additional parking, historical markers and a bronze statue of Florence Maltsberger by sculptor Armando Hinojosa are part of the development plan, as well as complete restoration of the plaza’s original fixtures.
City Hall hosted a pre-bid meeting of all prospective builders earlier this year and laid out its plans for the construction project. Although six contractors attended, only one made an offer.
Funding for the project is made available through Cotulla’s Hotel Occupancy Tax, whose revenues come from a surcharge on every hotel and motel room booked in the city. According to the city’s finance director, Ernesto Garcia III, Cotulla has collected more than $883,000 in hotel taxes since October and is on track to exceed expectations of collecting $1.5 million for the budget year.
Restrictions on the use of hotel tax revenues are imposed by the state of Texas, which endorses the tax but dictates that its revenues may only be used for public projects that enhance tourism, such as parks and city beautification, festivals, and public sites that attract visitors or host public events. Downtown historic preservation efforts, the restoration of the city-owned former Stockmens Bank and its conversion into office space, and the preservation and repurposing of a onetime garage and filling station to the new City Hall were all made possible by the hotel tax revenues, as well as commissioning a mural depicting Cotulla’s history, which is now displayed on the side of a historic building on Main Street. Placement at Veterans Park downtown of a bronze of city founder Joseph Cotulla with a fountain representing his development of artesian wells for irrigation to promote agriculture in the county in the 1880s was also funded by hotel tax revenues.
Despite rejecting the contractor’s offer for a portion of the plaza restoration and development project, City Hall is proceeding with other aspects of its Plaza Florita Historic District plan, which include commissioning the Maltsberger bronze and drafting designs for the adaptation of the Jimenez, Guadalupe and Vasquez buildings. City Hall has indicated that it may consider demolishing the Vasquez building if real estate negotiations lead to a purchase. The site, according to Wright, may be used for parking and other fixtures related to public events at the plaza.