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CITY HALL EARMARKS FUNDS FOR EXTENSIVE PROJECT TO RESTORE COMMUNITY’S FAVORITE FESTIVAL GROUND, RETURN FEATURES TO ORIGINAL, ESTABLISH HISTORIC DISTICT WITH NEARBY BUILDINGS
A long-term plan for the restoration of Cotulla’s historic Plaza Florita has been put in motion this month with a council decision to hire an architect to examine the park and its surrounding buildings for a design and rebuilding cost assessment.
The Able City firm of architects, which has offices in Laredo, San Antonio, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, was represented at the Thursday, August 10, city council meeting by Rick Solis, who said his work encompasses a preliminary property study that hopes to give a projection of the ultimate price tag for the plaza’s rejuvenation.
Once listed on city maps as Mexican Plaza and identified in the past as the center of the onetime La Salle Town, a predominantly Hispanic community, the plaza on the east side of Cotulla was furnished with a gazebo, stone benches, walkways, water features, and a dance floor in the 1930s and named after local philanthropist and education advocate Florence Maltsberger. Over the past 90 years, the space has played host to countless church and community events, school functions, family celebrations, concerts and dances.
At the beginning of this century, the plaza was enhanced by construction of a covered pavilion with a basketball court, public restrooms, and some playground equipment. Funding for those additions was channeled through a collaboration between the city of Cotulla and La Salle County government from the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife in a grant for outdoor recreation facilities.
Repairs to the plaza in the late 1990s, however, obliterated some of the features for which the site had become known and for which successive generations of local families had held fondness, according to city officials and local historians.
Today, Plaza Florita and its adjoining Welhausen School are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their significance to Hispanic culture and heritage.
The city of Cotulla has confirmed it is completing a real estate deal with a local property owner to purchase the onetime Red Store – now known as the Vasquez Building – that stands on the northern side of the park on Goft Street. A similar deal was struck last year for the city’s purchase of the former Jimenez store on the southeast corner and Guadalupe Hall on the southern side, both on Buckley Street. The former church hall was bought from the Diocese of Laredo.
City plans for the plaza’s refurbishment are aimed at bringing the park and its surrounding buildings in line with the way they would have appeared nearly a century ago as part of a historic preservation district.
Facilities will, however, be put to modern use. New restrooms will be built, parking spaces enhanced, the church hall opened for civic functions and private bookings, and community festivals returned to the dance floor and gazebo.
Cotulla City Manager David Wright said last week that he believes the city may rent the onetime Jimenez grocery store and meat market to a local business at a reduced rate in order to encourage economic vitality in the district.
Before any of those improvements may be made, however, councilors will require a cost estimate and a design plan that takes facility repairs or rebuilding expenses into consideration.
Councilors have agreed that refurbishing the plaza will require removing later additions and building public restrooms elsewhere.
Solis and Wright indicated last week that the assessment by Able City will examine improvements such as preservation of the original Guadalupe Hall facade (whose red stone exterior has been painted), upgrading electrical wiring, and making the structure adaptable for public functions; repairing and modernizing the Jimenez store for commercial use; and determining what may be done with the Vasquez building.
Councilors will examine options that include a youth recreation center, vendor booth spaces for festivals, and other civic uses of the large retail store.
“The general mood is to bring the plaza back to the 1930s timeframe,” the city administrator said. “This is the preliminary stage of the design plan.”
The city manager put to rest concerns over the continued existence of an advisory committee that had been assembled to guide future development of the plaza. One of the committee’s original members, Alfredo Zamora Jr., told councilors at the beginning of their meeting that he believed the voluntary group had been disbanded or was no longer being taken into consideration.
“Our full intention is to reinstate the board and the committee,” Wright said. “This is the beginning. This is where we start.”
The decision to contract Solis’ company was made on a motion by Councilor Tanis Lopez, seconded by Councilor Manuel Rodriguez and supported by Councilors Alejandro Garcia and Eloy Zertuche. Councilor Gilbert Ayala was absent from the Aug. 10 meeting.