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McALLEN, RGV – Demolishing its old civic center is in the works as the next chapter unfolds for the city of McAllen.

However, some local residents want the building to remain intact, due to its architectural and historical significance. They say it should remain as it has stood for the last 57 years, to treasure the memories it has for so many people.

During the public comment period at a McAllen City Commission meeting held July 25, supporters of the civic center said the building should be preserved and made use of. They are at odds with the decision of city commissioners to sell the property to boost retail development.

Jim Darling
Jim Darling

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said he too has fond memories of the civic center. However, he said the building has now been sold to Dallas-based Provident Realty for almost $9 million. He said he would pass along the comments of supporters of the civic center to Provident Realty.

Darling said he has fond memories of the old civic center and believes parts of the auditorium, such as the stage, could be housed as a reminder of former glories in the new McAllen Performing Arts center currently under construction next to the McAllen Convention Center.

“We’re going to take some of the floor and incorporate it into the new center, and there will probably be a plaque there. The people at the meeting were talking more from an architectural standpoint, but I think from a memories standpoint we can do things to preserve it at the new center, and let the public participate in whatever we do before it closes,” Darling said.

Darling said old photos and memorabilia from the civic center could also be housed at the performing arts center. “When it was built it was out in the fields. There was nothing else there. There was no interstate. People have fond memories of that. I do. So, when we go in the new performing arts center it will be nice to remember the old,” Darling said.

Darling said the chairs from the auditorium could go to local non-profits. “The mayor Pharr called me. We are going to make some arrangement to let them use some of the chairs. Also, they may sell slabs from the old stage, where your daughter might have danced. You could probably buy some chairs, if you want.”

Darling said Simon Property Group, which owns La Plaza Mall immediately south and just across Interstate 2 from the civic center, is collaborating with Provident Realty on a new development.

Darling said city leaders hope and believe that Provident, working with Simon Properties, will bring a major “destination” retail store to McAllen, a store that no other city in the Rio Grande Valley has, one that would attract visitors from as far away as Monterrey.

“Hopefully we’ll have something that recognizes the importance of that corner and it will be very nice – whatever goes there. They (Provident) spent a lot of money on it so they have to put something on there that justifies the money that they spent,” Darling said.

Pedro Ayala
Pedro Ayala

Pedro Ayala, an urban designer and supporter of retaining the civic center, said his meeting with city leaders was positive.

“I expressed to the Mayor, Jim Darling, City Manager Roy Rodriguez, Commissioner Richard Cortez, Commissioner John Ingram and City Attorney Kevin Pagan that the Texas Historical Commission has determined that the McAllen Civic Center is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Federal, State and Local Tax credits are available. I brought a book with me that illustrates the iconic McAllen Civic Center. Mayor Jim Darling was curious and wanted to know more about it. The book is Buildings of Texas, Central, South and Gulf Coast by Gerald Moorhead.”

Ayala said he and others would like to meet with the new owners of the civic center. “We feel that the McAllen Civic Center merits the opportunity to explore historic preservation efforts. We would be happy to consult with the owners to help explore various options in a workshop that would help ensure the preservation of this remarkable building.”

Ayala said some supporters of the civic center would like to see it “re-purposed” into a modern IMAX theatre with the possibility of partnering with IMAS’ Smithsonian Institute.

“Programmatically it makes sense to breathe new life into it as an alternative late night music venue for live bands or amplified concert destination in keeping with a night life and regional destination.”

Another possibility, Ayala said, is to turn the civic center into apartments, lofts or a hotel for families coming from out of town to shop at La Plaza Mall. “After shopping hours they could attend events or IMAX movies in the auditorium.”

“These are just some ideas that we offer, beginning with a workshop. We simply ask that they include us on the next City of McAllen agenda, on Monday, August 8. Let us have a pause in the process, schedule a workshop and show the developer that we are solutions-oriented. I got the impression that the city commission appreciated our passion for our city, its history and cultural resources.”

Ayala said supporters of maintaining the civic center building include retired librarian Virginia Haynie Gause, a member of the Texas Historical Commission, realtor Leila Bird, developer Bryan Cook, architect Manuel Hinojosa, artist Eileen Berger, Dr. Marc Berger, and engineer Rolando Ayala.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story.