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Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
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Inside the Messy Demolition of the Univision Building

Photo: Photos by Mary Tuma, License: N/A

Photos by Mary Tuma

Grassroots groups call for an investigation into the City and Greystar’s dealings regarding the original Univision site

Photo: , License: N/A

Activists staged a sit-in to halt the demolition of the Univision building

“It’s had a huge impact on civil rights and in giving the Spanish-language population a voice,” said Pemberton, of the building’s cultural significance. “It also allowed an opportunity for Mexican-American businesses to have an audience that they could advertise to, which, previously, they were not able to do with the mainstream American population.”

Former Univision reporter Patti Elizondo says she was “devastated” to learn of the demolition. Echoing Pemberton, she says the station was a pioneer in granting the Latino community a platform and microphone—it “gave us freedom from oppression” said Elizondo.

So, when the building faced the threat of demolition, some groups leaped into action. The Conservation Society requested the Texas Historic Commission review the building for historic designation. The THC found the Univision site was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under three possible criteria: architectural landmark and two designations for communications and ethnic heritage. The City’s Office of Historic Preservation similarly determined it met five criteria (that’s two more than necessary to stamp the site as a landmark in SA) yet failed to designate the building as a landmark site, irking preservationists and activists alike.

Following suit, the Office’s Historic Design and Review Commission voted down the call for historical designation in September. Pemberton and others contend the commission voted against the label because partial approval of the apartment complex was underway since May, giving ‘economic development’ priority over cultural significance–tax reimbursements and millions in City incentives tied to the new complex only added to the criticism. Indeed, according to HDRC meeting minutes from September 4, the staff noted the building satisfied the criteria but that the commission should weigh the cultural interpretation against conceptual approval. Pemberton described the process as “backward,” saying the historical significance determination should have been made before the developer got the green light from the City. Calls to the City Attorney were not returned by press time.

Seeking recourse, the Conservation Society sought to appeal the HDRC decision through the Board of Adjustment. The application was approved and the item placed on the agenda for early November, signs the avenue for appeal was viable. “As far as we were concerned … it was still ready to be heard and moving forward,” Pemberton said.

But that wasn’t the case. BOA went into executive session moments before hearing the group’s case. When they emerged, BOA said they were just informed by city attorney staff that they had no jurisdiction over the appeal. Demolition began immediately afterward.

Pemberton and the roughly 20 other activists in attendance were floored, “They’ve had the appeal paperwork in their office for a month and could have made this decision long before that or given us some direction,” she said.

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