Roma Renovating Historic Properties to Reinvigorate Economy

4 years 6 months 2 days ago Thursday, October 17 2019 Oct 17, 2019 October 17, 2019 8:08 PM October 17, 2019 in News - Local

ROMA – A renovation of an iconic building in Roma is nearing completion. The city is hoping to use it as a way to increase revenue.

Roma, Texas is a city on the border with worldwide notoriety. Tourists flock to its edges to see birds fly through the corridor and off the Roma Bluffs that border the Rio Grande.

Lately, Freddy Guerra, Roma assistant city manager, says ecotourism is not what it used to be.

"We have seen those figures decrease, that's why we want to diversify," he says.

Federal agents are also visibly present on this borderland. Guerra is concerned they have their sights set on Roma to construct a wall or similar structures.

He says, "Currently we are working with U.S. Border Patrol on how we can design a wall that does not cut off the river entirely but still meets the operational goals of that agency."

Internally, the city is struggling to balance a budget with diminishing revenues and increasing expenses.

Tasked with generating revenue and re-energizing the local economy, city leaders turned to the past. They began considering renovations to a historic building.

"The Noah Cox building was owned by the descendants of Noah Cox and they were the ones who first approached the city about partnering up and restoring the structure," says Guerra.

Built in 1853, the Noah Cox building is a memorable sight for anyone who has visited it including Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn as part of the filming of Viva Zapata, a 1950s film. Brando famously stood upon the house's balcony where they managed to squeeze in a horse.

"Apparently they paid someone like $100 to bring the horse, back then it was a lot of money, but they brought the horse up the stairs and brought him up on that balcony," recalls Guerra.

Guerra serves as an executive director on the Economic Development Corporation. The EDC purchased five properties in the historic square, including the Noah Cox building. A dwindling revenue stream put pressure on their decision.

"A lot of times restoration and historical preservation isn't necessarily at the top of that list but here in Roma we do value our history and know that our designation as a National Historic Landmark is one of the biggest selling points for our community," explained Guerra.

A $50,000 matching grant from the Texas Historic Commission, an additional $10,000 for exterior improvements and another $50,000 for the construction of a restroom facility outside of the house allocated from this year's budget will amount to a nearly $110,000 investment by the city.

Guerra says they've faced push-back from the community. This is only the first of several planned projects that will serve more than a preservation purpose.

Businesses will be encouraged to set up shop in these restored buildings and in turn create jobs and increase the sales tax base. The EDC is hoping to share its vision with the completion of its first project.

"We hope to finish off this building and show people that you can successfully have a business here. There could be life breathed into this plaza. And that will encourage other developers and other private-public partnerships to occur when we have the other buildings within the historic district developed as well," says Guerra.

It's a hope to anchor the future on its historic square.

Work began in Jan. 2018. It's expected to be done in about six months when the construction of a restroom facility is completed next to the Noah Cox home.

In the meantime, the city is working on creating packages to attract businesses.

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