This week, I had the inmense pleasure of touring the original State National Bank built in the 1920s in downtown Brownsville. Serving on the Come Build, Come Dream board of directors has been an enriching experience because of the organization’s mission to support the low-income families of Cameron County. The building, known as the Samano building, was designed by Atlee Ayres, a charter member of the Texas Society of Architects. He also designed the beautiful Dancy Building (Cameron County Courthouse) and the administration building at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. The Dancy Building can be seen from the rooftop as shown below.
The tour was organized by CDCB’s director Nick Mitchel Bennet and the CDCB staff. We toured the 2nd floor where time stopped at a coffee shop complete with its original booths and lighting features. The large opened windows welcomed the southeastern breeze that felt cool on this hot summer day. For a few seconds, I felt transported to the past and saw myself sitting at a booth sipping coffee wearing a cloche hat. I feel mysterious; like the protagonist of a spy movie. Wake up! the group is heading to the rooftop.
This historical building was at one time the home of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Central Drugs, a Cafe, and Payless Shoe Source. The new renderings and design restoration are by the Dallas-based firm Building Community Workshop – BC Workshop – with a satellite office in downtown Brownsville.
We got to the rooftop and the view of downtown is incredible! Space will feature a deck-like patio and a garden to cultivate fresh vegetables and herbs for both Armand’s Grocery and the growing number of restaurants in the area. The 2nd floor will continue to house a coffee shop with its original booths and modern design.
The ground floor will house Armand’s Grocery; named after CDCB’s founder Father Armand Mathew. Studio apartments will be located on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors of the building. A total of 39 permanent supportive housing studios for current, and on the verge of being homeless individuals. When complete, Samano will consist of three separate businesses owned entirely by CDCB
According to the handout we were provided with during the tour, this historic restoration project will generate up to 10 new jobs, house 40 individuals, be a site for the production and sale of healthy foods to a community struggling with the impact caused by the loss of the HEB grocery store and the lack of good-paying employment. The total cost of the project is estimated at about 12 million dollars.
The handout also stated the Samano community is an evidence-based solution to the lack of affordable, high-quality design and management needed to mitigate homelessness and provide venues for individual and family trauma-based care and healing, urban revitalization, and historic preservation.
Samano Studios and Armand’s Market seek to meet the needs and issues facing downtown Brownsville such as lack of affordable housing for homeless individuals, lack of healthy food options, job creation, and saving Brownsville’s historical heritage. Brownsville is the 2nd city in the state of Texas with the largest concentration of historic buildings.
Each studio unit will have individually controlled central air conditioning, access to Energy Star rated washers, dryers, refrigerators, and ceiling fans. A community kitchen, business center, reception area, and social service office areas are also part of the design. The location is ideal near higher education institutions, two U.S. Mexico ports of entry, easy access to downtown, parks, retail shops, restaurants, and hike and bike trails.
CDCB could not do this alone and is grateful for the support of the following organizations:
Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation: $2.3M
City of Brownsville CDBG: $500k
National Housing Trust Fund: $2M
Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas: $600k
The Community Development Financial Institution Fund at the US Treasury: $340k
United States Conference of Mayors: $50k
The Federal & State Historic Tax Credit Program: $ 4.17 M
And several others.
In the state of Texas, permanent supportive housing projects can have no debt in order to ensure support services are provided and residents can pay as little as possible.