February 3, 2021 429 PM
PRESIDIO — Presidio has big plans for its downtown, including a proposed new convention center and hotel. In an effort to entice private investment, the city is offering to give away free land for the hotel. Those plans, in their early stages, are part of an effort by city officials to infuse the industrial border town with tourism.
Last year, Presidio officials hired Carlos Jiménez, a Houston-based architect and professor at Rice University, to draw up plans for its convention center. Jiménez has previously designed a number of structures for Marfa businessman Tim Crowley, including Hotel Saint George, the Crowley Theater Addition and a redesign of The Stardust.
According to city officials, Crowley helped connect the border city with the architect. He also footed one-third of an approximately $50,000 bill for Jiménez to draw up designs for the convention center. The other two-thirds came in equal shares from the Presidio Municipal Development District and the City of Presidio, which drew from general funds. Brad Newton, the PMDD executive director, described Crowley as a “friend of the project.”
The convention center will be owned by Presidio, and the city hopes the drawings will help it receive grants to pay for construction. Crowley took interest in those efforts, city officials explained, in part because he hopes to put a hotel on the free land.
Although the city has discussed plans for a hotel since at least July, the city has not yet issued a formal request for proposals (RFP) that would allow businesses to make an official bid. Crowley did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Jiménez describes his design for the convention center as “southwestern vernacular,” a modern building with the “refined simplicity” of southwest architecture. It has adaptable rooms, as well as outside walls to block hot rays in the summer. “We wanted to create a building that can be very flexible and also generous in terms of its space,” Jiménez explained.
As part of its bid for more tourists, the city has already formed a new cultural district. It’s been revamping its American Legion building for events. For the hotel, city officials want something with at least 80 rooms. That would almost double Presidio’s hotel-bed capacity and at the very least, could help visiting officials stay in Presidio instead of nearby towns.
There could be some hiccups in Presidio’s tourism vision, including a Mexican plan to route commercial traffic through the border city. But if all goes well, the city might become a draw for tourists on their way to Mexico, Fort Leaton, River Road or Big Bend Ranch State Park. And Crowley, just as in Marfa, could be at the center of it.
Presidio city officials stress that Crowley, who was appointed a regional assistant district attorney earlier this year, will be considered equally in any RFPs to build a hotel on the free land. Nonetheless, Crowley — now also a public official — has donated to and become a “friend” of a project that will be closely connected to a downtown Presidio hotel.
In a phone interview, Presidio Mayor John Ferguson acknowledged why some residents might be concerned by these optics. He said he had read a 2019 story in which The Big Bend Sentinel reported that Crowley at the time was not paying Marfa hotel taxes. “It’s very fair to ask all these questions,” he said.
Still, “as mayor, I’m pretty excited that there’s somebody who’s interested in doing a project,” he added. “It’s a great thing, to see somebody come in and want to do something.” While he hopes to see Presidio become a bustling tourism hub, the town has at times trended in the opposite direction as stores board up and residents move away. If a convention center and hotel were finally built, it would “forever change Presidio.” The opportunity was too good to pass up.