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Hurricane Harvey is the first disaster in which houses of worship became eligible for public assistance under FEMA. Rachel Denny Clow, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
This is a story about urban blight and urban renewal, neglectful ownership and pride of ownership. It’s also a story about how far from over is the story of Hurricane Harvey.
Harvey did its damage in August and early September 2017. Here it is, 2019, and some of our biggest recent news stories have been about lingering Harvey issues, such as:
- Displaced people just now returning to permanent inhabitable homes.
- About $4.3 billion in federal hurricane preparation funds still tied up in a bureaucratic maze.
- Religious organizations receiving government help to rebuild facilities with a community-wide benefit they say outweighs concerns about separation of church and state.
Why is this building still torn up?
And now here’s another story because of what a passerby on Buffalo Street saw when he looked up, higher than street level. The Buffalo Street view of the uptown post office building at 802 N. Tancahua St. still looks pretty much like it did the day after the hurricane made landfall. Large metal siding panels still are missing from the side of the building.
The passerby remembers vividly what Buffalo Street was like on the morning after Harvey made landfall. Much of the post office siding lay in the street, and much of the debris had damaged the building across the street. (The passerby, if you’re curious, was Editor Tim Archuleta.)
Buffalo Street was cleared off and the building across the street was repaired long ago. And the missing panels don’t affect the operation of the combination post office-parking garage.
But even if the siding is only cosmetic, why has it still not been replaced? How could the full force of the federal government not have asserted itself by now? Why was this post office not be among the first in line for hurricane repairs?
Is this a story about Hurricane Harvey, or just another example of urban blight, Corpus Christi-style, accelerated by Harvey? Is there a protracted battle with an insurance company behind this story?
It turns out there is a happy ending here that gets the Postal Service off the hook. The post office is a tenant, not the owner.
And the owner is new. It’s the Ed Rachal Foundation, the charitable organization that has been on a real estate acquisition spree. The post office building is part of the Rachal Foundation’s recent acquisition of the neighboring Frost Bank Building.
And that’s good news for those who worry about the damage that neglectful owners do to the reputation of that part of the city. It’s good news because the Rachal Foundation has the money to give the property a facelift and isn’t afraid to use it, said property manager Chuck Rich. The previous owner couldn’t afford it.
Any lingering insurance-collection issues that the foundation may have inherited from the previous owner will not delay the facelift, Rich said, because “you have a well-capitalized owner that doesn’t have to wait for that.”
While Rich couldn’t give a timetable, he said the project already is underway, the public will see exterior results soon and those results will be an improvement from what the building looked like, pre-hurricane.
The new paneling will be stainless steel, he said, a better material than the current painted metal — also much more hurricane-resistant. The landlord and tenants of the building across Buffalo Street should be relieved to hear that.
The Frost building is among several noteworthy recent Rachal real estate acquisitions. Others include the famous Ada Wilson “castle” mansion at Ocean Drive and Doddridge Road, the neighboring former H.E. Butt home, and the old Hacienda Records building and its neighboring building near Six Points.
The foundation also has offered to take the old Nueces County Courthouse off the county’s hands and demolish it if the county can get around a historic-landmark restriction that protects the courthouse until 2026. The foundation also intends to remove the Wilson home and started demolition of the properties near Six Points right away.
What is the Rachal Foundation up to?
These acquisitions have caused tongues to wag, with many observers wondering aloud how this investment strategy fits the foundation’s mission of “charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes.”
Also, preservationists disagree strongly with tearing down the old courthouse and the Wilson home, which has history and, unlike the courthouse, looks move-in ready.
But the foundation could make a strong case that its demolitions, especially the ones near Six Points, and its multimillion-dollar Frost upgrades will benefit the city’s appearance and reputation and make it more attractive to investors. Neglectful ownership of blighted properties is a long-running complaint of city leaders hoping to put a better foot forward.
At the very least, the foundation is doing some serious cleaning up of residual hurricane damage in uptown Corpus Christi.
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