City of El Paso and Housing Authority announce Blue Flame as National Historic Landmark
First Downtown High-Rise since 2011 to be placed on National Register
EL PASO, Texas – The City of El Paso and the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, TX (HACEP) officially announce that The Blue Flame Building has been added to the National Register of Historic Landmarks. HACEP’s initiative to redevelop The Blue Flame into El Paso’s first downtown high-rise residential community has grown into a historic preservation effort. This national designation will grant HACEP access to state and federal tax credits to help preserve El Paso’s beloved high-rise culminating into over $16 Million.
At a press conference held today at 2 p.m. in City Hall, City of El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and HACEP CEO Gerald Cichon alongside City Council Representatives and other partners shared how important this announcement is to not only the high-rise but the overall resurgence of El Paso’s center city.
“Just last week we announced a major tech company setting up shop in Downtown El Paso, and today we are announcing the historic preservation of The Blue Flame building,” shares El Paso Mayor Dee Margo. “This redevelopment effort into El Paso’s first high-rise residential community by HACEP exemplifies the resurgence of Downtown after this building has been vacant for over a decade.”
[Text Box: Photo 1: in*situ Architecture]
On October 18, 2017, the City of El Paso and HACEP together officially announced the initiative to fully redevelop El Paso’s iconic building and ‘reignite’ The Blue Flame. In late December 2017, HACEP officially purchased the building for $2.5 Million from Franklin Mountain Management, where the previous owners had begun the process for the building’s historic designation process. An arduous three-step process, generally speaking, any landmark that is arguably historic must first go through the City of El Paso’s Historic Landmark Commission. Once approved, the landmark is then passed onto the Texas Historical Commission in Austin. If approved, landmarks are placed on the state’s historic register and then advance to the national level under the approval of the National Park Service.
“The historic designation of The Blue Flame Building at both the state and national level is a major win for El Paso,” states HACEP Chief Executive Officer Gerald Cichon. “We are bringing back to life a major high-rise that has sat vacant for too long, preserving a major piece of our City’s history while also bringing in over $16 Million to Downtown El Paso that has no impact on local tax payers.”
The state and national historic designation of The Blue Flame Building grants HACEP access to state and federal historic tax credits (HTCs) that will help the overall redevelopment process of the long vacant high-rise. HACEP will receive $9.2 Million from the state HTC and $7.5 Million from the federal HTC for a total of $16.7 Million.
These funds are in addition to the 9% Tax Credit award HACEP competed for and won in the ‘at-risk-set-aside’ category from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), who administers the state’s housing tax credit program. Through the support of Mayor and City Council of El Paso and the coordinated effort with the City’s Community and Human Development Department, this was one of two 9% tax credit awards HACEP won for 2017 representing nearly half of the available amount state-wide for this category. The announcement was made on July 27, 2017, culminating into a win of $15 Million at no impact on the local tax payer that will help the overall redevelopment of The Blue Flame Building.
The Blue Flame, originally built in 1954 as the official headquarters to the now-Houston based El Paso Natural Gas Company, covers 0.32 acres of the Downtown El Paso footprint and stands as an 18-story high-rise making it the third tallest building in center city (to include the globe atop the building). Mostly known for ‘the flame’ globe that would correspond to the next day’s weather, the building was vacated on Easter in 1986 when EPNG relocated to Colorado. The El Paso Independent School District made the building their headquarters a few years after only to vacate it after determining the price to maintain the building was too expensive.
HACEP will convert the historic office building into 120 affordable apartment units throughout 12-floors, will include about 45,000 square-feet of office space throughout three-floors in addition to ground-floor commercial and retail space. The project cost stands at approximately $40 Million.
Through an RFP (request for proposal) process, the agency selected Texas-based development firm Franklin Companies (unrelated to Franklin Mountain Management). Franklin offered more than 20 years of experience in affordable housing development, construction and management, along with an in depth understanding of historic preservation – primarily in downtown urban revitalization settings. Franklin has developed more than 6,000 homes (residential units) across Texas. The principal development team is led by Ryan Wilson and Aubra Franklin, a native El Pasoan.
The redevelopment of The Blue Flame will officially be part of HACEP’s overall revitalization effort through HUD’s RAD or the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program. RAD, a HUD-driven strategy, in which 100% of the agency’s affordable housing portfolio will undergo revitalization as a means to address a national crisis on housing infrastructure. HACEP maintains its commitment to completely revitalize over 6,400 residential units throughout El Paso translating into a $1.3 Billion effort at no cost to the local tax payer.
Completion of HACEP’s Blue Flame Building is slated for January 2020.
As way of background, the last Downtown El Paso high-rise to be named on the national historic register was The Mills Building in 2011.
The Housing Authority of the City El Paso, TX (HACEP), the 14th largest housing authority in the United States and manages the 2nd largest public housing portfolio in Texas. Home to the first NetZero, fossil fuel free, LEED Platinum affordable housing community in the U.S., HACEP provides high-quality housing assistance to over 40,000 low-income El Pasoans through its Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher, Tax Credit, Non-Subsidized and Section 8 New Construction programs.