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EL PASO, TEXAS The City of El Paso chief architect is vocalizing the City commitment to preserving buildings downtown.

In Sunday El Paso Times, Laura Foster penned an open letter titled “Incentive and Enforcement: Part 2 in a series regarding the City commitment to El Paso History and Future.”

Foster called out those opposing hte Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center, claiming no members of the opposition “risked investment in one real project in all of downtown.”

Foster told ABC 7 she wanted to make it clear that preserving buildings takes years of planning. “There has been a dominant voice that has diminished the local government role in what is nothing less than a preservation groundswell in downtown,” Foster said.

The architect said preserving downtown buildings is no simple task and that they like some credit for what they done. “I think that it is really important to understand how local government shepherds these projects and makes preservation less daunting,” Foster said.

In the past four years, the City invested $19 million to stimulate private investment of $113 million to fund renovations of downtown buildings, Foster said.

“It takes enormous partnership preservation just doesn happen on paper and Facebook,” Foster said. “It takes plans and plans exist years before a lot of these projects happen and a lot of the people cycle through; including architects, planners and finance people.”

Aside from incentives, the City uses property maintenance enforcement as a preservation strategy. “We work with owners to do incremental rehab rather than just tell them to shutter it,” Foster said.

The City goal is to work with property owners in an attempt to avoid demolition by neglect, and if the owners don comply, they could face the Building Standards Commission for a hearing, which could penalize owners who don comply.

One of the latest examples, the American Furniture Building, owned by William “Billy” Abraham. The commission assessed a civil penalty of $2.1 million, which it claims is the largest fine of such type in Texas history.

“We absolutely considered it as a preservation strategy to go after those cases,” Foster said. Abraham, who is appealing the penalty, did not return a call from ABC 7 in time for deadline.
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