The Housing Authority of the City of El Paso (HACEP) alongside El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and other key players, officially reignited The Blue Flame Building in Downtown El Paso as part of an announcement that HACEP will redevelop the high-rise into mixed-use and mixed-income residential living space for the city’s urban core.
The announcement included a proclamation by Mayor Margo naming October 18, 2017 as “Blue Flame Day” for El Paso as the city continues to witness major strides in downtown revitalization.
“Our Downtown skyline is not only coming back to life, but it also has a story to tell,” shares El Paso Mayor Dee Margo. “The Blue Flame has developed a history integral to who we are as a city, and now with this redevelopment effort by HACEP it will symbolize all that can be accomplished through fruitful partnerships and their impact on the future of our community.”
The announcement of The Blue Flame included a portion of the group who helped make this redevelopment effort a reality, including Texas Representative Lina Ortega (District #77), City Representative Cissy Lizarraga (District #8), HACEP Board Chairman Burt Blacksher, and Paul Foster’s management group – Franklin Mountain Management who will be selling the building to HACEP.
“The Blue Flame represented to all of us a number of possibilities for Downtown El Paso,” shares President and Owner of Franklin Mountain Management, Paul Foster. “However, the complexity of bringing one of these plans to fruition was a challenge until an innovative concept brought by HACEP helped pave the way for yet another leap for downtown revitalization.”
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 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.
After Wednesday’s announcement, the Blue Flame will be reintroduced to the Sun City’s skyline at dusk each night until the building is set for start of construction in February 2018. Upon completion of the residential high-rise, HACEP will unveil a revived Blue Flame.
“If you have not walked the inside of The Blue Flame, then it is difficult to determine the enormity of this type of redevelopment effort and all that is required to make this happen,” states HACEP Chief Executive Officer Gerald Cichon. “This is why we are so grateful for our partners who have worked right alongside with us to make this happen for El Paso and the families that will now call The Blue Flame ‘home.’”
The agency will take on The Blue Flame building as an adaptive reuse development initiative that will convert the office building into 150 apartment units – 120 residential units will be affordable while 30 will be market rate (mixed-income). The first floor will be commercial space, while designs will determine the feasibility to create more commercial/office space.
The unit mix, as of today, will be 4 efficiency, 116 one-bedroom and 30 two-bedroom. The breakdown of unit-type between affordable and market-rate has yet to be determined. Updates will be provided as design and plans become available throughout the construction process.
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 project cost stands at approximately $40 Million. In July 2017, HACEP announced that it received a $15 Million tax credit award from Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for this redevelopment initiative.
The agency is currently in pursuit of both federal and state historic tax credits that could result in at least an additional $8 Million that will help fund this development.
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.