EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Joe Molinar remembers words his mother would say that filled him with joy.
“Vamos a la Kress. That’s all she had to say. You would get all dressed up, you went on the bus, and you went Downtown,” he said. “You went to the Kress to eat that cheeseburger, to get that side of fries with unlimited ketchup and follow that with an ice cream sundae or soda. It was a joy. An absolute adventure.”
The S.H. Kress & Co. “five and dime” store in Downtown El Paso closed decades ago, but its abandoned building is about to get new life. City officials believe it can play a key role in the area’s economic development and on Tuesday voted to grant its new owners $2.1 million in tax rebates.
In exchange, Franklin Mountain Investments promised to invest $18.4 million and turn the building into a retail, food, and entertainment center within walking distance of hotels and entertainment venues.
“We consider the Kress to be a significant historical asset for El Paso. We have developed a transformation plan that retains the design, architecture, and great history of that building, and want it to serve as a venue that will continue the renaissance of Downtown El Paso,” said Paul L. Foster, Franklin Mountain Investments CEO. “Kress will become a destination that both tourists and residents will enjoy.”
The company is aware of the building’s place in El Paso lore and has filed paperwork to have it declared a historical building. It’s vowed to retain not only the original architecture but one of the iconic features of the Kress: the soda fountain that brings back memories to residents like Molinar.
The city in the past 10 years has green-lighted 28 private-public partnerships that have helped revitalize five historic buildings and brought about $188 million in investment in the Downtown area, said Economic and International Development Director Elizabeth Triggs.
Those projects have added 600 hotel rooms, which help attract conventions, she said. Plans for the Kress building include retail stores and a food court on the first floor, meeting and event space on the second floor and a spa in the basement connected by a tunnel to the flagship Plaza Hotel.
City councilors like Molinar had no trouble endorsing the incentives, which they approved on an 8-0 vote. They were sold on the economics but couldn’t help bringing out fond family memories associated with the Kress.
“My great-grandmother lived in Juarez (Mexico), so she would cross the bridge to El Paso every day and hang out at the stores at the Kress building all day long to enjoy the air-conditioning because there wasn’t anywhere she lived,” said City Rep. Claudia Lizette Rodriguez.
Mayor Oscar Leeser also was overcome by nostalgia.
“I used to sell ladies’ shoes at the Baker’s across the street. We walked across the street and have a dollar breakfast every day,” Leeser said. “A flour tortilla, frijoles (beans) and hot dog with mustard. It brings a lot of memories not just for the council, but just about anybody you talk to.”
El Paso County earlier approved tax rebates of $415,000 for the project.