On behalf of HUD and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez awarded the 2002 Secretary's Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation to The Hamilton Hotel in Laredo, Texas. The award recognizes projects and activities that advance the goals of historic preservation and provide affordable housing and expanded economic opportunities, particularly for low- and moderate-income people. This is the fifth year the HUD Secretary has given the award.
Although listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Hamilton Hotel, a 1920s Spanish Colonial hotel, had slipped far beyond its days of grandeur by the end of the 20th century. By then, it marred the Laredo skyline, sitting partially condemned and completely neglected. Initially the city planned to demolish the building, freeing valuable land for more practical projects. Mayor Elizabeth Flores, however, recognized the still-present elegance of this Laredo landmark and sensed the potential hidden in its walls. Flores initiated a unique public/private partnership to resurrect the Hamilton Hotel as a home for Laredo's low-income elderly, more than two-thirds of whom live in poverty.
Flores combined funding assistance from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Interior (National Parks Service), state and local housing agencies, and the city of Laredo, with help from the Related Capital Company, a New York City-based real estate investment firm; the Laredo Housing Finance Corporation; the International Bank of Commerce; and Faulkner Construction Company.
Workers painstakingly removed traces of previous makeshift repairs, restored original architectural flourishes to the interior, and added modern services such as building-wide emergency sprinkler systems and fire stairs for all 12 floors. They rebuilt the original elevator shaft and replaced all plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems to meet modern building codes. The exterior, still relatively intact, received equal attention through the restoration of its original tile work and window casings.
This $13 million collaboration, completed in 2000, resulted in a restored and reinvented Hamilton Hotel. The Hamilton provides 165 affordably priced apartments for Laredo's low-income elderly with incomes of less than $16,000 per year. In addition to providing living space, the Hamilton offers its elderly residents meals, health screenings, and Social Security assistance.
The resurgence of pride that came with the Hamilton's restoration is filtering throughout the city, spreading revitalization to two additional hotels, a cultural center, and a pedestrian mall. Rising above the image of a border town focusing on meeting basic public needs, Laredo and the Hamilton Hotel project symbolize the potential that stirs within innovative funding partnerships and visionary solutions.