Brownsville’s public market and town hall went up as the city got its start in 1850.
Butchers and other vendors moved in a year later. The city’s central square would go through various rebuilds. It would survive hurricanes as well as other calamities through the ages with a city that grew up around it. The last half of the 20th century saw what came to be known as Market Square as being the hub for the city’s bus system.
The comings-and-goings of buses and passengers wore the old square down and it was looking worn by the early 2000s. Renovations weren’t substantial enough to make a major difference. It wasn’t until more recent years when the city took its most decisive steps to bring the market site back to some of its past glories.
Bus operations made a move out of Market Square. City government worked with the local utility to bury overhead lines underground to then clear the area. There was a restoration of the historic bell tower. The city laid out plans to make Market Square pedestrian friendly. It would again make it a space for community gatherings and celebrations.
Then the city executed on those plans and designs. The resulting look has been striking, earning accolades not only locally, but from statewide sources as well. The Texas Downtown Association and its panel of architects and designers this fall recognized Brownsville’s Market Square for its Best Public Improvement award for cities over 50,000 population. Market Square also earned TDA’s People’s Choice Award via online voting for best public improvement.
“Market Square stands out as an attraction as it has been a catalyst for private investment through the ambiance it has created,” said Brownsville City Manager Noel Bernal. “It has added vibrancy to our downtown as a public gathering space where community events are held.”
Partnerships Spark Improvements
It is partnerships with the private sector that is bringing among the most visible improvements in businesses in and around Market Square. Blue-and-white signs are popping up in in downtown show windows that tout “Big Grants” from the city’s Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. Those grants provide business owners with funds for facade improvements and interior renovations as well as rental subsidies.
All of the public and private efforts are leading a revival that’s sparking a renewed interest in Brownsville’s history.
“People are realizing how historic our city is,” said Miriam Suarez, the downtown district manager. “We’ve seen the community rally around the (Market Square) project.”
Suarez said the city is beginning to see more tourism connected to its history as was promoted recently with a cover story in The Medallion, the quarterly magazine of the Texas Historical Commission.
“Brownsville Beckons,” the magazine cover says, going on to encourage readers to “discover bicultural history on the border.”
Suarez beams over the recognition her hometown is receiving and states more improvements are on the way.
“You want people to connect to their surroundings and place,” she said. “We’re seeing people that are very proud of Brownsville and proud of what we’ve done with that space, (Market Square).”