Article By Julia Wallace, LMTonline.com / Laredo Morning Times
After over a decade of inaction, infighting and lawsuits, ground could break as soon as a few weeks from now on a veterans museum for residents of Laredo and Webb County.
At a news conference Thursday, Webb County, two architecture firms and local veteran Hector Farias unveiled the architectural renderings planned to convert his family’s 133-year-old downtown home into a museum for veterans past and present.
The City of Laredo and Webb County filed an interlocal agreement in 2010 pledging to create a public veterans museum at the Juan Francisco Farias House on San Bernardo and Iturbide. Each entity pledged $500,000. But little progress has been made since the signing.
Over the past couple of years, veterans grew tired of the inaction, and one group proposed to move the museum concept to North Central Park, with City Council’s approval. But environmental activists, park-goers and even fellow veterans forcefully opposed the idea, and the group backed off the plan last January, and the council rescinded their vote.
While the city and county waited to hear a consensus on a location from veterans, a group of 50, including a few Gold Star parents, filed a lawsuit against the local government entities, claiming that they refused to comply with the terms of the interlocal agreement from 2010.
Although the suit was tossed out, both the city and county got back on board with the Farias House as the museum venue.
Lalo Uribe, Webb County budget officer, said he was asked by Judge Tano Tijerina to meet with veterans groups as often as he could to figure out how to move forward with this project.
About a month ago this presentation by architects Kennedy Whiteley and Ed Quiroga was made to Uribe and the veterans. Uribe said it needed to be announced to the public too.
“This is where we are. That’s the concept. The concept has been approved by the (Texas Historical Commission), because it needs to be. And we’re ready to go,” Uribe said after Thursday’s announcement. “We could break ground in days.”
Architects Whiteley and Quiroga showed the crowd a video of their design for the museum, which would be self-guided and chronological through Laredo’s wars and rulers. They also planned for a green space on the property, and a memorial boulevard that would connect it to another home being donated by the Fernando Salinas Trust. Uribe mentioned that the county’s Veterans Services office could move here.
But the architects mentioned that the combined $1 million from the city and county will only cover about a third or a quarter of the total cost to build out this plan.
“The first thing is to stabilize the building,” Quiroga said.
However Uribe noted that there are grants available through the Texas Historical Commission and plenty of people who have already reached out about donating. Only a nonprofit would be able to receive these donations and apply for grants, and he said the veterans are working on creating a new one.
Judge Tijerina said he is going to challenge community members and philanthropists to donate to make the museum a reality.
Hector Farias thanked the county for getting the project to this point and following through on the contract.
“It’s been 15 years since we have been working on this project. But to us, and to all of you who are here, all these veterans, this is a sanctuary. That’s what it is. Because Laredo has always been a military city, from the beginning,” he said.
One of the more emotional moments of the day was when Gold Star mother Juana Maria Rodriguez spoke on behalf of her son, a soldier who died in war. She said she’s thankful that they will be saving the memories of these boys who fought for their country.