The Texas AFL-CIO, which spends some energy complaining about how bad some stuff is in Texas, is checking on whether it’s time to cash in on the state’s real-estate market.
“Available,” says a big sign on the labor organization’s longtime headquarters at the northwest corner of Lavaca and 11th streets.
I’m no architecture expert (I believe Texas building design peaked with Whataburgers), but it’s probably fair to say the AFL-CIO building is not the most eye-pleasing in the downtown area. A plaque on the building (“Serving the workers of Texas”) notes it was dedicated May 11, 1965. At that time, the building probably had a futuristic look. Fortunately, that future has passed.
If real estate really is all about location, location, location, this half-acre property and two-story, 13,000-square-foot building should be hot, hot, hot. It’s got interesting neighbors, including the adjacent Governor’s Mansion and the Westgate Building that’s across the street. It’s also convenient to the Capitol.
The listing, handled by Commercial Texas, says the term “available” means the Texas AFL-CIO is open to several potential money-making transactions.
“Unique opportunity on half-acre site near Texas State Capitol,” the listing says, noting “Owner will consider offers/proposals from interested parties to ground lease, purchase or enter into a joint venture arrangement for a new development.”
Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller says the listing is all about “exploring our options.” The time has come, she told me, to decide whether to pour a bunch of money into the building to modernize it or move elsewhere in the downtown area.
“We might stay here,” she said. “Nothing is in ink at this point.”
The potential change is not to be read as a sign of financial trouble at the labor organization, Moeller insisted. “It’s like having a 1960 Oldsmobile and (deciding) do you put in a new transmission,” she said.
One thing she is sure of is that the location is “very underutilized,” a term that in the real estate world means it’s more valuable than what it’s now being used for. John Patrick, the organization’s secretary-treasurer, said many people have said “we should look at the possibility of doing something a little bit grander.” John T. Baird at Commercial Texas says the property is “ideal” for a variety of potential uses and he’s heard from folks interested in it for office, multifamily residential or hotel space.
The building is a remnant from when Democrats ran this state, and the Texas AFL-CIO had more political clout than it now does. The schism between labor and the Texas GOP was evidenced by this headline on Moeller’s column in the January Texas AFL-CIO newsletter: “Warped priorities strike again at Texas Legislature.”
Even at its peak, organized labor never has had as much clout in Texas as in other states. In much of Texas, union organizers are looked upon much the same way as Union soldiers once were.
“Texas, long close to the bottom of the states in percentage of union membership, now sits in the 38th position,” the Texas AFL-CIO said in a recent statement noting that union membership in the state rose by more than 10 percent last year “even as national membership dropped amid widespread attacks on public-sector unions.”
The Texas AFL-CIO now has 235,000 members. Another 364,000 Texas workers are members of unions not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Still more workers in Texas are covered by union contracts but are not union members.
In Texas, AFL-CIO membership, according to the state organization, “peaked at more than 290,000 at the start of the Reagan presidency in 1981, then dropped dramatically during the oil bust of the 1980s.”
If you have a proposal for the property, I’m sure the Texas AFL-CIO would love to hear from you, perhaps even if you’re not a union member. Pitch your ideas to Commercial Texas at 474-2411.