by Jose Orta
Guest blogger Jose Orta is a volunteer with Texans United for Families and a resident of Taylor, Texas, the site of the Corrections Corporation of America-owned T. Don Hutto Detention Center. CCA had been embroiled in a dispute with a neighboring business. Hidaldo Park was ultimately issued a permit to be a music venue, despite CCA's objections. Here, Jose explains the history and context of that dispute.
They named it Hidalgo Park. It was named after a revolutionary priest, Father Hidalgo. Hidalgo Park was originally owned cooperatively by Mexican workers. Denied a place in town to park their trucks during cotton season, people would park and camp out on this land. The workers created an Association and pooled their wages to purchase the land.
There are documents at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Taylor that show that fiestas and events were held on this land as early as 1916. Hidalgo Park was a place for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to congregate and have fiestas.
Hidalgo Park became a vital part of the “Menudo Circuit”, the major Tex-Mex Musical route around Texas where Tejano, Orchestra and Conjunto Bands played to large crowds every Friday and Saturday night. If you were Latino in Taylor in the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, Hidalgo Park was where you could get gather with your friends and family and dance your cares away.
I came to Taylor in early 1972. Hidalgo Park had long since seen it’s hey day; it was already in need of much needed repairs. The hall where dances were held every weekend was a patchwork of quick repairs yet people still came from far and wide to dance, listen to music and have a good time. My parents celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary at Hidalgo Park in 1980. Other family members celebrated their birthdays, Quinceañeras and other life events. I have vivid memories of the blaring cumbia music, the smoke of cigarettes and cigars wafting through the hot humid breeze with ceiling fans working overtime trying to cool the crowds as they eagerly enjoyed every note as the dance floor actually shimmied and shook.
By the mid 1980’s, the hall where the dances were held fell into ruin and was torn down. In the early 1990’s the land directly east of Hidalgo Park was purchased by the State of Texas and a medium-security prison was built. Unable to find enough prisoners, the prison was mothballed and in 1997 it was sold to Corrections Corporation of America. The prison was renamed T. Don Hutto and held immigrant families, including children and infants.
In 2008, Hidalgo Park was sold to Manoj Naik, who worked on getting the facility back up and running. He had sporadic musical events and dances and invested in trying to improve the facility. In 2012, Mr. Naik started to once again make plans to reopen the Hidalgo Park and bring music back to the facility. He had several music shows during this time frame.
The City of Taylor stated that he needed to re-apply for a special use permit (SUP) to have musical events at Hidalgo Park. The planning and zoning commission recommended approval of both agenda items, but representatives of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) objected.
CCA representatives argued that the company must have unimpeded access to its property in case of emergencies, and that overflow parking from events at the proposed rodeo and concert ground might block that access. CCA also stated that re-opening Hidalgo Park was a security threat to its residents. They wanted noise and traffic studies that would assure them occupants of the detention facility wouldn’t be disturbed.
CCA used its lawyers and influence to place undue demands on Mr. Naik. He had to agree to various costly improvements to gain approval from the City of Taylor to open. CCA issued over 45 demands including requiring that Mr. Naik build a 9-Foot Fence, provide additional security guards, set up and escrow account to reimburse CCA overtime pay for its employees, and additional lighting.
In April 2014, a Special Use Permit (SUP) was finally negotiated between the City of Taylor, Mr. Naik and CCA and it got approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
It got a first reading at the Taylor City Council and a second reading will be held on April 24, 2014. The SUP passed on May 8, 2014.
We hope to hear the pum, pum, pum, of the drum, the twang of the guitar and the sweet tones of the accordion as we once again dance at Hidalgo Park later this year.