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Midland officials approve demolition of Western United Life Building

The 12-story Western United Life Building has stood abandoned in downtown Midland for decades.

Now, Midland’s city council is allowing the Midland Development Corporation to spend over $3 million to demolish the skyscraper as well as a few other nearby properties.

By Mitch Borden

The Western United Life Building — one of the towers in downtown Midland that bolstered the community’s nickname “The Tall City”  — is now scheduled to come down in 2023.

On Tuesday, the Midland City Council gave its approval for the Midland Development Corporation to contract with a company to demolish the historic building that has stood abandoned for decades.

Sara Harris, the Executive Director of the Midland Development Corporation sees the demolition of the historic building as a step towards the revitalization of downtown Midland.

“It's bittersweet for the skyline to change, but…it's really exciting to be able to replace a vacant building with something that is going to complement what we see ongoing with the revitalization of downtown Midland,” said Harris. 

The 12-story skyscraper was one of the community’s most prominent reminders of the boom-bust cycle that’s rocked Midland over the course of its history. Following the historic oil bust that hit West Texas in the mid-80s, the Western United Life Building, along with two other skyscrapers, were left to loom emptyover the city’s downtown.

Earlier this month, Midland Development Corporation’s board voted to contract with the Midwest Wrecking Company to demolish the Western United Life Building along with nearby properties for approximately $3.5 million. Upon its approval by the development corporation, the contract was then sent to the city council for its final approval.

The development corporation acquired the skyscraper in 2018 for $3.75 million, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, with the intent of redeveloping the building. Over the years, developers have suggested multiple projects for the Western United Life Building, but none have worked out.

According to Harris, “It turned out not to be feasible, primarily because it is so much more costly to renovate an existing old structure than it is to build something new.”

She says the city hasn’t received any official proposals yet, but that the project that’s eventually selected “has the potential to have a really big impact on downtown.”

“We hope that someone will bring a very exciting project [to] downtown that will be of use and interest to the community.” She continued, “Those proposals haven't been received yet…but it has the potential to have a really big impact on downtown.”

Once it is demolished, the Western United Life Building will be the second downtown skyscraper to be demolished. Its neighbor, the Building of the Southwest was the first to come down in 2019.

According to city documents, the demolition of the building is “tentatively” scheduled to begin in January of next year. The city and the development corporation will be accepting proposals from developers through March 2023, according to Harris.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.