|EDINBURG, February 2 - At different events this past week, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and Harlingen City Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn discussed the importance of regionalism in the Rio Grande Valley.
Uhlhorn said city leaders should not interfere with the UT System as it decides where to place various UT-Rio Grande Valley buildings, including the prized administrative offices for the new university. He said if a building is built in Harlingen it is good for Edinburg and vice versa.
In contrast, Darling said if the UT System truly wants to create a regional university it should build the UTRGV admin building in McAllen because, unlike Harlingen, Edinburg and Brownsville, UT does not have a major presence in his city.
Uhlhorn won praise from UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia at a Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast event last Tuesday. Garcia pointed out that Uhlhorn had resisted becoming a member of the university’s development board 20 years ago and only joined on condition that the university worked in harmony with entities throughout Cameron County.
After Garcia’s speech, the Guardian spoke with Uhlhorn about parochial attitudes 20 years ago.
“Twenty years ago my main focus was on bringing Harlingen and Brownsville and Cameron County together. At the time they were separate entities and we had UT-Pan Am in the Upper Valley and UT-Brownsville was just starting. I had gone through my parent’s generation, with Harlingen and Brownsville competing with each other, which made no sense. I said if I can be a part of helping to end that parochial attitude, then that is reason, one of the reasons, to join,” Uhlhorn explained.
Uhlhorn said he stayed on the UTB development board for many years for another reason.
“I stayed and helped because it was so rewarding to see the dramatic difference UT-Brownsville was making with the lives and careers of the students. When you see a mother with three grown kids go back and get her college degree you aren’t just changing one life you are changing generations of lives after her. You know her daughters and sons are going to get their college degrees. That is what kept me there.”
Fast forward 20 years. Uhlhorn now wants to see the same spirit of regional cooperation extend from beyond Cameron County to the whole Valley.
“I want to see regionalism from Roma to Brownsville. It is all about bringing everyone along. Unfortunately, we still have this Friday night football mentality. Eventually we have to get away from that. We will see that a building in Brownsville is good for Edinburg and a building in Edinburg is good for Harlingen. Where the buildings go should not matter to any of us. What matters is that we achieve regionally what we have always wanted to achieve.”
Uhlhorn added that over the years, the UTB development board has had a number of Harlingen leaders who have played a major role in the development of the university. He cited Bob Shepard, Gerry Fluriet, Randy Whittington, and himself. “Now, what we need to do is extend that across the Valley.”
Mayor Darling made his remarks about where to place the UTRGV headquarters in an interview with the Guardian immediately following his 2014 State of the City address at the McAllen Convention Center. Darling said it was easy for leaders in other large cities in the Valley to preach regionalism when they already have a sizable UT presence.
“Harlingen does have something, the RAHC. Edinburg does have something, the university. Brownsville does have something, the university. In McAllen we have a small thing. We have a Master’s program in public administration in a building they (UTPA) lease. So, if you really want to spread it (UTRGV) through the region, McAllen is the place,” Darling told the Guardian.
“We think the admin building could be the niche for us. We have other niches. I would like to enhance the graduate programs to become PhD programs because they are required to have, I think, at least some PhD programs. We have the Master’s program and we are ready to enhance that. We think working with them (the UT System) on the industrial research program in south McAllen is the niche for us with the new university. We thought a symbolic thing is certainly to have the administrative office here.”
Darling also pointed out McAllen city leaders did not hesitate in offering $2 million to help land a four-year medical school, even though they knew the bulk of it would be built in Edinburg.
“It is easy to say, common on, share when we are the ones not sharing. We committed to helping Edinburg. We know the medical school is going to be in Edinburg. We are not fighting that. We think it is great. That is where it should be, that is where the bulk of the university is. We are supporting that. They (the UT System) call it a regional university so we would like to be a part of that.”
Asked how negotiations were going to get the UTRGV headquarters built in McAllen, Darling said: “We are waiting for the master planner to be appointed so we can down with him or her to explain our proposal. We have not had an opportunity to do that yet. We are getting ready for that.”
Darling said one of the themes of his State of the City address was the promotion of inclusiveness.
“One of the themes was the Made in McAllen slogan. I think we have a tremendous amount of talent, not only in McAllen but in the whole region. I am just proud to be the mayor. Regionalization is important, inclusion is important. It is not only elected officials. There are a whole bunch of people that make this a great city. I want to make sure that we recognize that,” Darling said.