|McALLEN, October 23 - McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is increasingly confident that his city will benefit directly from the roll out of the new UT-Rio Grande Valley and its four-year medical school.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Darling did not say specifically which buildings McAllen would house for UTRGV but he did say that they could expect a big announcement in the coming weeks.
Darling spoke at a news conference that was called to announce a $100 million retail, hotel and restaurant development in the southwest corner of McAllen. In his speech he referred to UTRGV also.
“It is going to be exciting. I think we are going to have announcements as we go along, not only in retail, hotels, and restaurants but also with the new medical school and the new university. It is a very, very, exciting time to be in McAllen,” Darling said in his speech.
In an interview with reporters afterwards, Darling expanded upon his comments on UTRGV. Asked by a reporter if McAllen was going to have “a slice of the action” with the rollout of UTRGV, Darling said: “We definitely think so. We have had meetings with the (UTRGV) administration. In fact I met with them on Monday and Friday of last week. We are not ready to announce anything, we are still working on that, but if everything comes to fruition it will be an exciting time. It is an exciting time for the region and we think there will be a role for McAllen in the new university. Hopefully, that will be out in the next four to six weeks at the latest.”
Along with many other Valley cities, McAllen has made a bid to land the UTRGV administration offices. UTRGV President Guy Bailey has not made a decision on where to locate the administration offices. He and his top lieutenants are currently working out of the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. The RAHC will be part of the four-year medical school.
McAllen city leaders would also like to have part of the medical school in their city limits. The main beneficiaries of the merger of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville are expected to be the cities of Edinburg and Brownsville. The main beneficiaries of the four-year medical school are expected to be Edinburg and Harlingen. However, expansion plans could bring other Valley cities into the mix.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said it is premature to be specific on what part of UTRGV or the medical school McAllen will land. However, like Darling, he is confident the city will have a significant role to play.
“We are working very hard to convince the UT System to place a medical research campus here in McAllen. We are still in the process of discussions. Their response has been positive,” Hinojosa said. Asked what the medical research campus would be for, Hinojosa said: “It will be for the medical school.”
Hinojosa, along with state Reps. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, and Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, met with UT System and UTRGV leaders in Guerra’s office in late July. Among those present were UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, UT Regent Ernie Aliseda of McAllen, and Bailey.
“McAllen is a happening place and it is a significant part of the Valley and it should play a significant role in the medical school and/or the university,” Guerra told the Guardian on Tuesday.
Darling also told reporters that McAllen leaders are also speaking to other universities about building a campus in their city. He said he spoke last Friday with Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp. Texas A&M currently has a health science center in south McAllen.
“We are working with other universities to see if we can't enhance that (higher education). South Texas College has been great and it has shown that we have the student base that will attract more educational facilities down here. We are kind of using that as a platform to attract those (other universities).
In his interview reporters, Darling also spoke about increased visitors using Anzalduas International Bridge, which is part owned by McAllen, and the planned development of the Palms Crossing retail complex on the corner of West Expressway 83 (I-2) and Ware Road, next to the McAllen Convention Center.
“We lost some Mexican shoppers to San Antonio and Houston and so part of our effort is to regain those shoppers. They are very important to us,” Darling said. Asked if McAllen would be boosting its advertising dollars in cities like Monterrey and Saltillo, Darling said: “We talked about that with the McAllen Chamber budget and the City Commissioners are in favor of that. Mexican shoppers are very important to us. They pour a lot of money into sales taxes, which helps us build parks. We know how important this for all our citizens.”
Darling said it helps that many of the investors in stores at Palms Crossing are Mexican. “They have confidence in the McAllen market. They are going to help us get the word out,” he said.
Among the new developments at Palms Crossing will be the Embassy Suites Convention Center Hotel, the McAllen Performing Arts Center, and various stores and restaurants, local and chain, such as Kokos, Los Asados, RGV Cupcakes, Blue Onion, Rodizio Grill, Salt Grass Steakhouse, Tilted Kilt, Zoe’s Kitchen and Starbucks. Darling said the new attractions cement McAllen as the region’s restaurant hub and serve booming residential and high-traffic areas.
“These tens of millions in investment in McAllen means that locally-owned and national businesses believe that the city is a dynamic, viable place for growth,” Darling said. “These unique restaurants, stores and hotels add to McAllen’s diverse offerings and keep McAllen as the hub for retail in South Texas and Northern Mexico.”
Darling said that by the time the construction is complete, there would be an additional 50 new businesses coming in as part of phase two of the Palms Crossing development.
With regard to Anzalduas, Darling said wait times for travelers coming north had been reduced thanks to a public-private partnership that meant more customs officers were hired at peak times. He said public restrooms would be added. “We need to make it as customer friendly as possible,” Darling said.
In recent years McAllen’s growth has been outpaced by its neighboring cities, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr. Part of the reason for this has been that McAllen is land locked and much of its most attractive commercial real estate parcels have already been taken. Darling said he expects to see more growth in the northern part of the city as a result of Edinburg growing to the south. “If you look at Edinburg's growth there is an opportunity for Edinburg to grow back into McAllen on the north side,” Darling told reporters.