|SAN BENITO, May 20 - UTRGV President Guy Bailey joked last week that his new pickup truck might only last three years or so with all the driving he will have to do to get to the various Valley campuses.
Well, the City of San Benito believes it has addressed that issue in s proposal it has submitted to house the new UTRGV administration offices. In addition to gifting land - 40 acres, no less – to the UT System, San Benito leaders are also offering the old San Benito Municipal Airport.
So, for example, if the UT System selects San Benito for the UTRGV HQ, President Bailey could be in the air for all of five to eight minutes as he and his executives fly a corporate jet to the Edinburg or Rio Grande City campuses.
“We wanted to achieve the ‘wow’ factor with our submission to the UT System and we think we have done that,” said Salomon Torres, executive director of San Benito Economic Development Corporation.
“San Benito not only has a great location to offer UT but we also have a unique asset, which is the old municipal airport that was closed in 1996. Small aircraft with up to ten passengers could use our existing airstrip. This is exactly the type of aircraft executives, dignitaries tend to look for as far as having access to a quick way to come in and out of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Torres said his research shows that some other universities around the country have private airports. These include Auburn University in Alabama, Ohio State University, and the University of California-Davis.
“We have demonstrated to the UT offices in our proposal that other universities around the country have a similar feature to their operations. They maintain an airfield for their corporate executive travel needs. Some universities have even converted their airfields so that aviation and education and training programs complement their university programs,” Torres said.
In fact, the EDC leader said, it would take longer for President Bailey to walk out of the president’s office, put on his jacket, take his laptop and notes and be driven down the taxiway to the aircraft than it would to fly eight or ten minutes to the UTRGV campuses in Edinburg or McAllen or Rio Grande City. With regard to the campus in Brownsville, President Bailey might still wish to go by car because it would only be a 20 minute drive from his office down the expressway.
Asked why San Benito is offering 40 acres of land to the UT System, when many other Valley cities are offering 20 or 30 acres, Torres said: “It is symbolic. UT-Austin was started all those years ago with a gift of 40 acres.”
The 40 acres are about one and a half miles from Interstate I-69 East. The site is also a mere three miles from the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, which is slated to become a key part of the UTRGV Medical School.
“We put this proposal together for UT so that, apart from the airport feature, access to Expressway 83 or Interstate 69 is very easy. It is a mile and a half from the expressway. It is close to two entrances to the expressway. It is also in an uncongested area of San Benito. We want to show UT that there is a great advantage to picking a location that is not congested and one which will grow with the UTRGV complex,” explained Torres, San Benito’s project manager for the UTRGV proposal.
Torres showed the Guardian the large binder San Benito has submitted to the UT System for the UTRGV admin HQ proposal. It is four inches thick. The proposal states that the San Benito-Harlingen metro area is home to about 130,000 residents.
“We are offering 40 acres out of the entire 172 acre-site. We have incorporated an incentive to UT so that if they were to select San Benito they would have access to an additional 92 acres of this airport property – if they performed certain economic development activity within ten years,” Torres explained.
Torres also said the San Benito submission also checks another box on UT System’s Request for Proposals: Quality of Life.
“Residents tend to stay in San Benito because of the uncongested environment. We have fantastic amenities as far as outdoor recreation, public areas to walk and exercise. If you want the busyness of a metropolitan area you have got Harlingen right next door, two minutes away, or you have got a 20 minute drive to Brownsville down the expressway,” Torres said.
“We also have our resaca, the Crown Jewel of San Benito. We have a resaca that travels through the heart of the city and the EDC continues to invest greatly in order to make the resaca a destination point, not just for recreation and sightseeing. We have recently invested our resources into new property acquisition along the resaca where you will find in the very near future waterfront dining, retail options, right next to the resaca in the heart of San Benito. That is what a new university should expect as an amenity for its employees. That is what you will have in this wonderful city of San Benito,” Torres promised.
Other cities to bid for the UTRGV headquarters include Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg and Harlingen. The point was made to Torres that San Benito does not normally compete with the Valley’s bigger cities.
“Things are changing in San Benito. They are changing because the Rio Grande Valley is changing. We have greatly benefited from the economic growth at the opposite ends of the Valley, the McAllen metro area and the Brownsville metro area. We have benefited tremendously, all of us, in having job opportunities thanks to those cities building up,” Torres said.
“At the same time, though, the San Benito-Harlingen area and the Mid Valley area, we all have to contribute to the growth of the Rio Grande Valley through our own assets. Here we are offering just that. We have our own asset and we want to make sure UT is aware of it and that and they evaluate it carefully. If they want a site where they can expand in a very cost-effective manner, we believe we have a very competitive manner.”
So, San Benito would be a university town, Torres was asked.
“We would welcome that label. We would welcome that designation. University towns are not just because the university is there but because the city has offered the welcome mat, has offered the amenities; has offered the features the university is looking for. UT would have a full commitment from San Benito and all of its partners that we would provide any support that the UT System would need as it establishes it administration building here.”
Asked if he had any other comments about the City of San Benito’s proposal, Torres said: “The UT System should evaluate all proposals with full consideration of access to all of its campuses, from South Padre Island to Rio Grande City. We agree with Chancellor Cigarroa, we agree with the System that the new administration offices have to be centrally located, that they have to be located in an area where transportation will be easy, not complicated, where getting to the university building would be easy, not complicated. That is criteria we believe is important. We would ask that they look at what the overall cost going to be as the System develops a location. We feel we are competitive on those points.”
Editor's Note: The Guardian is posting stories on the various bids for the UTRGV admin headquarters. We have now featured submissions from San Juan, Weslaco and San Benito. We welcome details from the proposals made by the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Brownsville, Harlingen, and Mercedes-La Feria.