WESLACO, RGV – VIPs that participated on a bus tour of Weslaco saw the site where a 45-acre sports and nature park will be built.
The tour was organized by Weslaco Economic Development Corporation and took in 34 new projects the EDC is involved in.
Northside Park is being developed by the City of Weslaco next to FM 88 and Mile 11 Road in north Weslaco. Weslaco EDC is helping fund the project.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the park was held in July. The phased development will feature a fire station, plus a one-mile park trail and additional nature trails, a fitness equipment station, tennis courts, basketball courts, sand and volleyball courts, youth soccer fields, a splash pad, and an amphitheater.
During the bus tour, Weslaco EDC Director Steve Valdez said the group will contribute $100,000 a year for five years to help fund the park. The Land & Water Conservation Fund at the U.S. Department of the Interior will provide a $500,000 grant, with the same amount coming from Knapp Community Care Foundation.
Hidalgo County Precinct One is building a one-mile 12-foot wide asphalt trail and playground system, while the City of Weslaco has committed $300,000 and in-house construction of a park road and parking lot. Total commitment for phase one of the project is $1.8 million and the project completion date for phase one is July 2020.
Marie McDermott, executive director of Weslaco EDC said her group is pleased to be helping a project designed to improve the quality of life for local residents.
“We are funding part of the initiative. It will include a walking trail, going back to nature, similar to Frontera Audubon and Valley Nature Center. It will be nature and sports-oriented,” McDermott said.
Asked if the population in north Weslaco is big enough to make the park a success, McDermott said: “The population is there and it is going to expand.”
Weslaco EDC has organized an annual bus tour for the past few years in order to showcase the new projects the group has been involved in.
Asked what the purpose of the bus tour was, McDermott said: “I have done these in the past and they have been very successful. It is an opportunity to see new things. It drives me nuts when we work on projects and people do not know about it. We are getting people on the bus and we talk about these projects.”
Weslaco EDC Director Valdez commentated on the new projects during the bus tour. He was one of four Weslaco EDC staff members on the bus. There were also two WEDC board members on the tour.
Valdez provided a lot of statistical information that had been pulled together by the EDC team. For example, he said building permits issued by the City of Weslaco so far this year are for projects worth a total of $62 million. In the whole of last year, he said, permits issued were worth $24 million.
Asked why there is so much growth occurring in Weslaco, McDermott told the Rio Grande Guardian: “I think it is because of momentum we have going on right now. You work on a few projects, then other projects appear by themselves. The community is growing. Also, we are in the center of the Valley.”
The bus tour included a drive through Weslaco’s two opportunity zones. These are designated areas with a higher than average level of unemployment, where business developers can secure a federal tax break upon selling a property, provided they have owned it for a set number of years.
McDermott said one of the projects the EDC is keen to work on within one of the opportunity zones is the renovation of Palm Plaza. Weslaco’s two opportunity zones go from U.S. Business 83 in the south to Mile 10 in the north, and from Texas Avenue in the east to Milanos Road in the west.
“These opportunity zones have been going for about six months. They are a great economic tool,” McDermott said.
McDermott pointed out that in the three years she and her team have been working for Weslaco EDC, 54 projects have been developed. These have created 698 jobs and led to a capital investment of $55.4 million.
“That includes the UTRGV CIC (Center for Innovation & Commercialization). That was a big investment. Also, Kapal Cabinet House and Ci Logistics. They are very big contributors to the community,” McDermott said.
Another issue discussed on the bus tour of Weslaco was the way Weslaco EDC, working with the city, fast-tracks the planning process for potential developers.
“It is not only a matter of working well with the city but the fact that we are next door to each other that helps,” McDermott said. “I find it very interesting when a prospect comes here, they say, I am ready to meet with the city to do planning, and I ask, do you want to go over with me? They say, yeah. They go to their car, get their big plans, dump them on the counter and they start their plans.”
The bus trip included a ride through Weslaco’s downtown area. Valdez noted how many of the downtown buildings are now owned by local people. Previously, some were in the hands of absentee owners. A local program called Weslaco 100 allows the owners of older downtown buildings to secure grants to spruce up their properties. The program covers the area along Texas Avenue between 12th Street and Pike Boulevard.
“Local people are buying the buildings and so we have fewer vacant buildings,” McDermott said. “We are going to expand the Weslaco 100 program. We did south of Business 83 and now we are going to do north of Business 83.”
The VIPs on the bus tour also heard about Weslaco EDC’s success in attracting more restaurants and the group’s popular Alfresco Weslaco, a monthly ‘music and art on the streets’ feature.
“When we first started working together as a team we were told there were no restaurants to eat in the downtown area. The merchants told us this,” McDermott said. “So, we have put a lot of energy into downtown. With Alfresco Weslaco we are downtown every month. It is very big and increasing. We started out with 50 vendors. Now it is 90. Many of the downtown merchants stay open during Alfresco.”
McDermott pointed out that the population of Weslaco in 2010 was around 37,000. She said it is now closer to 50,000. She noted that one can stand in parts of Weslaco and be within ten miles of a population base of 100,000. “We are growing,” she said.
McDermott concluded the interview by announcing that Weslaco EDC has added Progreso International Bridge to its marketing efforts, even though the bridge is outside the city limits.
“We have done some ads in the last few months to promote the bridge. The bridge brings in industry and medical tourists. The tourists stay in our hotels and go over to Mexico for their treatment. They eat here and spend a lot of money here. We have a great relationship with the bridge, working with bridge director Marga Lopez. They have capacity to grow and are expanding right now.”
McDermott added: “Weslaco is growing and it is growing in the right way: manufacturing, distribution and targeted industries such as cold storage. Beyond that we are telling people to come experience downtown Weslaco. It is growing.”