MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling has asked City Manager Roy Rodriguez to look at the way the city handles economic development.

Darling said Rodriguez will come up with various proposals that will then be considered by the city commission. The McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce will be consulted, Darling said, and any changes would be considered as part of the City Commission’s next budget-writing process.

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Darling explained why economic development efforts need to be revisited.

Roy Rodriguez
Roy Rodriguez

“For years, our EDC board has focused on the industrial side, operating as a budgetary board, determining how we give money to different projects. The city commission has been doing the job of economic development on the commercial side and we kind of struggle with that. We do not think of ourselves as economic development but we de facto are. All the deals are a little different. We do not have a set policy and so every deal is kind of new,” Darling said.

“When I say ‘struggle’, that is probably not the right word but it is a challenge for us. We are doing one-of-a-kind deals. We do not have a set formula.”

By way of an example, Darling cited 10th Street. He said he would like to have a program in place that would allow the City to develop the area from Business 83 to Harvey.

“10th Street has always been the artery of McAllen. It has aged and it has some issues. Look at the area between Business 83 and Harvey. What sort of economic development strategies can we adopt for that area? We have asked staff to come up with that but that is not what the staff does full time. Nobody in the city does it full time. We have a staff member in the city that does retail recruitment but we do not have a program per se for incentives.”

Darling pointed out that McAllen EDC operates differently to other EDCs around the Rio Grande Valley.

“Our EDC does not function like most EDCs. We have an EDC that functions primarily in Mexico and tries to land industrial projects, not necessarily commercial projects. Maybe we need to change that. Whether that means the EDC changes or whether we do it independently, I do not know but I think we definitely need to address it and come up with a program,” Darling said.

“So, I have asked the city manager to come up with some proposals to bring to the City Commission. Maybe we get the EDC board to be the sales tax board to get more active. I do not know if that is a tool or not. If you look at some cities, that gets to be political and the city takes it over. I think we need to talk to the Chamber and the Economic Development Corporation. Hopefully by the end of the next budget cycle we will come up with a format for it.”

Darling said his request that economic development strategies be looked at again should not be interpreted as a criticism of his city’s EDC. He pointed out that a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas shows that McAllen benefits more from maquila activity in Mexico than any other city on the Texas-Mexico border.

“The EDC has done a fantastic job. When you go to Mexico you realize how important they are. When we went to Korea we took the State of Tamaulipas and the city of Reynosa. It has been an important partnership. We have voluntarily and mutually agreed to freeze the budget so that trade zone money augments some of their costs. You have to look at the fantastic job they have done but also acknowledge that the football pitch changed.”

Asked what he meant when he said the football pitch changed, Darling said: “The violence in Mexico has had an impact and now things are determined that are out of our control. They (the EDC) has done a great job, considering what has happened. But you also have to consider what has happened. Where are we on that? We have been doing the same thing for 20 years. I am on EDC board and I went on the EDC’s strategic retreat. But we did not talk too much about what we would change with our strategy depending on what happens (in Mexico). Is what we are doing working or not, not because of the EDC but because of the cards dealt them.”

Darling said it is ironic but the great work McAllen EDC has done over the years has directly benefited the neighboring cities of Pharr and Mission.

“It is kind of ironic. We have spent a good portion of our economic development money over the years building up the maquiladoras. It has a huge impact on us but a direct impact on Pharr because it puts trucks on the Pharr bridge. And it put maquiladora plant managers in the Sharyland Plantation, which benefits Mission. It proves that what happens here is good for everybody and what happens in Pharr is good for us. Ultimately that is true.”

Dave & Buster’s

Darling gave his interview about economic development strategies at the conclusion of a news conference held by the City of McAllen to announce that a Dave & Buster’s dining and entertainment complex will be opening along Expressway 83 and 29th Street.

“Dave and Busters will provide the greater McAllen area with a very unique and exciting venue,” Darling said. “Dave & Buster’s location in the McAllen Convention Center area will be a great addition – offering an even greater variety of entertainment opportunities. This is just another example of how our city is a vibrant, energetic, viable place for growth.”

The nearest Dave & Buster’s is currently in San Antonio. Each location has a full-service restaurant and a video arcade, along with skill games and a sports bar. The company has more than 70 locations across the United States.

Will Collins
Will Collins

“Dave & Buster’s is an iconic company that provides families with great entertainment around the country. The fact that there was not one in the Rio Grande Valley was an important factor for us,” said Rodriguez, the McAllen city manager. “It’s a huge win for the citizens of McAllen but also for the entire region because people will travel to go to a Dave & Buster’s.”

Rodriguez pointed out that more than $100 million has been invested on McAllen’s “West Side”, with new restaurants, hotels and stores opening close to the McAllen Convention Center. A new performing arts center will open next to the convention center later this year.

Dolf Berle, president of Dave & Buster’s, said in a statement: “Dave & Buster’s is thrilled to open in McAllen, bringing hundreds of jobs and a unique, high-energy venue offering the latest in entertainment to the city. Dave & Buster’s is unlike anything McAllen has seen before, with a one-of-a-kind gaming experience, innovative food & beverage and ultimate sports viewing. We are excited to introduce the Dave & Buster’s brand to local residents, and look forward to contributing to McAllen’s growth and future.”

Developer Will Collins, of Terracor Real Estate Services, was at the news conference. “Dave & Buster’s 30,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility is the perfect complement to Shops At 29 and expands our offering to over 200,000 square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment,” Collins said. “We are extremely grateful to the City of McAllen for their support.”

The company plans to break ground in 30 days for the entertainment venue and have it open by the first quarter of 2017.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows McAllen Mayor Jim Darling being interviewed by reporters at a news conference held April 27 at McAllen City Hall. The news conference was held to announce that a Dave & Buster’s is coming to McAllen.