McALLEN, RGV – Reemphasizing his slogan from last year’s State of the City event, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said the goal was to make McAllen “Houston by day, Las Vegas by night, and Disney World on the weekends.”
This year however, he said the city wants to add the City of Boston to the list because McAllen is in the middle of creating a variety of education options for students that will be “unmatched by any place in the State of Texas,” Darling boldly said.
Children can get the best education here in the Rio Grande Valley, and the region will ultimately benefit from a concerted effort to keep them here when they start their careers.
That was the message Darling was seeking to convey to attendees and the community in his State of the City speech on Wednesday afternoon.
City employees, some wearing business suits, wore sneakers to signify the theme of the event, ‘Sprinting Forward into 2015’ that was promoted by the mayor as he emphasized major projects in the works for McAllen.
“I see us a great place to live and it’s going to get even better,” Darling told reporters following the event. “When I talk to high school kids and ask them if they are going to come back, they say they are going to come back here because we have quality of life and employment.
“You have to have employment, and you have to education,” Darling said. “So, these are things that as elected officials we need to work on to make sure our kids come back here and stay here.”
Darling spoke to a packed house at the McAllen Convention Center.
In attendance at the State of the City was Reynosa Mayor Jose Elias Leal, Reynosa Economic Development Secretary Francisco Almanza Villarreal, U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros Tobin Bradley, UT Regent Ernesto ‘Ernie’ Aliseda, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and Hidalgo County Precinct Commissioners Joseph Palacios and Eddie Cantu, as well as representatives from the Mexican and Honduras consulate offices in McAllen.
This year’s theme was slightly lower key than last year’s razzmatazz event. Mayor Darling made his entrance to the theme to the film Rocky, and was followed into the convention center by dozens of children from the community. Last year he bicycled in after attendees watched a video of the city taken via a bicycle.
Intertwined with this year’s event was a moving tribute to the late McAllen Commissioner Scott Crane, performed by two-time state champions, Mariachi Oro from McAllen High School. Crane died soon after competing in the McAllen Marathon, an event he helped to organize.
“I was inspired last year by the drumline, but most importantly it’s what we do to build a future for our children, to make them want to come back, and have them want to stay here,” Darling said, referencing again in his main theme, educating and providing meaningful employment for Valley kids. “This inspired me to do a children’s theme, so we thought that Rocky was the most obvious to do that. What we do as elected officials is a duty to provide a future for the children. We need to give them all a chance to succeed.”
McAllen’s population stands at 137,400, the largest in the city’s history, while its sales tax receipts, at $47 million, are the largest in ten years, according to Darling.
Combined, the McAllen-Reynosa area produced 7,546 jobs in the last five years, and unemployment remains at 4.6 percent, the lowest in the Valley and lower than the state average, Darling said.
Property valuation stands at $8 billion, home sales are up three percent from last year with McAllen homes averaging 15 percent higher prices than anywhere outside the city limits. The city is enjoying its lowest crime rate in 24 years, down ten percent; the lowest crime rate for cities the size of McAllen in Texas, Darling said.
“We are great place to live, make sure your kids come back and stay here,” Darling said, when asked by the Rio Grande Guardian about the message he wanted to convey to the community following his speech.
Darling used the last portion of his presentation to forecast what is in store for the city in 2015.
The city is looking ahead to a $40 million renovation of its south wastewater facility on Ware Road, which will produce daily more than eight million gallons of reclaimed water to be used in countless ways, according to city literature.
McAllen is also planning for an expansion of its convention center district. Coming soon is a six-story $20 million Embassy Suites hotel. A new La Quinta hotel is about to be constructed and will feature 153 rooms. In July 2014, the city broke ground on its $45 million performing arts center, and will host events ranging from Broadway productions to local events.
But the biggest development for the city may be what’s in store for higher education, Darling said. The creation of UT-RGV and its impact on McAllen in the form a new medical research campus will soon become the city’s biggest story, he predicted.
Over the next few months, the city will welcome the opening of the first major research university of the 21st century in Texas, Darling said. He also pointed to a partnership between the City of McAllen and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance to build a DHR South campus and a new Renaissance Research Institute that will emerge in conjunction with the future UT-RGV School of Medicine.
“Obviously, we have the hotels coming up and the performing arts center that will transition this whole area to an entertainment center,” Darling said.
“Some of the things we are working on with the maquiladoras are important to us from an employment standpoint. The new university (and) medical school is huge, so they are just lots of great things on the horizon, and everyone is participating; Brownsville, Edinburg, Pharr, Mission, and all the other cities are seeing the benefits of all this as a region.”
Later, former McAllen Mayor Cortez posted this statement about the State of the City address on Facebook: “It was an honor to be invited to Mayor Jim Darling’s State of the City event today at the McAllen Convention Center. You could feel the energy in Mayor Darling’s speech. As I heard the inspiring presentation of one of McAllen’s extraordinary children, Salvador Villa, and enjoyed the musical talents of our high school students, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how lucky I am to live in McAllen.” Cortez is running for city commissioner, District 1.