SAN BENITO, Texas – Manuel De La Rosa, city manager of San Benito, believes that because of all the economic development projects in the works, his city will be unrecognizable ten years from now.
De La Rosa says there are a number of catalysts for the growth. They include the eagerly-anticipated RGV Epicenter project, SpaceX, and the expansion of the medical complex happening just to the north in Harlingen.
Currently, plans are underway to build 300 new homes within the city limits.
“I think that if you were to take a photo of the community today, the demographics, the landscape, and you compared it in five years from now, you are going to see a significant change,” De La Rosa said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.
“You do it ten years from now, I do not think you are going to recognize the old San Benito.”
As well as being much bigger, the demographics of the city are likely to change, De La Rosa believes.
“I think right now, our population, about 37 percent of it, is disadvantaged. I think over time as that population starts to age… I think you are going to see a shift in the demographics. Some type of gentrification, only because as they are getting older, we see now kids coming back and taking care of their aging parents, we see the old homes being demolished and new homes going up. So, I think you are going to continue to see that.”
Right now, the population of San Benito is around 24,200. However, De La Rosa believes there was a severe undercount made by the U.S. Census Bureau during the 2020 Census. With all the growth slated to occur, De La Rosa says San Benito’s population “could rise to 35,000 to 40,000 within ten years.”
De La Rosa said a lot of the new home buyers coming in to San Benito are from out of state. One of the reasons, he believes, is SpaceX.
“It is less expensive to live here. They are not all working down at SpaceX, some of them are working from home and we see a lot more of that. This is just a better environment, weather-wise and business-wise.”
To prepare for the growth, San Benito is investing in infrastructure, its city manager reported.
“Even the flooding events that we have, we don’t get as affected as some other places (in the Rio Grande Valley) and we are working to get those resolved. As early as last evening we had a local grant writer, Grant Works, they have some local field offices here… we are seeking to obtain a grant to mitigate some of our flooding.”
The City of San Benito and Western Spherical Developers broke ground las October on the much-heralded RGV Epicenter. The three-phase, 115-acre mixed-use development will include a hotel, convention center, retail, dining, entertainment, wellness services, and a business center. The project will be located at the intersection of I-69 and FM 509/Paseo Real. Phase One of the project will cover 38 acres.
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, De La Rosa spoke in depth about the RGV Epicenter.
“In 2019 the City of San Benito sent its city administration, along with its lobbyist, to Austin for the 86th Legislative session, to try to get some economic development bills passed. And we were successful,” De La Rosa said.
“The city was able to obtain, one, hotel/convention center legislation and, two, sports facility legislation. So, based on those we solicited first some developers, a developer out of Galveston County. Western Spherical was selected to proceed forward with the legislation.”
To sustain the development, De La Rosa said, Western Spherical decided that they needed to create a destination for the site.
“So they went ahead and partnered up with the land owner. They became a silent partner in the development. They purchased 115 acres and out of that they went ahead with Phase One, which includes 38 acres, and that will house the future hotel and convention center, it will also house some retail shops, office buildings, medical facilities. The initial investment for Phase One is $115 million. The other two phases will be an additional $300 million.”
Another key development, De La Rosa said, was the creation of a tax incremental re-investment zone. He said this began on Jan. 1, 2022.
“The City also created a planned development district for all 115 acres, which will allow this mixed use development. The developers are currently working with the city staff to draw up their engineering designs for public infrastructure, water, sewer, detention ponds, roadway improvements, so, we are working through all those issues,” De La Rosa said.
“Western Spherical are also working with real estate brokers to possibly sell some of the outlying parcels to generate a revenue stream while this whole project takes off.”
De La Rosa said it will likely take about three years to get 80 percent of Phase One completed.
“So, that is the target date that we are working on. Phases Two and Three may take off sooner than anticipated but we are focused primarily on Phase One and our hotel legislation. Then we will start concentrating on the sports facility legislation.”
Reaction to the plan
Asked what the residents of San Benito think of the RGV Epicenter project, De La Rosa said:
“I believe our citizens are overwhelmed, that there could be this possibility. They are also a little hesitant about maybe putting too much hope into it. This development is intended to bring in tourists and outsiders for the city’s governing fathers. It is more to create a quality of life improvement through the revenue it is going to generate. So, it will create jobs, it will create opportunity, but it is also going to bring in an influx of revenue that will allow us to improve our aging infrastructure. So, we see it as a win-win.”
De La Rosa said there are currently half a dozen housing projects in the works. These will usher in about 300 new homes.
“We are excited about the new residential developments. We also have some more business sites coming in, and some of the shopping centers potentially being redeveloped.”
By way of example, De La Rosa pointed to a new McDonald’s going up on the southeast corner of Sam Houston Boulevard and I-69 E. “This is the kind of development we are seeing, re-development, because of all the activity coming into San Benito.”
Asked if the RGV Epicenter is the catalyst for the current spurt in growth, De La Rosa said: “The Epicenter is part of the catalyst, I think that SpaceX is part of the catalyst. I think that the Harlingen Medical facilities and their new medical school is a catalyst. All of this in combination. And the fact that San Benito is centrally located within Cameron County, it is just good for us. But we see not only developments here in San Benito. We see them with our neighbors to the north, in Harlingen. This is good for the whole region.”
Asked if there has ever been a more exciting time to be city manager in San Benito, De La Rosa said: “This is the kind of environment a city manager just loves to be in. You get to see a community go through transformation, thorough an evolution. I am just glad that I can be part of it.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows a groundbreaking ceremony for the RGV Epicenter project. It was held in October, 2021.
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