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EDINBURG, RGV – With the opening of a Customs Facility at South Texas International Airport as well as the growth and development in the city of Edinburg, STIA has the potential to become commercial, local leaders say.

The Customs Facility was revealed at South Texas International Airport on Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The 4,500-square-foot facility will allow, for the first time, international travelers and merchandise to clear customs in Edinburg. Hours of operation will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, if traffic increases, the airport will expand its hours to accommodate.

In order for aircrafts to land at STIA, Customs chief of Hidalgo Port of Entry Jorge Rodriguez said a preflight exemption must be filed. The form will allow airplanes to land at the Customs Facility and bypass the first ports of entry, or the traditional international airports along the border, said Rodriguez.

“We’re going to receive all [of] your information prior to you arriving here at the airport. So, we’ll know who’s coming and we’ll know what’s coming in,” said Rodriguez. “It’s very simple. You’ll land, we’ll process you with your passport, we’ll check your aircraft [and] make sure everything’s good to go and you’re on your way. As far as cargo and international trade goes, it’s the same process–we’ll have information ahead of time with what’s coming in. And we’ll arrange our staffing according to the needs of the city or the needs of the traffic.”

Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia said STIA has nearly 1,200 acres for expansion and is the highest elevated airport in the Rio Grande Valley. With new developments to occur in the future, it’s a possibility the airport will become commercial.

“We have a 20-year plan in place that includes everything that was consulted out of Dallas that deals specifically with airports and has the experience with alliance and that sort of thing,” Garcia said. Asked if STIA could become the Valley’s mega regional airport, should a decision be made by Valley leaders to create one, Garcia said: “We’ve got the plans which even includes passenger aircraft. We’re not focusing on that, but we’re not ruling it out.”

Destination City

Garcia said according to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the population of Hidalgo County will be equally divided north and south of State Highway 107 within 20 years. Edinburg, also dubbed a “Destination City” by Garcia, will soon grow in number and development.

“That tells you where all the growth is going to go. You see thousands of acres out here for development. This is the new growth area for the Valley. This is the new growth for our city and this is going to be the center of our downtown and entertainment district, our medical district [and] our education district. All of these projects are going to attract visitors from all over. We’ll have a niche with the soccer stadium [and] we’re working with the university to bring football to our university. Mark my words, that’s going to happen and that’s going to be right here, hopefully.”

Garcia said most of the development in the local Metropolitan Statistical Area is along U.S. Highway 83/Interstate 2 and U.S. Highway 281/Interstate 69 Central. The cities of McAllen, Mission and Pharr have about two miles of interstate frontage, Garcia said, whereas Edinburg has 18.

“[STIA] is about the center of that area. So, you’re going to see all the growth north,” Garcia said. “We’ve got plenty of room to grow as you can see around us here and this is part of our city. I think with our new growth–if we do grow 18 miles–this is going to be dead center to a lot of our new homes, new developments [and] new activities.”

Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Gus Garcia, Jr., (no relation to Mayor Garcia) said another factor that will spur growth at STIA is the expansion of State Highway 68. The expanded highway will run north from Donna to Edinburg, connecting with I-69 Central close to STIA. It is being developed in such a way that it can become an interstate in future years. Gus Garcia said Highway 68 will be a “logistic luxury” that will allow trucks to avoid congestion on other arteries.

“Congestion is extremely taxing on the destination of perishables and having to deal with all of those issues,” Gus Garcia said. “So, having quick access to an airport of delivery of product to the United States – which is a major consumer of Mexican goods; you have to factor in the time and efficiencies that are available to them and I think this port along with Highway 68 makes it a feasible option.”

Gus Garcia said Edinburg EDC has an office stationed in Monterrey, Mexico and will be promoting the new Customs Facility heavily.

“Hopefully we’ll be getting some international trade, international traffic, [and] tourism,” Gus Garcia said. “It’s another artery [of] business and commerce into the city of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley. Those split dollars being spent in the community are going to allow us to do even more for the community. It’s the velocity of the dollar–it’s the cycle of life, if you will, on a dollar bill. So it comes in, it gets spent and it turns around and provides services to our community.”

STIA by the numbers

Debora Melvin, C.M., airport manager for the City of Edinburg, provided the Rio Grande Guardian with full details about STIA and the plan for future development. She said:

“South Texas International Airport at Edinburg is a General Aviation Airport. It is home to a vibrant community of aviation industry enthusiasts, a cross from private to corporate commercial, military and law enforcement, and proud base to Texas Department of Public Safety – Aircraft Sector.

“With an average 4,100 combined landings and take offs per year, South Texas International Airport features a 5,000’ foot Lighted Runway and full length taxiway, a Terminal Building with separate pilot and passenger lounges, Full and Self-Serve 100LL and Jet-A fuel (with the lowest fuel prices within a 65-mile radius) together with a Professional Staff committed to service. The airport also boasts a Cargo Ready facility and Business Class Access to the entire South Texas region.

“Currently under construction is the expansion of the General Aviation Apron, extension of taxi-lanes and construction of four (4) additional T-Hangars. A new DPS Hangar is also under design and a Business Plan is in its final development stages preparing for implementation.

“Completion of the 4,500 square foot U. S. Customs Federal Inspection Service (FIS) User Fee Facility marks a significant milestone providing convenience and saving valuable time for international travel.”

Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to the above story. Photos were taken by Ena Capucion and Steve Taylor. This is the second in a two-part series on growth in Edinburg. Click here to read Part One.