HIDALGO, RGV – City of Hidalgo tourism officials are going to connect with the developers of the Go Explore RGV website and mobile app after learning their historic district is not listed.
Over the past few years, Hidalgo economic development leaders have been overseeing the renovation of some of the oldest buildings in Hidalgo County. Buildings such as the 1881 county courthouse, the 1886 county jail, the 1886 post office and a famous mercantile store that was known as the Rodriguez store.
They rebranded this historic area of Hidalgo ‘The District’ and brought in cafes, restaurants and arts and craft stores. As part of their plan to promote ‘The District’ as a tourist destination, they plan to have an official dedication of the renovated courthouse early in 2019 with invitations being made to statewide leaders.
Which is where Go Explore RGV comes in. The Valley-wide project was developed by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council with the help of a federal grant. The project lists 30 “featured destinations” and the historic Hidalgo Pump House, sitting next to the Rio Grande, is one of the 30. However, ‘The District’ is not featured in the “Arts & Cultural Centers” or the “Historic Sites” section.
“We are listed in the Go Explore RGV website through our pump house. We will be working with them a little bit more to send videos about our historic area. We deserve to be included,” said Prisciliano (J.R.) Treviño, executive director of Hidalgo Economic Development Corporation.
One of the videos Hidalgo could send the Go Explore RGV team, Treviño said, is the popular summer concert series the City of Hidalgo held. “We will be advertising in that app,” Treviño promised.
Treviño was full of praise for the organizers of the Explore RGV app. He just feels Hidalgo can be given greater representation. “I am one of the last dinosaurs that read the local newspaper but we understand the importance of social media.”
Soon after he took over as EDC leader in 2014, Treviño realized he was sitting on a tourism goldmine.
“We have a very rich city, a goldmine as a I tell the city commission. It is a goldmine we have not worked on for very many years. We can do so much with it,” Treviño said.
So, Treviño brought in marketing specialist Charlie Barrios to develop a tourism program.
“Initially it was called the Nuevo Vida Hidalgo Project but we have changed it to ‘The District.’ We had a lot of city-owned buildings that were abandoned. The city was using them for storage. We gutted them out and remodeled them and brought in small business entrepreneurs to set up shop in our historic area,” Treviño explained.
“We are trying to create a tourism destination for the whole Rio Grande Valley and the whole State of Texas. We are in our third year. It has taken time but we now have nine businesses open in the area, including Paula’s Tea House and Rock & Roll Sushi.”
Treviño said there is no reason the City of Hidalgo cannot develop as a tourism destination location in much the same way Fredericksburg and Wimberley have in the Texas Hill Country.
“We have the 1881 original courthouse that has just been restored. It burned down around 1910. We just renovated the second floor and we will have a dedication early in the new year. We hope to get state officials down for that,” Treviño said.
“We have the 1886 jail, the 1886 post office, and a mercantile store, the Rodriguez store. They are beautiful buildings. The whole area is almost ready. At ‘The District’ we will be offering food, art, music and shopping. Any small entrepreneur that wants to put up a shop in Hidalgo, we are here to help.”
One suggestion that has been made is bringing business folks down from the McAllen Convention Center area via a daily mini-bus service, with brochures of ‘The District’ on display in all the surrounding hotels.
McAllen attracts lots of out-of-towners to their convention center. But, outside of shopping, there is nothing for the business folks to do or see, Hidalgo leaders believe. That is where Hidalgo comes in. After their morning convention center events have ended, the business folks could take a ten-minute ride in a mini-bus, have a guided tour of ‘The District’ and then stay for lunch or afternoon tea.
“A mini-bus taking convention center uses to Hidalgo’s ‘The District’? That is a great idea. It might be feasible for us to do. It is a nice idea,” Treviño said.
“We are on it,” Barrios said.
Another way of promoting the area is to tell potential visitors that they can come see the border wall. A border wall sits next to the Hidalgo Pump House, which is part of ‘The District.’ “Come have great food, right next to the border wall,” Treviño joked.
But while the border wall is an eyesore for many, Hidalgo is a safe community, Treviño stressed.
“From our pump house you can see Mexico. But, Hidalgo is one of the safest cities in America. Despite all the fake news out there, we have the stats to show we are safe.”
Treviño recalled one particular fake news story, which appeared in the U.K. Daily Mail. Someone in the Hidalgo library said she could hear gun shots. That led to a story saying the Hidalgo-McAllen area resembled a war zone. “It was a nearby shooting range. We are not a war zone, nothing like that. It gives a bad wrap for the whole Rio Grande Valley. We are trying to attract new business, it makes our job more difficult.”
Treviño and Barrios spoke about their ambitious tourism destination ideas when the Rio Grande Guardian paid a visit to their offices for a livestream show on Facebook. Treviño acknowledged that Hidalgo is missing out on so much.
Millions of Visitors
“We have 2.5 million pedestrians a year using our Hidalgo International Bridge. We have 4.5 million vehicles crossing our bridge. The key is having those vehicles stop in the City of Hidalgo before they go north,” Treviño said.
Asked why economic prosperity bypassed Hidalgo, when it has the busiest bridge in the Rio Grande Valley, Treviño said:
“There are different reasons why we did not expand like Laredo, Brownsville, El Paso did. I think there a lot of farmers back in the day, 30 or 40 years ago, that wanted to keep farming and did not want to sell. But, the City of Hidalgo is ready to do business with any developer that wants to do business with our city. We are ready to do cold storage, warehousing, retail. We have a very pro-business young mayor, Sergio Coronado. He is very energetic. He wants the city to grow.”
Treviño noted that Hidalgo only has part ownership of its cash cow, with the City of McAllen a co-owner. “I wish we had never sold it, back in the sixties,” he said.
Another project in the works it to extend McAllen’s bike trail from 2nd Street to the Hidalgo Pump House. To do that, Treviño needs the support of the City of McAllen, Hidalgo Water Improvement District No. 3, and Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu.
“We are trying to use that canal that runs from the water district’s lake to 2nd Street. We are talks with the county about extending the bike trail from 2nd Street all the way down to the pump house,” Treviño said, pointing out that his city already has a bike trail from Military Highway to the Pump House.
“Our citizens could bike all the way to McAllen and McAllen citizens could bike all the way to the river. We just need six miles to be developed. It will take a lot of work with the City of McAllen and the Water District to give us the right of way along the canals, and help from Commissioner Cantu. People down here want better amenities. Biking and hiking is becoming a big thing in the Valley. If we can extend the bike trail it would be a tremendous boost, not just for Hidalgo but for the City of McAllen.”