MISSION, RGV – Killam Development and its team of architects and urbanists are engaging with the general public to design their 3,400-acre master-planned project on the Shary plantation in Mission and McAllen.

Everything is on the table, including, potentially a new name for the development, local residents were told, during the first of five days of public design workshops.

“What we heard a lot from the public today was connectivity,” said San Antonio-based artist Andy Benavides, who is part of the design team working with the public.

Benavides gave the Rio Grande Guardian an interview at the end of a day that saw discussions on housing options and arts and culture. After these two workshops local residents were invited to design their model community, working with professionals from Able City and Dover, Kohl & Partners.

Benavides said the cool thing about the Killam development is that art is being introduced at the beginning of the process, not as an afterthought. During the workshop on arts and culture, Benavides asked local residents to consider five questions. They were:

  • Do you feel the arts are important in your community? Yes or no and why?
  • What do the arts in your community look like to you?
  • What and/or how can the arts contribute to your community?
  • Is arts education important to you?
  • What kind of arts programming would you like to see?

“We have been involved in several developmental projects where typically they were top heavy. The developer would hold community meetings but the community was there to listen to what was being brought to them. This is different, a very unique situation and it’s only reason we are participating,” Benavides said.

Benavides said he and his colleagues have worked successfully with the Killam family before. He said the potential for a landmark project exists with the Shary development.

“When this project was discussed we really had to hear about the approach. They told us this is going to be a community-driven project,” Benavides said. “I just told Mario and Jason, this is one of the best presentations we have ever heard. The fact that it was so engaging and the fact that there is so much promise for everyone involved, it will be, potentially, a case study for how every development should occur anywhere.”

The “Mario” Benavides was referring to is Mario A. Peña, partner and principal at Able City. The “Jason” Benavides was referring to is Jason King, principal and vice president at Dover, Kohl & Partners.

“It could, potentially, be a case study for how every development should occur because there will be harmony here. And the fact that they are going to make connections amongst these communities, where people have identified that there is a disconnect, is going to be fantastic.”

The member of the public who, perhaps, best articulated the argument that a disconnect currently exists in the local community was Ariel King, owner of The Bryan House in Mission. Ariel King is no relation to Jason King.

After participating in a “Hands-on Design” exercise at the end of Monday’s workshops, King was asked to be spokesperson for her table. She said a disconnect currently exists between Mission residents and those living in the upscale Sharyland Plantation.

Interviewed after her presentation, Ariel King told the Rio Grande Guardian: “With this project we have a great opportunity to create this interconnection between all areas of the city of Mission, not create an area that pitches a division between the haves and the have-nots. That could easily be done if we are not careful.”

Asked if there is a disconnect between, say, Granjeno and Sharyland, or Mission and Sharyland, Ariel King said: “There is. You see this imaginary line that has been created, this very great divide of socio-economic proportions. If we are not careful we could make it worse. What we want to do is create a situation in which the entire city of Mission, all areas will benefit from this new project, and not leave huge portions of the city out, not benefiting from these opportunities.”

One way to ensure Granjeno and Sharyland are connected, for example, is for new housing and hike and bike trails to be developed between the two. They are, after all, only a few miles apart. One stumbling block for achieving this, however, is that a rail line runs through the farmland between them. Local residents thought this could, at some point in the future, be used for passenger rail.

“If we work together and have a good plan to create a sense of community, an interconnectivity between all areas of the city, we won’t be creating areas in which there is more divide than connections,” Ariel King said.

Ariel King said she would also like to see Mission’s historical places recognized and saved.

“We can create pathways in which people from all around the city can come together, to have good experiences, have a wonderful education, and blur those lines that currently separate us,” she said.

“This is a rare opportunity for the whole community to benefit in a positive way. As long as we all work together and we really come up with ideas on how to bring ourselves all together, this is a chance of a lifetime.”

In his interview, Benavides said having art front and center of the Shary development would be good for children and the community.

“We talked about schools and as contemporary artists and art educators we have this understanding: we see the true genius in a five-year-old who develops into a ten-year-old and then goes on to do great things,” Benavides said.

“If you give children art they develop emotionally and as adults make better emotional decisions and all of a sudden, when they are in the position of navigating decisions for their cities and their schools, they are making much better decisions than had they never had art in their life. So, we have identified that the arts are essential. It is not a luxury, it is not an elective, it is something that is the cherry on top, it is an essential. Right brain, left brain activity is what makes a sound person.”

Another outstanding aspect of the Shary development, Benavides said, is the sheer size of the project. It was pointed out that there could be six portions of land the size of downtown San Antonio.

“I think they (Killam) have been paying attention to what we have been doing in San Antonio. That was probably what was one of the most enticing things about being involved in this. You could have, potentially, five or six of these different areas that would potentially have just enough variation of interest in them that you would want to go to the other. It is a very unique project. We are excited. It is obviously not going to happen overnight but, if I keep my health right, I may be able to see it.”

Editor’s Note: Here is the schedule for the Public Design Workshops, which are being held at the Center for Education and Economic Development in Mission, Texas: