EDINBURG, RGV – As recently as June, Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia was telling the Rio Grande Guardian that he could see South Texas International Airport getting involved more in homeland security and border protection transportation.

This came after the state legislature appropriated $3 million for hangar expansion.  “The Governor lands his plane at our airport when he comes into town many times. DPS is now housed there. I think our big focus for the future is going to be concentrating on borderland security or homeland security and border protection at the airport, with more accommodations for our law enforcement at our airport,” Garcia said.

Now, however, after meetings with business and economic development leaders, Garcia says the future also lies with passenger flights to places like Austin, Houston, San Antonio and possibly Monterrey, Mexico, and also with catering for the charter plane market.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia
Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia

“In talking to some of the local business people here the new thing to be concerned with is our airport because between the arena and the stadium and the medical facility, the university, all the investment, etc., the question is going to be, how are we going to accommodate all the people coming into this area?”

Garcia said all the signs are that Edinburg will become a destination city. The reasons, he said, had to do with the growth of the medical community, including the new UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, and the recreational visitor that might want to see soccer at the new 9,700-seat stadium or basketball or music concerts at the new 8,400-seat entertainment arena. “You know, I think McAllen is doing a great job with their airport but with all that is happening here in Edinburg, convenience is going to be a factor,” Garcia said.

When it was pointed that only recently Garcia was talking about homeland security as an important component in the growth of South Texas International Airport the mayor said: “Yes, cargo has been our focus. But, with everything that has happened in the last year or so, now our focus must also include passenger.”

Garcia listed what he believes will be the “first step” in changing the focus for Edinburg’s airport. “We are talking about nearby flight situations with the smaller companies, like the ones that will fly to Austin, maybe Monterrey, Houston, and San Antonio. And, charter groups because I think there is going to be a market for our area, both for entertainment and our medical community.”

So, it won’t just be cargo, Garcia was asked. “I think we have to start looking beyond that,” he responded.

Garcia gave his comments to the Rio Grande Guardian after stepping out of an economic development meeting at city hall on Thursday. Asked if the EDC was looking into refocusing South Texas International Airport, Garcia said, “actually, yes.”

The interview was set up to talk about Edinburg City Council’s vote on Wednesday to approve four items that will bring 448 private apartment units (not Section 8 Housing) and a 150-home subdivision to Edinburg. The housing units are part of four different projects representing a combined $110.4 million investment. Garcia duly noted the growth in residential properties but also spoke about some of the big projects coming to his city, such as a soccer stadium, the entertainment arena, two large retail developments, and four or five high-rise hotels. Not to mention a new Hidalgo County Courthouse, the replacement of UT-Pan American with the larger UT-Rio Grande Valley, and the UTRGV medical school.

“It is amazing and tremendous, all this growth. This is just the beginning,” Garcia said. “Edinburg’s population hitting 100,000 is right around the corner. Exciting times – I am sure we will have a lot of growing pains that we will have to deal with as a result of it coming so quickly but that is a great problem to have.”

At the EDC meeting, Mike Brenchley of HDR, a development firm with projects in five continents, spoke about developing a master plan for downtown Edinburg to coincide with construction of the new county courthouse. Asked to comment on this, Mayor Garcia said: “With the courthouse development I think it is the perfect timing with everything that is happening for us to start working on our plan to do retail along with residential. I think we are going to look at rezoning and the PID (public improvement district).  Right now everyone goes home at five when the courthouse shuts down. If we have retail and residential that will transform what this area will be. We are seeing this in all the cities that have universities and local government, like Austin and San Marcos, etc. We are not reinventing the wheel, we are following the crowd.”

Garcia was asked to run through the big projects that are coming to Edinburg.

“The arena is going to be huge because, beside the basketball, it will be an entertainment venue for concerts, large gatherings. A lot of our graduations from the university and our large school district are having to go elsewhere to have their functions. Now we have a place to put them,” Garcia said. “We have got the soccer stadium. Soccer is the biggest sport in the world and the United States is coming of age. It is popular in Mexico, which is right next door. It is going to be huge for us because there are going to be people flocking to our stadium. It will be one of a kind and I think the size and magnitude and scope of this facility will be one that nobody will be trying to compete with for a very long time.”

With regard to retail development, Garcia focused on two big projects.

“The Shoppes, which we fought so hard to get here, is doing very, very, well and is helping us fund some of the new projects with the TRZ (transportation reinvestment zone) designations. We have got the new La Sienna on the north end of town. The resaca has already been dug, the roads have already been built and this is going to be another huge retail development for the city, on a different scale and magnitude, a little bit more higher-end shopping. There is just so much going on,” Garcia said.

“I think now we have come to a point of managing and controlling, as opposed to going out and beating the bushes and begging investors to come and look at our area. Now, they are knocking at our door and it is a question of managing the growth. There is a ton of things going on.”

Asked how many high-rise hotels were coming to Edinburg, Garcia said: “We are looking at four hotels very soon in different locations in the city. We have a couple more like the Holiday Inn Express but the higher end, high-rise hotels; I know there are four that are strong possibilities. One right next to the conference center at Renaissance, one possibly close to the arena, one at The Shoppes and there is a Mexican investor that is looking at building one right here at the university. All great and exciting stuff – these are not pie in the sky, let’s see if this is a possibility. These are people that are moving forward with it.”

Garcia was asked what it said about Edinburg that the planned 150-home subdivision would have homes priced at around $150,000. He responded: “It fits with the type of employment that the city is now offering. It is not just a job at a fast food place. You have got jobs that are paying well. The medical community, these are jobs that pay well. Santana (Textiles) is going to be spinning their yarn at the end of this month and start producing fabric by October. Those are jobs with a high pay scale so these are homes for people that have those kinds of jobs and can afford to spend $150,000 on a house.”

Garcia was also asked if Edinburg EDC was working on a strategy to market all the new attractions the city has to offer.

“That is some of the discussions that are going on right now in executive session. We have to plan for that, what market we want to target and what do we want to spend our money on to get the best bang for our buck, especially the international community. Maybe we have to figure out a brand. Monterrey always used to talk about McAlleneando. I do not know what it is going to be with Edinburg but I am sure it will have something to do with culture and entertainment.”