HARLINGEN, RGV – Rebecca M. Olaguibel, director of retail and business development for the City of McAllen, says these are exciting times on the retail front in her city.
Olaguibel listed some of the big projects currently underway when she gave a power-point presentation at a gathering of retail and economic development leaders at the TSTC University Center in Harlingen on Thursday.
The event was co-hosted by Rio South Texas Economic Council and the International Council of Shopping Centers and was titled ‘ICSC Texas Alliance P3 Retail Program.’
Olaguibel said a deal was slated to be closed Friday between the City of McAllen and Provident Realty Advisers of Dallas to create a new retail center on the site of the old McAllen Civic Center. As a result, Olaguibel said, the Civic Center auditorium would be demolished within the next 60 days.
Olaguibel also said there are two big dates coming up. She said a groundbreaking ceremony will be held on March 8 for the Tres Lagos-Texas A&M University master-planned community project. And on March 10, Olaguibel said, Simon Properties and the City of McAllen will unveil full details of the expansion plans for La Plaza Mall, the biggest retail center south of San Antonio.
“We have some exciting developments happening on the retail front in McAllen, from the La Plaza Mall redevelopment, to Tres Lagos-Texas A&M, to McAllen’s West Side Story and to redevelopment of the Civic Center site,” Olaguibel told the Rio Grande Guardian, in an interview immediately after her presentation.
“We feel that these new retail developments will not only generate quality of life for the city, and generate more visitors to the city, they will also create jobs. The No. 1 thing we want to do in the city of McAllen is generate jobs.”
In her presentation, Olaguibel said the City of McAllen generates about $3.56 billion in gross retail sales tax every year. “Retail is very important to the City of McAllen. It produces about 37 to 40 percent of its general fund,” Olaguibel said. She said McAllen’s location, being just two hours away from Monterrey, Mexico, is a big plus. Olaguibel then listed the big retail projects the City of McAllen is working on.
La Plaza Mall
La Plaza Mall, on Expressway 83 and 10th Street in McAllen, opened its doors in 1976. It currently has over 1.2 million square feet of retail space and is the largest retail shopping center south of San Antonio. It generates over 18 million visitors a year and has over 2,000 employees.
Olaguibel said there have been talks about expanding and renovating La Plaza Mall for about ten years. “It has been a long time. We are finally about to unveil what Simon is going to be doing at La Plaza Mall,” she said. Olaguibel then listed the new developments. “We are going to have a two-level, 500-car, parking deck, built separate and adjacent to Macy’s. And a second two-level, 700-car parking deck built outside JC Penny’s and Dillard’s. Sears’ is coming down very soon. One of the things Simon/La Plaza Mall is very conscious about is making sure that all of this work happens at night so that we continue to receive shoppers from the region and international locations.”
Olaguibel said Simon Properties is not only trying to update the facade of the mall but give it more beautiful landscaping. She said about 80,000 square feet of new retail space was being added. “One of the things the City of McAllen is working with Simon La Plaza Mall on is securing a top front anchor. So, hopefully on March 10 we will be able to unveil some of those tenants that we are looking at bringing into the city of McAllen and La Plaza Mall.”
Tres Lagos-Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University is building a school of engineering, bio-medical, agriculture, and lab sciences north of State Highway 107 in McAllen on the Tres Lagos site being developed by Mike Rhodes. “You will see the City of McAllen unveiling some investments in our future. We want to invest in education. So you will see that even through our partnership with UTRGV, STC and now Texas A&M, the City of McAllen is trying to diversify its portfolio and not depend so much on retail. We want to expand into higher education, medical tourism and industrial trade,” Olaguibel said.
Olaguibel said the Tres Lagos land was recently annexed into McAllen’s city limits. She said there will be a fire department sub-station, multi-family units and single-family units. “On March 8, we will be breaking ground out there. We are really excited about that. We are pretty excited about entering into this next generation development. As everyone knows, with the addition of households, retail will soon follow.” She said the Texas A&M McAllen Teaching Center is slate to open in the fall of 2017.
McAllen’s West Side Story
Olaguibel grouped a number of major retail developments on the west side of McAllen as the city’s “West Side Story.” She said a big piece of land off of Expressway 83 that used to house The Zone will soon have 200,000 square feet of new retail development.
“McAllen’s West Side Story is really a story of new development. The Convention Center, the Performing Arts Center. La Quinta and Embassy Suites will open in 2016. The Performing Arts Center, we really excited to present this to the entire region. We are currently in the midst of booking Broadway and Russian Ballet productions. We have 484 new rooms being added to the inventory of our hospitality sector. Currently we have 3,200.” Like La Quinta and Embassy Suites, Cambria Suites, an EB 5 Regional Center project, is located next to the Convention Center. She said it is slated to open in December.
Another successful part of McAllen’s West Side Story, Olaguibel said, is Palms Crossing. She said Stage 3 is currently under construction. “At completion, there will be 580,000 feet of retail, out front of convention center,” Olaguibel said. “We are looking at retail that is unique, that is destination, that adds quality of life to our city, that has a draw.”
Another aspect of the West Side Story, Olaguibel said, is The Shops at 29th project. “We will have an announcement about this very soon. I am really proud of this development.” She said the City of McAllen is working with the Collins family on the project.
McAllen Civic Center
“We have selected a developer out of Dallas called Provident. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime development opportunities. It is called Shops at Solana right now,” Olaguibel said. “Tomorrow, we close on the deal and then we have 60 days to bring auditorium down. We are real excited about it because of the opportunity to invest in high end luxury retail. With the numbers we generate we know we can pull it off.”
In her interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Olaguibel said the scope of her retail recruitment policy is very narrow. “What we are seeking is unique, destination-type retail. We are looking for facilities or retail tenants that draw from at least 200 miles around. We know that based on the retail sales tax generation we have seen in McAllen, that we have the numbers to draw those type of upscale, destination, unique places to McAllen.”
Olaguibel said the city of McAllen is “built for business” and that she is happy and ready to speak to local and national developers. She said they should call her office at (956) 681-1001.
“We are trying to create an environment in McAllen where we have not only fun things to do and great education, but also higher education opportunities. On the convention and tourism side, we are looking to give McAllen more of a big city feel, so when we get folks to McAllen we can offer them some upscale dining and upscale entertainment as well.”
Asked about McAllen’s efforts to secure more international trade, Olaguibel said:
“Because of our location in deep South Texas, on the border, it makes sense for us to embrace international trade. The City of McAllen operates, in partnership with Hidalgo and Mission, two bridges, Hidalgo and Anzalduas, that are really important to us. We want to make sure that when people are driving from Mexico into Texas, that our bridges are their bridges of choice. Historically, our economic drivers are tourism, medical tourism, agriculture, hospitality and retail. Those are the segments we want to build on. We know we do it well. We want to improve it and do it better.”