MISSION, Texas – A memorandum between the cities of McAllen and Mission and their respective economic development corporations could help spur development of a new international airport at Moore Air Base, which could, in turn, attract Southwest Airlines.

This is the view of Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, who also believes the MOU could help the region lure a Chinese-owned maquiladora from Reynosa to the upper Rio Grande Valley.

Martinez spoke in depth about the MOU at a board meeting of Mission Economic Development Corporation last Thursday. The meeting took place via the world wide web because of the need for social distancing.

Mission EDC Chairman David Deanda began the discussion on the MOU. Mission EDC executive director Daniel Silva said McAllen is keen for such collaboration because Mission has a great track record when it comes to workforce development.

In his remarks, Mayor O’Caña said he meets regularly with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling to discuss issues of importance to both Mission and McAllen. He told of a recent visit Darling made to China and how McAllen was trying to bring in a Chinese manufacturing company. An MOU between the Mission and McAllen could help land such projects, O’Caña said.

Another city Mission is looking to partner with is San Antonio, O’Caña said, in his report to the Mission EDC board of directors. He said Mission and San Antonio are working on a joint project to land a Brazilian company.

Another reason the MOU would be advantageous, O’Caña argued, is it would hasten development north of Mission. He said the city leadership is in discussions with the Public Utility Commission of Texas about adding basic infrastructure north of 7-Mile Line. That would put development of Moore Air Base within striking range, the mayor said. McAllen’s current international airport, Miller, is landlocked and cannot expand, he said.

Moore Air Base was deactivated by the U.S. Air Force in 1961. If Moore Air Base were to be developed by McAllen it would be of interest to Southwest Airlines, Mayor O’Caña said. Currently flying out of Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Southwest would like to be based in the Upper Valley, he said.

In an interview with The Rio Grande Guardian after the Mission EDC board meeting, Mayor O’Caña said he hopes the MOU between Mission and McAllen can be expanded further to include Edinburg and Pharr. He said regionalization is key to future economic development in the Valley.

Just how many airports will be needed in the Valley in the future could be a point of discussion in the coming months and years. A recent story in The New York Times said that due to a reduction in demand for passenger flights, airlines will be allowed to ditch smaller airports. The reduction in demand has been caused by the coronavirus.

An airport masterplan posted on the City of McAllen’s website cautions that developing Moore Air Base at the expense of Miller could be costly for the City of McAllen. The document notes that the city would be liable to give federal funding obtained to develop Miller back to the government.

The document states:

“The City of McAllen has accepted federal development grant funding through the AIP for projects at MFE. Development grants come with certain grant assurances that the airport sponsor must comply with the award of the grant. One of the grant assurances is for the sponsor to maintain the improvement for its useful life, typically twenty (20) years. Acceptance of development grants also obligates the airport sponsor to maintain the airport as an airport. Closing the existing Airport and transferring services to another existing airport would be considered a violation of these grant assurances, requiring repayment of grants not yet fully depreciated. Since 2005, the FAA has invested approximately $36.5 million dollars in projects at MFE. If scheduled airline activities were transferred to another Airport with MFE continuing to operate as a general aviation airport, FAA investments in the terminal and other airline support related grants, such as aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) equipment and facilities, may be required to be paid back to the FAA. Since 2005, the FAA has invested approximately $8.5 million dollars in terminal and airline support projects at MFE. The investments made, and the economic benefits received from the Airport, both public and private, could not readily be shifted or regenerated to another airport without significant costs/losses. As such, this alternative is not considered practical, reasonable, and/or financially feasible.”

Rio Grande Guardian interview

In his interview with The Rio Grande Guardian, Mayor O’Caña spoke in-depth about the MOU between the cities of Mission and McAllen.

“The purpose of this MOU is for us to do joint city work. This will eventually increase into the four cities, adding Pharr and Edinburg to make a mini-metropolitan area for growth. The main goal is for us to grow regionalization. And, the regionalization will extend from Brownsville all the way to Zapata. For right now, though, we are moving in small steps.”

On the possibility of bringing major manufacturing plants to Mission-McAllen, O’Caña said: “This is a business plan we are going to open up, not only to China but any country that wants to come in. There are other countries looking at coming into Texas. We are talking to the mayor of San Antonio to see if we can work together.”

On the potential of developing land north of 7-Mile Line, O’Caña said: “We are looking at the possibility of going up north because that area has been growing tremendously. It has already crossed the 7-Mile Line. The need to bring in a sewer plant and water plant is already there. But, we are not going to do it in isolation. We are going to invite the City of Palmview. We are going to invite the City of Alton and the City of McAllen and the City of Edinburg. We are going to work together.”

On the possibility of developing Moore Air Base, O’Caña said: “Once an airport, always an airport. The airport already has the framework for larger aircraft to come in and come out. It could be another international airport. McAllen’s current international airport is landlocked. It cannot expand.”

As for Southwest Airlines coming to the Upper Valley, O’Caña said: “They have been looking at the possibility of coming over to the west side. I know they fly out of Harlingen but obviously they want to get closer to the west side. I cannot say directly what their plans are but I know that that is a possibility.”

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