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Tom Torkelson, CEO and co-founder of IDEA Public Schools, speaks at the Tres Lagos groundbreaking ceremony.

McALLEN, RGV – Always the perpetual dreamer, Mike Rhodes says can already envision a fully-built Tres Lagos master-planned development in his mind.

Among the 5,000 homes that will be constructed in the decades to come, Rhodes says he can already see multi-generations of people who will live their lives in the sprawling new community.

“I see kids playing in the park or fishing in the lake. But also, they are going to the best schools in the nation, K-12. They will turn around and go to college right here and get their engineering degree or veterinary degree,” Rhodes said.

“I’ve talked to hospitals about putting one in. We have a tech park planned for when we start getting some high-tech jobs in the Valley. So, in my mind I’m seeing multi-generations of people who really don’t need to leave. They can get educated, work, raise their families and retire in this place.”

That dream is quickly becoming reality. Rhodes Enterprises, in conjunction with the City of McAllen and Hidalgo County held a groundbreaking for the upcoming Tres Lagos master-planned community in early March.

In attendance with Rhodes at the groundbreaking was Tom Torkelson, CEO and co-founder of IDEA Public Schools, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

“Our approach to what we do is simple. It’s about building in the best community possible; in the world,” Rhodes told attendees at the event. “We do it all price points. We think that whatever we do should be the best we can do it. Through the years, it has not only taken great employees. It has required forming many companies to accomplish these goals; agriculture companies, homebuilding and mortgage companies, real estate and brokerage, landscape service…all these things we did, not necessarily because we wanted to, but they were hurdles.

“They were getting in the way of accomplishing my goal of building the best community in South Texas or the country,” Rhodes said.

Located close to the southwest corner of Ware Road and Monte Cristo in McAllen, Tres Lagos is the name of the 2,571-acre master-planned community to be comprised of single-family homes, multi-family homes, commercial and retail space, health care facilities, IDEA Public Schools and the new Texas A&M University satellite campus.

Phase I homes at Tres Lagos will be priced from the $180,000’s to $1 million range. Home features will include fiber-to-home and bundled technology including Gigabit speed Internet. The development will also host community WiFi, alarm monitoring, video surveillance and Smart Home Technology.

Texas A&M University will establish a stand-alone four-year university campus by fall 2017.

Tres Lagos is also planning to provide residents with over 20 miles of hike and bike trails, over 200 acres of public parks including pools, sports fields, playgrounds, picnic area, and fishing, and will feature over 100 acres of lakes as well as a community water park.

“It’s a partnership in growth,” said McAllen Mayor Darling. “Our taxpayers get the benefit of the growth, but at the same time we partner with some of that tax-base going back to the developer to help him (Rhodes) develop the property. It’s an exciting time for McAllen.”

Tres Lagos’ origin goes back to Rhodes’ initial challenge of finding space for development in a city considered by many to be landlocked and out of the price range for most home buyers.

The initial plans for the development came about more than two years ago when the region, like much of the country, was coming out of the economic recession.

McAllen, according to Rhodes, realized that it was falling behind on attracting new residential properties. The city would eventually approve the annexation of 2,550 acres of land owned by Hidalgo County in late 2014. That was followed by the approval of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to jumpstart development, the city’s first.

McAllen assistant city manager Michelle Leftwich was selected to facilitate the TIRZ process, and act as a middleperson between Rhodes and the city.

“This project had been ongoing for a little while and they were working on a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. I happen to be one of the few people in McAllen that had some experience with TIRZs, so I got involved in the number-crunching and spreadsheets, as well as figuring out how this was going to go; with cash flow and financials with Mike and his people,” Leftwich told the Rio Grande Guardian at the groundbreaking. “I spent many hours with his attorney drafting agreements for the fiber and reuse and the city and county commitments. Here we are today.”

Under the terms of the deal, McAllen collects 100 percent of the taxes due every year, and twenty percent of those taxes are to be deposited into the city’s general fund like all other property taxes.

Eighty percent of those taxes go into the TIRZ fund that can be used to repay the city for the tie-in infrastructure that is being built including fiber line, water reuse line to the sewer plant and other public infrastructure the developer may build and dedicate to the public in the future.

Hidalgo County will also place a portion of their collected taxes, 77 percent, into the TIRZ fund for city infrastructure.

“When I approached the judge and commissioners, I usually have to do a bit of convincing, but on this there was no hesitation,” said Hidalgo County Executive Director Bobby Villarreal, who was representing the county at the groundbreaking.

“The county wants more education and will do whatever it takes to facilitate that,” Villarreal said, referencing the impact of Texas A&M. “For the flat earth society here who asks why we need another university here, well talk to Houston, San Antonio and Austin. They have more than one and they like that. Competition is good. Opportunity is good. We still don’t have a law school or a dental school. We have the upcoming medical school and there’s more to come. We ought to go after it and everything else we can get.

“We have potential. We are a reflection of the future of Texas. So, really they are looking at tapping our potential,” Villarreal said.

Rhodes said he will invest over $232 million in public infrastructure to grow Tres Lagos into one of the most cutting-edge developments ever seen in the Valley. More than 1.5 million square feet of retail and commercial development is planned.

Private investment in construction of homes and businesses is projected to be over $2 billion over the 30-year build-out period with an estimated creation of 8,000 jobs.

Amenities at the development could include proposed interface with the City’s police and fire departments for increased response time and a higher degree of security.

Tres Lagos is also slated to be the first in the region to provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and bundled services like high-speed Internet access, community WiFi, alarm monitoring and Smart Home technology to 6,793 residential homes.

“This speaks to the magnitude of value that this Tres Lagos development project will hold for the city of McAllen and the whole Rio Grande Valley region, which now counts 1.5 million people,” Congressman Hinojosa told attendees at the groundbreaking.

“I envision we will be at two million people within the next five to 10 years. It will grow just as San Antonio did when they chose to bring another great university when they added the Texas A&M Medical School and all those new things that occurred 20 years ago. Look how they have grown. That will happen right here in the Rio Grande Valley, and the population will soar in every Census in the next 10 or 20 years.”

Editor’s Note: Click here and here to watch two videos from the Tres Lagos groundbreaking ceremony. The videos were produced by the City of McAllen. Reporter Steve Taylor assisted with this story from McAllen.