DONNA, RGV – The interim city manager of Donna, Ernesto Silva, has announced that Donna is in the process of purchasing 25 acres primarily for retail development to open next year.

The City of Donna and a development group from San Antonio are investing $55 million for a retail project on the northwest corner of FM 493 and Expressway 83. When complete, around 500 new jobs will have been created.

Silva said the name of the main anchor tenant will be announced soon. “There are going to be some big names in this development,” he said.

Discussing the likely impact of the project on the job market, Silva said: “As you all know, Donna, along with some of the other smaller cities here in the [Rio Grande] Valley have a higher unemployment rate than the bigger cities of Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen and the Edinburg-Mission area.

“So, we’re happy to announce that we should be generating about another 500 jobs. It should take about a year for the development to be completed, but it’s great news that we’ve been able to acquire the property and we’re in the process of planning the property [as well as] beginning the improvements.”

Silva said a preliminary layout has been agreed upon, consisting of 11 lots. There will be a large retail center in the back with five to six pad sites for restaurants. Two of the pad sites have already sold, a corner lot and a small plaza in the front.

International Bridge is having big impact

Asked if the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge has been the spur for all the development happening in Donna, Silva said: “It is pretty simple. If you have 50,000 cars going in each direction and you multiply that by two (two persons per car) that is 100,000. The population of Donna, according to the Census Bureau, is about 17,000 people. So, you are talking about increasing our population five-fold. That is a lot of spending power. That has been the fuel for the economic recovery of the community.”

This past month, Donna’s traffic reports show 49,235 vehicles. That’s an increase of about 8,000 cars compared to the July, 2015, count of 41,220. Silva said the traffic continues to fuel the growth in Donna.

“If you take an average of two persons per car it tells you that every month, there’s a substantial increase in the population coming into our community and shopping here in our community,” Silva said. “Primarily, this new development is going to cater to the Mexican shoppers that are coming across on our bridge instead of them having to go either east or west, they’ll be able to come and shop here in Donna and then return back to Mexico.”

One of the requirements for this type of development is fire protection. Therefore, the city will replace the existing elevated storage tank with one twice its capacity–approximately one million gallons–and add a 12-inch waterline running from the existing tower heading west. The development will also open up new job opportunities to the residents.

Rio Bravo has a population of about 150,000. Silva said according to the census, the population of Donna is about 17,000. Combining the two populations and taking into account the people in the surrounding areas, it gives synergy towards trade and economic development, said Silva.

“We’ve seen a big growth also in investors from Mexico,” Silva said. “In the last year, we’ve had at least 15 new business from folks from Rio Bravo that have come across and opened up restaurants and other types of businesses because they see a big potential in this corridor between Donna and Rio Bravo.”

As a result of the influx of people using the bridge and the businesses opening, Donna will decrease their tax rate to 88 cents in the next fiscal year, Silva said.

He said the community is also investing in the infrastructure for drainage and street paving. The city is also in the process of purchasing eight acres next to Altas Palmas Baseball Park to upgrade its parks. Silva said they’re also looking to buy eight more to serve as a sports complex for the community.

“With the good economic times, it allows for the city to do more for its citizens. The quality of life goes up for the community. And that’s very important considering the amount of sacrifice the people have made here in Donna to have that bridge.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Donna interim city manager Ernesto Silva in his office at Donna City Hall. The photo was taken by Reporter Ena Capucion. Reporter Steve Taylor assisted with this story from Donna.