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San Benito EDC Executive Director Salomon Torres is interviewed at a news conference held to announce a Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott hotel and conference center for San Benito.

SAN BENITO, RGV – A new $13 million hotel and $6 million conference center set to be built on the frontage of I-69 East just south of Harlingen Medical Center will be the catalyst for more exciting projects for San Benito, predicts the city’s EDC director.

The next big project, Salomon Torres said, will be located on land adjacent to the hotel and conference center and will be built by the same developers. He said the project is likely to exceed the $19 million spent on the hotel and conference center. Torres is executive director of San Benito Economic Development Corporation.

“The developers of the hotel project have become even more committed to the location of San Benito. They want to make this a success. They have gotten excited and are now negotiating with other prospects to come and invest on adjacent properties.”

Salomon Torres
Salomon Torres

Torres said the EDC may be in a position to make some additional economic development announcements in the not too distant future. “Britt Pate in particular is in the process of negotiating with two prospects. I would give it an 85 percent probability that it will be announced in the next two, two and a half months.”

Britt Pate is president of Pate Development, a third generation development company based in Wichita, Kansas. The company was started in 1945 by Pate’s grandfather, Carman Pate, Sr., who was a cabinet maker for a hotel in Wichita. The owner of the hotel asked him to build a house and the company grew from that.

At a news conference held Tuesday, Britt Pate announced Pate Development is building the 110-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott at 2550 W. Expressway 77/83. It is on the north/east side of the expressway, just south of Harlingen Medical Center and just north of the Paso Real intersection. He said it will include a 12,000 feet convention center.

In concluding his remarks at the news conference, Pate confirmed he is looking to do more business in San Benito. “We are working and are very, very close to announcing a second companion project to the San Benito Marriott Hotel and Convention Center,” he said.

Earlier, Pate had said that “one of the cool things” his company will be doing with the design of the hotel is paying tribute to San Benito hometown hero, Freddy Fender. There was applause from the audience when he said artifacts of Fender would be on display at the hotel.

Pate paid tribute to Torres, San Benito Mayor Celeste Sanchez, San Benito City Commission and San Benito EDC.

“I came here two years ago looking for an ideal site to build a hotel. But, I found a lot more than that. I found truly wonderful people that have made truly wonderful friends. San Benito wanted to build something that would make San Benito proud. It is already a proud community but they wanted something that would draw more people in; that would draw future development in,” Pate said.

Pate said it is clear the city commission and the EDC have great vision for San Benito. “They had the spirit to collaborate with us. I do not always find that with all government agencies. They saw the city growing and recognized that some things needed to be done to take San Benito to the next level. This is more than a hotel and a conference center. It is an investment in the city’s future. It is a vital step in the growth of this community.”

The company that will run the hotel and conference center is ZJZ Hospitality, Inc. President of the Corpus Christi-based development company is Deven Bhakta. He said he was excited to be doing business in San Benito.

“There will be contemporary design elements while embracing the culture of this area and this city,” Bhakta said. “We will pay tribute to rock legend Freddy Fender. Marriott are very excited about this because apparently a lot of people know more about him than you would imagine.”

Bhakta said Marriott has re-launched the Fairfield brand nationwide. He said there are currently 715 Fairfield Inn & Suites in operation. Of these, he said, about 20 or 25 are the new prototype. However, he said there are about 250 new properties coming online in the United States, with the old designs dropping out and the new ones coming in.

Bhakta said his new hotel in San Benito will have a bright, lively lobby, spacious guest rooms, an enhanced lounge, and a resort-type swimming pool and hot tub. He said the conference center will be designed to account for all the things that are needed for the area, not just San Benito but for surrounding cities and communities. “It will host meetings, trainings, luncheons, social events, weddings, quinceañeras and family reunions.”

Bhakta said he expects to break ground in the next six months with construction likely to take about 12 months. “This is a match made in heaven to a point. I think there’s a lot of development, a lot of possibilities. There has been a lot of land stagnant here,” Bhakta said. He said he feels like he has known the San Benito city and EDC leaders for years. “You meet them once and it is that easy. It speaks volumes for the people that live here. We are glad to be doing business here.”

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, San Benito EDC’s Torres said Pate Development is a good partner for San Benito because it can easily handle large projects.

“I think what they saw in San Benito is a community that was willing to partner through some incentives. They love the family-oriented nature of our community. Normally, these projects take five to six years. We did it in less than two years and a lot of it had to do with the board and the city commission allowing me to do what I had to do to structure a deal. The message this sends is outside investors, outside capital sources, we are open for business and ready to receive your prospects and see how we can make San Benito its home.”

Torre said the new hotel will have unique features that make it attractive on a regional level. “Unlike a lot of other hotels this will have a full restaurant which means you could come and eat dinner and enjoy yourself at the bar for a social event. The hotel will have a courtyard for outdoor events. It will have a larger swimming pool than normal for guests and rented events. Inside the hotel, a unique feature will be a special tribute to San Benito’s legendary Freddy Fender. That marries our community to a corporate name in a very tasteful way. That will make the hotel special.”

Pate Development founder Carman Pate, Sr., is pictured with his son, Carman Pate, Jr., circa 1970.
Pate Development founder Carman Pate, Sr., is pictured with his son, Carman Pate, Jr., circa 1970.

As for the conference center, Torres said that finally, in the Valley, companies and families will be able to do lodging and events in one place. “That gives the conference center an advantage over other conference centers. In other places you can only do one or the other. Here you can do both.” Asked if there is anything comparable, Torres said: “There is Rancho Viejo but that is not really the same thing. In Brownsville you have an event center but no hotel. In McAllen they are building a hotel next to the conference center. That is probably the nearest. So, this is a great development not just for San Benito but for the whole Valley.”

Asked if the development of the SpaceX rocket launch facility in Brownsville was a factor in the decision to build a hotel on the expressway in San Benito, Torres said: “SpaceX was assessed in projecting sales. The hotels that are now being built in Brownsville are to accommodate that flurry of visits from tourists. This hotel will be packed, booked solid, 100 percent occupancy, whenever a launch approaches and when it occurs. We expect San Benito to benefit from that because we are on the way to Brownsville.”

Torres predicted the new hotel and conference center will “changes the profile” of San Benito in terms of business recruitment.

“It gives us a better opportunity of attracting more substantial investors. The reputation of San Benito many times was that it was not a good place to do business for whatever reason, because of politics or the school district. The public tends to bunch them altogether. This exciting new development tells people that there is an opportunity to invest in a smaller city. That there are assets available that could help them achieve their business goals and that we are a viable area for new industry and outside investors,” Torres said.

“Note that the new investors are not from the Valley. That was somewhat intentional on my part because many times these folks come without any prejudice about one area of the Valley being better than another. They come looking at it with a business analysis, whether the site will work for the business prospect.”

Torres concluded the interview by calling on San Benito residents to dream big.

“I think this development tells our community that we can have more confidence in ourselves, that we are able to attract big names and, as you will see, large developments. We do not have to just have what we have now. We do need to dream about what is possible for San Benito on the expressway. What are we going to do now with the old power plant? What are we going to do with the old municipal airport? What are we going to do with the Resaca property we are developing? All of a sudden citizens will be saying what if and why not.”