RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – Starr County and Rio Grande City leaders expect to announce more details on an eagerly-anticipated multi-million dollar, 50-acre retail development within the next week or so.
Final details are being hammered out between St. Ives Realty, Starr County Industrial Foundation, Rio Grande City and Rio Grande City Economic Development Corporation.
“Everyone is excited about this project. It is going to be transformational, not just for Rio Grande City but for Starr County as a whole,” said Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande City.
“The leakage studies have shown that millions of dollars are leaving our community because we do not have certain retail stores and certain box stores that other communities have. Eliminating that and having people come here from Zapata, La Joya, Roma, the whole of Starr County, along with communities in Mexico such as Miguel Aleman, Camargo, Cerralvo, Agualeguas, it is going to be a game changer.”
The entire project being developed by St. Ives Realty calls for 90-acres of retail development next across from Walmart on U.S. 83 in Rio Grande City. Studies show that 40,000 vehicles cross the intersection next to Walmart each day.
Discussions have been taking place over the past four years and in June 2018, St. Ives entered into an agreement with Rio Grande City EDC to develop 143 acres, with an emphasis on “commercial stores, hotels, restaurants, financial institutions, professional offices and related facilities.”
However, as Rose Benavidez, president of SCIF, pointed out, the project has had to contend with mitigating the impact of the development taking place in a flood zone.
“It has far exceeded simply recruiting a commercial development. Significant infrastructure work has been done. We are going through the final stages of finalizing all the details to put the necessary infrastructure in place, get the necessary permitting and, more importantly, ensuring we have an adequate 40 to 50 acres of development that could be attributed to all of that investment,” Benavidez said.
“We are working really closely with all the parties. It is moving forward. I would expect that in ten to 14 days we will be able to make a preliminary announcement.”
Asked which stores will be coming to Rio Grande City, Benavidez said: “I cannot say the names but several box stores and a significant number of national chains.”
Asked about the impact the retail development will have, Benavidez said:
“It will transform the city and reduce the leakage. It is going to transform the retail habits of our shoppers. They are accustomed to having to commute and drive 30 or 45 minutes to go to a place to buy clothing, whatever. That is about to change. We are excited. We have about a 30-mile radius in our market area so it is going to impact a great amount of people.”
Mayor Villarreal confirmed that discussions with all the key stakeholders, including the Texas Department of Transportation, have been going well.
“There are so many different parties involved in this project. Things are looking very good. In fact we are in the final stages of finalizing all the details and then moving forward with an announcement,” Villarreal said.
“I know it has taken a lot of time. I go to any store and people will ask about that development. All I can tell them is, ‘yes, it is going to happen.’ Once we are ready to make the big announcement we will move forward. It is a great project, it is going to transform Starr County.”
Villarreal pointed out that local leaders have had a good experience working with St. Ives Realty.
“They have done work for us in the past, building our theater and the retail space next to our Walmart. We have faith in the developer that this is going to happen. But again, there are so many parties. It takes a monumental effort to put all the pieces in place before we can make an announcement.”
Mayor Villarreal said that while the retail project will be good for the economy, the importance of improving his city’s infrastructure and drainage system will also be huge.
“Hundreds of jobs, 90 acres, 40-plus in first phase and then another 40-plus. What we will be doing is taking 90 acres out of the flood plain, moving a lot of dirt, elevating the area. At the same time it is going to help with our drainage,” Villarreal said.
“We had some EDA grants to help us with drainage of the arroyo, because one of the main factors we have to consider as a municipality is, hurricane season, or a 50-year flood. It is going to make sure we move water away from those areas. It is a great partnership because not only were we able to bring in a great development, we were also able to address some of our drainage needs. That is going to be huge.”
Villarreal said it has been important to keep the civic leaders of neighboring communities in Mexico informed. After all, Starr County wants the residents of communities such as Miguel Aleman and Camargo to visit the giant retail complex.
“Despite all the negative national rhetoric, we continue to have close relationships with our counterparts in Mexico. As a border community, we depend on our neighbors to the south,” he said.
Two key players from St. Ives Realty were on a panel discussing economic development recently. The discussion took place at South Texas College’s Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City as part of a “Shaping the Future” summit hosted by SCIF and STC.
However, Troy Bathman, owner of St. Ives Realty, and Jim Grissler, a partner in the company, did not discuss the new retail project in depth.
“We have been in the Valley since 1993 and in Rio Grande City since 1999. There was a void in retail, with a lot of it going to McAllen and other places. We follow Walmart, we have done about 200 deals with them,” Bathman said.
What struck the St. Ives leadership, Hardwork said, was the passion shown by Rio Grande City and SCIF officials.
“When you look at the size you would say, no way can you bring a theater to this community. The only way it can happen is through the passion that was in that room at that time. That passion is still here today,” Bathman said.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal.