MISSION, RGV – Young professionals from McAllen, Mission and Reynosa gathered at the Center for Education and Economic Development on Wednesday to give their input on how a large new neighborhood should be built on the Shary plantation.

The new community, which could house anywhere from 15,000 to 18,000 people, is being created by Killam Development of Laredo.

At a public workshop, the young professionals mostly liked the idea of an urban living design, with lots of outdoor amenities, bike trails and dog parks. Some suggested a tropical, green, design, with sports and recreational activities on the Rio Grande.

Some favored something similar to the Pearl district of San Antonio, with rooftop bars and apartments built above restaurants and retail establishments. Other ideas included high end shopping, a tech hub, butterfly and community gardens, a farmers market, and an amphitheater for outdoor entertainment.

The project should also include solar and wind energy, free wifi, and an Apple store, the young professionals suggested.

“We need an area where we can hone in on our skills and network with other people that are developing their careers,” said Gabriel Marquez de la Fuente.

The young real estate developer lives at Cimarron, close to where the new community will be built. However, much of his work is conducted in Mexico. Indeed, Marquez de la Fuente said he had raced back from Saltillo just to attend the public workshop.

Marquez de la Fuente said many young people in the Valley look to move north to cities like San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, or south to cities like Monterrey, Mexico.

“It would be great to see those types of innovative places, where you can go, network, conduct your business, where you know more people are coming towards you, instead of you having to go outside the Rio Grande Valley.”

Marquez de la Fuente said he believes more young professionals would be attracted to the Rio Grande Valley if communities like the 3,400-acre master-planned project Killam Development is planning for the Shary plantation was available.

“We are in a very strategic geographic position. We are on the border, that can be used in our favor for many things. We can use it to attract young professionals,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for us to make the changes we would like to see. We need to have a voice on what is being built in our backyard. We have to be involved.”

Cliffe Killam, a partner at Killam Development, was present for the public workshop with young professionals. Killam has said the company does not want to impose its own ideas for the 3,400-acre master planned project at the Shary plantation. Rather, working with the architecture, planning and design teams of Able City and Dover, Kohl & Partners, Killam has sought the views of local residents via a series of public workshops held at the CEED.

One of the advisors to the project is Alberto ‘Beto’ Altamirano, co-founder of civic technology company CityFlag. Altamirano is a native of Mission who now lives and works in San Antonio. His work takes him to cities around the world.

“The future of the Rio Grande Valley is going to depend on how involved the young community is, the millennial community,” Altamirano said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.

“People make fun of the millennial community, that they feel entitled and they are lazy but that it is not true. The dynamics are changing in the professional world. What about designing the future of cities? We have an opportunity to shape it so it creates a positive environment for future generations.”

Asked how the Valley can be redeveloped to attract young professionals, Altamirano said the initial focus should be placed on retaining the young talent that is already here.

“We have great universities, we UTRGV, we have STC. We have to retain that talent. I get to see a lot of cities, but there is nothing like the Rio Grande Valley. You have a bi-cultural setting that is so attractive. Why not take advantage of that?”

Altamirano described the Valley as “fertile ground for innovation” with a lot of “upward mobility” taking place.

“The young people that move to the Rio Grande Valley today can shape it in such a way that they can economically benefit. They can start their own businesses, they can influence the political landscape. They can have a lot of input on how the future of the Rio Grande Valley looks,” Altamirano said.

“It is the next frontier. It is a region that people can come in and shape it. Do you want to shape the future region or do you just want to belong to a region that has already been built?”

Mario Peña is a partner in Able City, Architecture, Urbanism and City Making. Interviewed by the Rio Grande Guardian, Peña said it has been uplifting to gather the input of the general public.

“We want to gather the community’s thoughts, their vision, their needs, their wants, to integrate them into the master plan we are creating for Killam Development,” Peña said.

Because of the size of the Shary project and the fact its design is being crowd-sourced, provides an “incredible opportunity” for the architects and planners, Peña acknowledged.

“The name, the quality, the amenities, the way people want to live is crowd-sourced locally in the community. It is going to have a profound impact, not only in the area we are designing but as a destination for the Valley, even for the state,” Peña argued.

Asked how many people might live in the new Shary community, Peña said: “Communities have different densities but a healthy destiny with a mix of sizes of homes and apartment and town homes, we figuring somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 households could fit in a place like this.”

Peña noted that the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission Metropolitan Statistical Area is expected to grow by about 9,000 families per year.

“We think the leadership in the area is doing such a great job in harnessing the economic potential of the area that that number could be revised upwards, especially as the Valley takes advantage of the new trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. There are some very smart people looking at that. This development is in support of capturing and innovating along with the leadership. To create a place that makes the Valley grow even more.”

Asked about the importance of attracting young professionals, Peña said: “This is a group of folks that every community wants to bring to their community, wants to retain in their community. Their voices are incredibly important for vibrancy in any community. They are the ones having the kids, they are the ones starting businesses.”

Listening to the views of the young professionals, Peña said he was struck by their views on mobility.

“We heard a lot of conversation on connecting with alternate modes of transportation, biking, walking, being outside, connecting to nature, getting around without a car, maybe not even needing a car. Their point of view about the car is very different from our generation, from previous generations. Many of them have gone out to other big cities to get educated and they are back here and they want to share that lifestyle with Mission and McAllen,” Peña said.

In previous decades, Peña noted, people moved to a city because of work. Today, he said, young professionals are choosing their city of preference first, then looking for or crating a job in that city.

“They are choosing it (their city) based on quality of life. Cities are smart and providing that as part of their economic development. We hope to support the Valley in doing that,” he said.

Asked whether Killam’s Shary project could become the benchmark for residential development in the Valley, Peña said: “It may reset expectations for what is typically being done.”

Peña concluded the interview by encouraging local residents to attend the final presentation of the design plans for the Shary project at the CEED, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17.

“We will unveil the vision we have gathered from the community. We want everyone to come out and join us. The team of designers, architects and planners have literally been drawing based on the information we have gathered from the community. Those drawings will be complete enough to show the vision. We think it will be very inspirational to show the community what can be done here.”