Brownsville needed to send out a different kind of message that fit with the times of a city that sees itself as the state’s new space city.
City leaders wanted to accelerate the process of getting business prospects through the grind of meeting building codes and ordinances. Every city has those measures in place, but it doesn’t mean they have to be overly cumbersome in the process of getting a business built and opened.
“We needed to revamp building codes and ordinances,” said Constanza Miner, the retail and development manager for the city of Brownsville. “There was also a need to realign the zoning map.”
The upshot, Miner reported, is that Brownsville has become more business friendly.
Making Things Happen
Real change has come from the wonky talk and technical jargon.
Miner is moving from directing the city’s planning department to a newly created position serving as a liaison to business prospects inquiring about locating in Brownsville. She has utilized her knowledge of the city’s codes and regulations in helping guide businesses through the local process. If there are delays or questions, Miner is there to help a business prospect move through the permitting process.
“We wanted to show that Brownsville is open to business,” she said. “Our leadership saw an opportunity to go out and attract a lot of the things we were missing.”
The message appears to have been received with the new approach bringing results.
Main Place has announced it will develop and occupy the vacant Sears space at Sunrise Mall. The company is converting it into one of its high-energy entertainment and dining centers that caters to families. Doctors Hospital is expanding from the McAllen/Edinburg area. It will open a major facility along Alton Gloor Boulevard, joining numerous health care centers in north Brownsville.
Hobby Lobby recently opened a new store at an old KMart site on retail-and-restaurant heavy Pablo Kisel Boulevard. The city had been trying for years to attract that retailer to the Brownsville market. In the educational field, Jubilee Academy will build a major campus near the intersection of Ruben Torres/FM 802 and Paredes Line Road. It is the latest charter school entry to the city.
“We’re getting more people looking to Brownsville to expand their operations,” Miner said.
No story about recent growth in Brownsville is complete without mentioning what’s happening in downtown Brownsville.
The Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation is using a grant program to provide financial support to commercial business owners and tenants looking to make improvements to their properties. The BIG Grant 2.0 Program recently received a huge boost with an over $1-million donation from SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He has spoken of developing downtown Brownsville in tandem with his rocket building site at Boca Chica Beach.
Another key piece of downtown revitalization emerged in late July. The long-awaited renovation of the vacant El Jardin Hotel will finally materialize. A subsidiary of the city’s housing authority announced it had secured a tax credit from the state. When combined with a private $14-million interim construction loan, it will turn the 1920s-era, eight-story hotel into an affordable housing facility for 44 families.
Taken all together, it demonstrates that Brownsville is leveraging its historical inner core into new economic opportunities while new retailing, housing, and apartment developments spread northward in what Miner refers to as green fields of open space.
“This is really going to be a very different place,” she said of a changing Brownsville. “There’s many different gears moving forward in Brownsville.”