The city of San Benito is using specially crafted legislation that allows for the use of hotel/motel tax funds to develop a nearly 40-acre project of retail, restaurants and medical facilities near the corner of Paso Real Highway and Expressway 77.
City officials and Western Spherical Developers broke ground on Oct. 23 for what people are calling the Rio Grande Valley Epicenter. It would arguably be San Benito’s most significant business development in city history – if it proves to be successful. It is coming into being with considerable financial assistance from the city to the developers. The city will use municipal hotel occupancy funds as incentives to help pay down development costs for projects like the proposed Epicenter.
Other area cities, such as Harlingen, have used creative means to help subsidize private sector development costs. The rationale is public investments will lead to new jobs and growth that may otherwise not happen. In San Benito’s case, it worked for several months with area state legislators to devise a bill grooved for San Benito’s use that would permit the city to use its hotel/motel tax revenues for development purposes.
The bill was threaded through the legislature, gaining assurances from Gov. Greg Abbott that he would not block the bill despite his reservations about such tailored tax bills. The legislation then became law without Abbott’s signature, going into effect on Sept. 1.
Dirt has yet to fly on San Benito’s Epicenter, but city leaders are already hailing the development’s significance.
“This project is a game changer for our economy,” Mayor Ben Gomez said.
San Benito hopes the project will bring a hotel, convention center, restaurants and new retailing to the city.
To this point, San Benito has largely been left out of the sort of rapid development seen in neighboring cities. The recent opening of Resaca Village on Business 77 has brought a spark of what’s possible. It was built on the banks of the large resaca that winds through San Benito. Just across the street is the popular Heavin Park and its water-lined hike-and-bike trails.
New restaurants and a bank have so far opened or promise to do so with coming soon signage. It gives the city hope that more could be on the way to Resaca Village. The Epicenter would far exceed the resaca project if it comes to fruition. Its developer promises that it will.
“The construction, development and operation of RGV Epicenter will create approximately 319 full-time construction jobs, and 758 direct and indirect full-time jobs during the construction phase,” said David Mills, the manager of Western Spherical, which is based in the Houston area.
Mills promised that once a hotel and convention center are in place, San Benito will see the creation of an additional 1,013 direct and indirect jobs. For that to happen, the developer and the city will have to convince enough retailers, restaurants and health care facilities that San Benito with its high traffic count on the Expressway and Paso Real can be another Valley hot spot like Spur 54 in Harlingen or in the Gloor Road area of north Brownsville.
Commitments Coming In
Both Waypoint and Space 2 offer educational experiences tied to commercial aerospace and flight simulation. Waypoint is dedicated to training personnel for commercial space initiatives. Space 2 is a venue that offers simulations on what it’s like to fly in a weightless environment.
Crystal Lagoon uses technology to simulate beach-like lagoons. It’s a multi-acre site that will be family friendly, offering a clean option for water activities as well as dining and special events.
A convention center with at least one adjoining hotel would compete for business with a similar Harlingen setup just off Spur 54. City officials are undeterred, however, in seeing the possibilities that Epicenter could bring San Benito.
“The agreement (with Western Spherical) … will facilitate financial mechanisms to bring about a variety of retail, sporting, dining, lodging, entertainment and educational facilities to San Benito,” said City Commissioners Rene Villafranco.