San Juan for years was on the periphery of the growth that came to define the McAllen-Pharr-Edinburg metro area. It was a stop of little notice when it came to business, heading east on Expressway 77/83.
The feel began to change in the late aughts, around 2008, when H-E-B left Pharr to build and open one of its superstores in San Juan right along the expressway. It added a buzz of traffic to go with the stream of visitors to the nearby Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle.
In the decade following, expressway frontage in McAllen was largely developed, as it was in Pharr. The look down 77/83 came to San Juan and it’s there where an improbable thing happened. San Juan, a city that for years could barely get north of 10,000 population, became the place where high-end auto dealerships landed.
First it was Mercedes-Benz, then Audi, Land Rover, Acura and, most recently, Lexus. In some cases, the name of the dealership includes “San Juan” in it. They gave the city free marketing on vehicles costing $50,000 and up. Now, retailing and restaurants are coming into the city with the Shops At San Juan recently opening.
“We were long overdue for growth,” said Arturo Guajardo Jr., the chairman of the San Juan Economic Development Corporation board, who is also the Hidalgo County clerk. “Strategically, we’re along the expressway, so the land is there, the traffic is there.”
It certainly is. The automobile traffic at the intersections of Raul Longoria and I roads and the expressway are as hectic as anything in the Valley. The Basilica, which Guajardo said draws over one million visitors yearly, is located near I Road and the expressway. Much of the recent development in San Juan comes in heading east to Raul Longoria with the auto dealerships on both sides of the busy traffic corridor.
“Developers are salivating at what we have available and our location in the Valley,” Guajardo said. “There’s a lot more to come if we can stay focused.”
Staying Focused & Avoiding Division
Guajardo is the son of a former San Juan mayor while also a seasoned politician in his own right as the longtime county clerk. He said the city’s biggest challenge is avoiding the sort of local political discord that he believes drove away development and growth in the past. As a countywide official, he brings a broader perspective to local politics that urges cooperation more than controversy.
“My message here is you need to stop fighting and remain focused,” said Guajardo, who credits local leaders for doing just that over the last four years. “Developers don’t want to see political instability. We need to be smart in offering the right types of incentives that will bring the city more growth.”
Attracting more hotels is one key goal, he said. The Basilica is a huge draw for both tourists and the religious faithful from all over South Texas and Mexico. San Juan is losing many of those visitors who need overnight lodging due to its lack of hotels.
“Nobody else in the Valley has it,” Guajardo said of Basilica. “Getting more hotels is something we’re working on.”
San Juan isn’t on the edge of the McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr growth any longer. It’s now part of it. The revamping of the Pharr Interchange reaches San Juan along with the expressway traffic pile ups and population growth that has likely taken the city past a population mark of 40,000. Added to the mix is the imminent construction of a multistory City Hall will start soon. It will result in a vast upgrade over the modest municipal headquarters of today.
“I think everyone feels good about the direction we’re headed,” Guajardo said. “We need to remain as united as we can moving forward.”