The historic, Spanish-architecturally inspired Villa de Cortez, built in 1928 in downtown Weslaco, was the perfect venue for “The Future of Downtown” dinner Aug. 30 hosted by BUILDrgv (Building Urban & Innovative Land Development in the Rio Grande Valley), an organization who hopes to spark a conversation about how to engage with your downtown.
“These events are to bring people together,” says Pedro Ayala, the evening’s host, founder and chief visionary executive of BUILDrgv and associate with Alvarado Architects & Associates in Donna. He talked about how creative architecture takes a lot of work.
“It takes a village. It takes a community. We’re very engaged and involved with our downtown resources. We want to look at ways to repurpose our old buildings, not tear them down,” he said. “The future of downtown is building a walkable community, close knit, so people can walk and meet each other”.
In Weslaco, tradition seems to be a theme in town. Some, if not most, of the businesses have been around for 65-80 years, passing down from generation to generation.
Weslaco EDC Director Steven Valdez opened the event by explaining how business is driven by traffic.
“Every community is growing along the expressway, but it’s the downtown communities that are struggling,” he said.
He then went on to showcase slides highlighting some of what Weslaco currently has to offer. There are handmade boots, western wear, boutique cupcakes, tattoo shops, a dance studio, a barbershop, painting studios, galleries and of course, the museum. Just this year an impressive addition is the CIC (Center for Innovation and Commercialization) a program of UTRGV’s School of Business & Entrepreneurship, which will serve as the Valley’s entrepreneurial hub.
“I admit, we’ve got a lot to learn, but I know we’re on the verge of hitting it big,” said Valdez excitedly. “Two buildings, priced to sell, just waiting for investors. We’ve got plenty of space for you.”
The evening also featured two keynote speakers: Samantha Armbruster, a Main Street Program manager in San Marcos, Texas, and Kelsey Huckaby, an artist and founder of KHuck Productions based in San Marcos. These two young women gave enlightening presentations on how to grow, develop and revitalize our downtowns.
Armbruster honestly shared how it’s “so important to find people with passion to get involved. People who care. It’s the most important piece of it all.” The takeaway is that with public support and public funds, the ball starts rolling to pave the way for private investors.
“Private investment follows public investment. When things are happening downtown, that’s where people want to be,” shared Armbruster. “People want to go where people are. A place where everyone can come”.
Huckaby recently opened an art studio to both promote local arts and host events.
“When you create a destination, it’s really beneficial to the city, as it becomes a gathering point,” she stated. “Art brings people together. It’s the spirit of the city.”