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Federal grant funds expansion, resaca boardwalk

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Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 11:00 pm

SAN BENITO — The city had already finalized a land purchase Monday, ahead of an official announcement on Friday of a federal grant for a museum complex and a resaca-side boardwalk expected to draw businesses.

The Economic Development Corporation was notified in late September that it would receive the grant, but delayed the announcement, EDC Executive Director Salomon Torres said.

Officials said the city spent $990,000 of a $1.2 million grant to buy resaca-side land for a museum project and a boardwalk that it expects will include restaurants, retail shops and offices.

Mayor Joe Hernandez said the grant announcement was delayed until Friday so the city’s announcement could include U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Pedro Garza, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The 9.8-acre property is located off Business 77, across from Heavin Memorial Park, at the site of the former Guinzy’s Resaca Motel and Restaurant, Torres said. The EDC completed the sale with Dallas-based PlainsCapital Corp. on Monday.

The land was originally offered for sale last year for $1.8 million, Torres said.

“I have a long-standing commitment to the arts,” Garza told the crowd of community leaders who gathered along the banks of the resaca. “I’m in a position with the EDA to make dreams into reality. This is going to be a fabulous game-changer. This is going to be tremendous.”

The EDC will use the $210,000 balance of the grant with $300,000 in matching EDC funds to install utilities and connect the area to Freddy Fender Lane, Torres said.

Two McAllen-based restaurant chains are expected to open restaurants, with construction to begin next summer.

“Imagine several restaurants along the water and imagine unique retail businesses,” EDC President Pete Claudio said of the boardwalk project.

Vela hailed the area’s cultural legacy as a vibrant part of America’s distinct history.

“I share your idea that a commitment to culture and economic vitality is critical to our communities,” Vela said.

Ana Maria Garcia, an aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, released a statement in which Cornyn, who did not attend the ceremony, said “efforts to enhance the San Benito community serve as an example for the state of Texas.”

“Not only will this project serve to enhance economic growth in the community, it will also promote greater cultural and artistic opportunities for South Texans,” Cornyn’s statement said.

Officials will use money from a 2012 $1 million EDA grant and 2007 certificates of obligation to fund construction of a $1.8 million complex where the city’s three museums will be located, Claudio said.

Plans include a 6,000-square-foot to 8,000-square-foot complex for the San Benito History Museum, the Freddy Fender Museum and the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum, Torres said.

Since 2007, the museums have shared cramped quarters at the city Community Building on Heywood Street.

“We always dreamed about having a museum,” Tootie Madden, president of the San Benito Historical Society, told the crowd. “We have been patient, waiting for a prime spot … where our history and culture can be showcased.”

The museum will feature artifacts that include three steel record presses that Ideal Records, which once made San Benito the capital of the conjunto recording industry, used to print many of conjunto’s classics, said Rey Avila, founder of the Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum.

“This is a historic moment for San Benito and the Valley,” Avila said.

Avila said retired businessman Lionel Betancourt, who attended Friday’s announcement that included conjunto legend Gilberto Perez, donated the record presses along with other artifacts.

“We are the only museum in the world that is dedicated to preserving this unique genre of American music that was born right here in Deep South Texas,” Patricia Avila, Rey Avila’s daughter, told the crowd. “Visitors to our museum will have an opportunity to listen to the sound of conjunto music. They will be able to read a brief history of the lives of our conjunto pioneers and see in display the accordions of Narciso Martinez, Pedro Ayala, Mario Montes, Ricardo Guzman and Gilberto Perez.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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