UTRGV moving forward with Weslaco business incubator

WESLACO — A project one-year-in the making is moving forward as the University of Texas Board of Regents gave the green light for UT- Rio Grande Valley to lease space in the upcoming business incubator in Weslaco.

The partnership between the City of Weslaco, its Economic Development Corporation and UTRGV were announced last year, as well as plans to develop a mix-use incubator aimed at promoting education, entrepreneurship and economic development.

“That relationship is going very well and it gives us a footprint in the middle of the Valley,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said. “Also, it’s a service that our college of business can perform for businesses across the Valley.”

The three entities signed a memorandum of understanding in January and the EDC committed nearly $986,326 out of its own budget for the development of a 16,225-square-foot building located at 275 S. Kansas Avenue for the incubator.

The total cost for the facility right now is at about $2.4 million, and the rest is being funded through a financial assistance award of $1.4 million by the United States Economic Development Agency, which was received in July 2016, Weslaco EDC Executive Director Marie McDermott said.

“It’s the best thing to have, education for the community and education for the community,” she said. “Weslaco will be home to UTRGV and it can only mean betterment for the community.“

Initial designs show a plan to have four classrooms, an incubator space and a shared area, which would be mainly used by the UTRGV College of Business and Entrepreneurship to expand the Center for Innovation and Commercialization.

The center focuses on helping aspiring and current business owners start or grow their business by way of education and provides services such as community work stations, receptionists, and semi-private office spaces.

Now that the UT Regents approved the lease, she said they will further negotiate the price, which is still not final. But the regents approved it as long as it is fair market value.

Rick Anderson, Executive Vice President of Finance at UTRGV, said this type of space ranges from $10 to $25 per square foot, but the final price will depend on what will be included with the space, like furniture or any other fixtures.

“It will most likely be a long-term partnership,” Anderson said. “We’ll be looking at a minimum of 10 years and at least in the initial lease documents we have the ability to be there 20 years.”

After the initial 10-year lease, the university will have the option to renew it for two five-year terms, he explained.

Right now the project is in the design phase, he said, and is almost moving toward development.

The lease is expected to be negotiated in the upcoming weeks, and according to McDermott the project will go out for bids as soon as the development phase is complete and gets the green light from the EDA; no exact timeframe was provided.

Ideally the building would be completed by the end of this year, she said, if all goes according to plan.

“The best way to think about it is that that (ideally) it would open its doors by December or January 2017. That’s our goal,” she said.