San Benito downtown revitalization program takes first steps

SAN BENITO — Ric Madrigal wants to do his part to help revive the long rows of empty storefronts marring historic buildings in the city’s downtown. So he bought a building from his mother Dulce Madrigal at 102 and 104 Sam Houston Boulevard.

“It’s a big challenge,” said Madrigal, whose family owns an insurance company. “I want to do my part. Hopefully, other owners can do that.”

Madrigal’s purchase comes as the city launches a project aimed at revitalizing the downtown, once the commercial hub of northern Cameron County.

“I want to see what we can do to revitalize it,” he said. “We’re looking to bring up the property and make it look nice. I don’t want my property to hold San Benito back.”

This past week, Madrigal was among the residents who packed San Benito’s Chamber of Commerce to help plan the first steps of the city’s revitalization project.

“We need to put one foot in front of the other and do something,” Lynne Pare, president of Keep San Benito Beautiful, said at Thursday’s meeting.

Bernard Rodriguez, the city’s new downtown coordinator, called the meeting to “organize” property owners, merchants and community leaders.

“I see a lot of enthusiasm,” Rodriguez told the group. “I think this is a very good start. It’s all about people coming together and working together. It’s going to take everyone to make this work. Right now, we’re putting together the tools that will take downtown to the next level.”

Rodriguez pointed to new programs aimed at drawing new business to the downtown area.

“We’re investing in business,” Rodriguez said. “We want more business and we want to help the businesses here.”

A new program will offer grants of up to $10,000 to match downtown property owners’ investments aimed at improving their storefronts.

“There are beautiful buildings here,” Rodriguez said. “If you bring these buildings back, the historical value is tremendous.”

Another new program offers subsidized rents for as long as six months.

From the audience, community leader Mike Frazier called on the city to revive its historic preservation board to help protect the historic buildings dating to the 1930s.

Rodriguez also said he is considering working with the Texas Department of Transportation to spruce up landscaping in the downtown area.

Parking improvements are also planned, he said.

Rodriguez plans to link the winding resaca to the downtown area.

“The resaca can be used and we can enhance it,” he said.

Now the new home of annual kayak races, the city could rent kayaks at Heavin Resaca Park, Rodriguez said.

“These are ideas, but that’s how it starts,” he said.

Rodriguez said the city’s museum will help draw tourists to the area.

Since 2008, the city’s Community Building has been home to the Freddy Fender Museum, the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum and the San Benito History Museum.

Now, the city has launched a $1.7 million project to build a 6,932-square-foot museum complex off Heywood Street on 2.18 acres at San Benito Plaza, near the Community Building and the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center.

The city expects construction to be complete in early September.

“That’s your heritage,” Rodriguez said. “That’s where you get tourism.”

What is included in the downtown revitalization program?

• Economic Development Department grants of up to $10,000

• Grants to fund painting, signage improvements, renovations

• Program requires matching funds

• Subsidized rents for as long as six months