Coming Soon: Harlingen breaks ground on convention center

HARLINGEN — After 10 years of planning, the city is ready to launch construction of the $16.7 million convention center.

It will take a year to complete.

Nearby, developers are ready to build a strip mall and restaurant.

That will be ready by next year.

Yesterday morning, city leaders and their partners came together to celebrate the city’s future growth.

As part of an agreement, the city will fund construction of the 44,436-square-foot convention center while San Antonio-based BC Lynd Hospitality builds an attached 150-room Hilton Garden Inn on eight acres at the corner of Brazil Road and Teege Avenue.

“This facility will bring us to the new level,” Mayor Chris Boswell said before he and city leaders grabbed shovels to scoop dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony.

The convention center is sparking development in the fast-growing Harlingen Heights business district, Ezequiel Reyna, a Weslaco developer, said in an interview.

Reyna, who sold the city the eight-acre construction site for $2.7 million, said the McAllen-based Jose Chapa family will build a strip center featuring 10 to 12 stores cattycorner to Sam’s Wholesale Club while a restaurant and retail store is planned south of there.

“I think this project will explode activity in Harlingen,” Jesse Robles, chairman of the Harlingen Community Improvement Board, said before the audience.

In about two weeks, the city is expected to start construction on the convention center, City Manager Dan Serna said.

“This has been a project a long time coming and we’re happy to be on the verge of construction,” Serna said.

He said construction is expected to be completed in September 2018.

“This is just the start of new development,” he said.

Boswell has made the convention center, one of Harlingen’s biggest projects in decades, one of his administration’s signature achievements.

“Every 50 years the city of Harlingen should build a new building,” he said with a chuckle.

Under a hot morning sun, Boswell traced the project’s roots to his Harlingen 100 brainstorming sessions 10 years ago, when residents selected the convention center as a project they wanted the city to tackle.

Then in 2008, the city conducted a feasibility study, Boswell said.

But as a result of the national recession that followed 2008, the city put the project on hold, Boswell said.

Five years ago, he said, the city jump-started it.

Boswell said a search led to the city’s partnership with Reyna and BC Lynd.

Before leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley, Boswell said the convention center will pump tourist dollars into the city.

“It will bring a lot of people to stay in the hotel and spend their money in our community,” he said.

Boswell said the convention center will also serve as a hub for community events.

“It will be a great venue for our community, for citizens who want to come to see exhibits and displays and use for quinceaneras and weddings, for businesses to hold meetings,” he said.

Boswell also outlined the project’s funding sources.

As part of a finance plan, the city will use $9.7 million generated through the Harlingen Community Improvement Board’s sales tax and $3.8 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue to pay off the debt.

The city also will use $1.96 million from property tax revenue generated through Harlingen’s three tax increment financing reinvestment zones.

As part of the agreement, BC Lynd will operate the convention center.

Brandon Rainey, BC Lynd’s chief executive officer, called the convention center “a catalyst for economic development.”

“We’re very excited and honored to be part of this process,” Rainey said. “Truly, it’s a fantastic facility that all should be proud of.”