San Benito proposes district for ‘cultural tourists’

SAN BENITO — For decades, San Benito has billed itself as the Resaca City and the birthplace of conjunto music.

Now, the city is drafting a plan aimed at turning it into a tourist destination.

At City Hall, officials are proposing establishing a “cultural district” with a focus on the city’s heritage and musical history.

Earlier this week, Luis Contreras, the city’s museum coordinator, said the district would include the coming San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum, the Community Center and the San Benito Cultural Arts Center to be housed in the old public library building that was leased to the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center.

“We want to be a destination city,” City Manager Manuel De La Rosa told city commissioners in a budget workshop Tuesday. “We’re transforming and we’re going through an evolution.”

In a presentation, Contreras said the plan focuses on the future facility that will house the Freddy Fender Museum, the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum and the San Benito History Museum. The museum’s building is expected to be completed next month.

Contreras also said the plan includes the city’s Community Center, or Community Building, which has housed the three museums since they opened in 2008, and the old library building which has housed the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center for about 22 years.

What’s the plan?

In a PowerPoint presentation, the three museums and the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center were described as “contributing organizations.”

Contreras said the district would help the city attract “more cultural tourists.”

“Cultural districts become the center of cultural dissemination across the city, allowing the city to brand itself as creative and cultured in order to promote tourism, attract new residents and encourage new businesses,” Contreras said as he guided commissioners through his presentation.

“Thoroughly-planned cultural districts are proven to be an excellent economic development tool for cities and set the foundation for rejuvenation efforts to repurpose vacant buildings, improve neighborhoods and enhance property values,” he said.

Future of Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center

The fate of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center appears to hang in limbo.

For 20 years, the arts center leased the old library building for $1 a year.

Two years ago, the center’s lease on the city-owned building expired.

Meanwhile, last week, Rogelio Nuñez, the arts center’s founder, told city commissioners he would cancel the three-day Conjunto Festival if the city did not reduce the $17,365 in fees it was charging to hold the center’s annual music event in October.

The city had planned to continue negotiations with Nuñez last Friday, city spokeswoman Martha McClain said.

But early that morning, Nuñez told the city he had canceled the three-day festival he launched 25 years ago.

Nuñez said an ordinance states the city charges $200 for use of San Benito Plaza, where the arts center has held its festival for years.

But this year, the city added fees that had previously not been charged.

The city increased the fees to help cover costs associated with the event, including assigning police officers to oversee security.

Fee structure

“Waiving fees has been a practice of the city for many years,” McClain stated yesterday.

“Today, we are working to stop that practice, comply with the law and still support the institutions that our community loves,” De La Rosa stated.

“We were in negotiations with the Narciso Center when its representative chose to end the process,” De La Rosa stated.

The city had informed the arts center it was reducing its fees to $7,000, Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said last week.

“We are not opposed to the festival,” De La Rosa stated yesterday. “It is a true treasure of this city.”

In the press statement, the city tried to explain its decision to charge fees to cover the festival’s expenses.

“Many people are unaware that state statutes prohibit the city from giving away public funds and use of public lands and facilities for an organization’s or individual’s personal gain, regardless of how honorable the cause,” De La Rosa stated.

“It is important to realize that when we fail to impose the fee schedule we are denying every citizen additional funds in our budget where we can eventually provide improvements that include streets, swimming pools and infrastructure.”

Past practice over

“For the past decade or so, officials, both elected and appointed, have neglected to enforce those ordinances. But that is history. We want to look ahead and make improvements that will benefit the entire city, not a few, from tomorrow well into the future.”

“Our elected and appointed officials of the city of San Benito believe strongly that it is time to make the difficult decisions to operate the city in a businesslike manner, discontinue past questionable practices of business and move forward with real transparency and honor.”

Rodriguez has described the festival as a popular economic driver.

For 25 years, the Rio Grande Valley’s only conjunto festival has drawn as many as 6,000 fans a year, making it one of San Benito’s biggest events.