HARLINGEN — What truly makes up the soul of a city is far more than merely numbers.
There are the people and their history, first of all, the abilities of the workforce they provide, their neighborliness and their attitudes about the future they see for themselves and their children.
Most residents of the city would agree Harlingen rates pretty strongly in those categories.
These days, the city is beginning to rate pretty highly on the numbers side, too.
A statistical analysis of the city’s busy construction permitting process over the past two years — both residential and commercial — paints a picture of a municipality which on many fronts appears on the verge of explosive growth.
Residential building permits are up 24 percent over a nine-month period from October-July of 2015-16 compared to the same period in 2016-17.
The construction value of the 134 homes permitted in the earlier time period was a little more than $16 million, for an average value of about $120,000. For 2016-17, the 174 new homes permitted have an estimated value of $21.7 million, or about $124,000 each.
Commercially, there were 17 projects permitted in the previous period, and 14 projects between October and July 2017. The former projects totaled $9.3 million, while the latter came in at $11.9 million.
The value of all permitted construction — new homes, businesses, remodeling, new swimming pools and more — totaled $43.6 million in 2015-16.
In 2016-17, the value of permitted construction was $55.9 million.
“It’s not just residential and commercial permits, it’s all other permits — electrical, plumbing, sewer tap — those permits last year during the same time period were 3,708,” said City Manager Dan Serna. “Now they’re up to 4,856, almost 28 percent higher.”
Serna was interviewed last week about the building permit numbers as well as other numerical markers the city has been posting in order to obtain a better idea of the city’s path forward.
One of those indicators has been Harlingen’s strong performance in sales tax allocations. Each month, the state comptroller allocates sales taxes back to municipalities based on its retail sales, and that amount is a good marker of the health of a city’s retail sector.
Harlingen’s has been very strong.
“Our sales tax numbers for July were up 4.78 percent,” Serna said. “In June it was 7.4-something percent. For the year we’re up 3.3 percent — those are all positive indicators.”
What they indicate, Serna and others believe, is a confirmation in the long-held belief among business and political leaders in Harlingen that as the Valley population fills in, the city’s central location between McAllen and Brownsville — in addition to sitting astride two interstates — will become an even more valuable asset.
Another indicator of the city’s growth is the number of subdivisions which have been approved in the past two years.
In the October-July period in 2015-16, the city approved 14 new subdivisions, both commercial and residential. The total number of lots approved was 166, with eight of them commercial and 158 residential.
From October to July 2016-17, the city approved 10 new subdivisions, but they were considerably larger, consisting of 253 total lots with 10 commercial and 243 residential.
“This does show a lot of growth in our city,” Serna said. “It shows more and more people are coming to Harlingen and building in Harlingen, both residential and commercial.
“When you move to an area, you look for quality of life, especially if you have a young family,” Serna said. “Do they have a good parks system? Do they have a good school system?
“We have all those things,” he said.
Serna took over as city manager on an interim basis two years ago, and last November his role in the position was made permanent.
Yet he has a long and hard-won perspective of the city accumulated during his 28 years in city government.
“In previous years we had growth, but it wasn’t seeing these kinds of trends where it’s just continuing on an upward trend,” he said. “We had great months, and we had months that were not so great.”
Serna cited the recent groundbreaking for the city’s new convention center, as well as news about adjacent development in that area, as further proof of the city’s positive trends.
Serna listed the new Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and the rest of the new development around Stuart Place Road as among the positives for the city, as well as development at Sun Valley Square.
As for older and more established retail entities, Serna said the addition of Bass Pro Shops has been everything city officials had hoped it would be, citing ever-increasing development in the outdoor giant’s shadow.
“I know Bass Pro’s been a great addition to our commercial family,” Serna said. “It has done exactly what we wanted it to do, and that is attract more development to the area.”
The city manager also cited Harlingen’s well-regarded health care industry and hospitals, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District and Valley International Airport as playing big parts in attracting new residents, too.
Serna said he has heard Harlingen will be high on the list for housing for SpaceX employees who will arrive as the space launch company gears up to fire its rockets from Boca Chica Beach.
And, he said, workers with the new LNG export terminals along the gulf are likely to look to buy homes in the affordable Harlingen market.
“These trends indicate more and more people are paying close attention to us,” Serna said.
Robert C. Vackar (Commercial) Tamm Lane and Expressway 83
Colombiana ( Residential) Dilworth and Garrett roads
Oak Ranch Estates (Residential, 76 lots) Garrett Road east of Dilworth
Mesquite Wood (Residential, 43 lots) Louisiana St. and Calle Condesa
Simpson Twins Motel Replat (Commercial) 77 Sunshine Strip and Oklahoma
Sosa Subdivision (Residential) Drury Lane east of Altas Palmas
Cuevas Harlingen (Commercial, 3 lots) I-2 Frontage Road
Cameron Crossing (Commercial, 2 lots) Bass Pro Dr. and Dixieland
Lazy Palms Replat (Residential, 7 lots) N. Bamboo Palm Court
Zoe’s Subdivision (Residential) New Hampshire south of Hale
F&B Subdivision (Residential, 2 lots)) Tamm Lane south of Drury Lane
MV Soto (Residential) Altas Palmas and Drury Lane
Calvary Subdivision (Commercial) Lincoln Ave. east of Palm Court
Replat Lot 44-49 Cottonwood Creek No. 1 (Residential, 3 lots) Willow Circle
Thomas Painter (Residential, 2 lots) Austin Ave. and 6th St.
Mesquite Wood Ph 1 (Residential, 21 lots) Tree Top Ct. and Louisiana St.
Total: 166 lots — Eight commercial, 158 residen-tial
Cheddars Stuart Place (Commercial, 2 lots) I-2 at Stuart Place Rd.
Lot 8, Harlingen Corners (Commercial) N. side of Lincoln west of Dixie-land
Reyna Heights (Commercial, 3 lots) Harlingen Heights and Horizon Dr.
Escondido Ph 2-2 (Residential, 97 lots) Grimes east of Loop 499
Kings Village (Residential, 47 lots) Garrett Rd. west of Dixieland
Adams Crossing Ph 4-5 (Residential, 82 lots) Vinson east of 13th St.
Texas Regional Bank (Commercial) I-2 at Stuart Place Rd.
Oak Ranch Ph 1 (Residential, 15 lots) Garrett Road west of Dilworth
1st Class Residences (Residential, 2 lots) Loop 499 and Grimes
Tru Fit Harlingen Sub (Commercial, 3 lots) Ed Carey south of Glasscock
Total: 253 lots — 10 commercial, 243 residential