San Benito offers $50k for downtown refresh

SAN BENITO — In its 1940s heyday, Sam Houston Boulevard’s tall brick buildings bustled as the northern Cameron County’s commercial center.

But after decades of neglect, today rows of empty storefronts mar the historic buildings’ hidden grandeur.

Now, the city plans a revitalization project to spur business growth along the downtown area.

Last night, city commissioners launched a program aimed at sprucing up downtown shops while helping to fill the vacant buildings.

“We’re going to try to facelift the downtown area,” Commissioner Rene Villafranco told the small audience at the meeting.

The city wants to “invest” in the downtown’s future, Bernard Rodriguez, the city’s planning director and downtown coordinator, said earlier this week.

To bankroll the program, commissioners approved $50,000 in Economic Development Corporation money to fund two types of grants.

As part of the program, the city will offer grants of up to $10,000 to downtown property owners who plan to use the money to spruce up their shop’s facades.

Under the program, the city will require property owners to match the grants’ amounts.

Another program will offer grants to help start-up businesses move into the downtown area.

The program will offer grants of up to $5,000 or the equivalent of six months’ rent, whichever is less, to entrepreneurs who move into downtown shops.

The program aims to help budding entrepreneurs offset start-up business costs, Rodriguez said.

To qualify for the grants, he said, the city will require participants to enter into minimum two-year leases.

The city will also require participants to work with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley to develop business plans to help their businesses “succeed,” Rodriguez said.