SAN BENITO — For decades, it was a dream.
Now, development is finally coming to the banks of the resaca.
Early this month, Varco Real Estate is expected to launch a multimillion-dollar project to build a boardwalk featuring restaurants and retail shops on the resaca off Business 77.
As part of the two-phase project, developer Carlos Varela is planning a commercial development of as many as 80,000 square feet along a nearly 10-acre site across from the Heavin Resaca Trail.
Today, the Brownsville-based developer is expected to present city officials with engineering plans for the $5 million to $7 million project to build the retail plaza and waterfront boardwalk, said Benito De Leon, superintendent of OrigoWorks, Varco’s design and construction firm, which is building much of Stuart Place Crossing in Harlingen.
“It shows exactly what we’re doing underground as far as sewer and water,” De Leon said.
After city officials review the plans, construction will start, he said.
“We are allowing the city about a week to look at our plans,” De Leon said.
Rebeca Castillo, executive director of the San Benito Economic Development Corporation, said the area’s first resaca-side development “definitely puts San Benito on the map.”
“It’s a game-changer in terms of San Benito moving forward and creating business opportunities,” Castillo said.
For decades, city leaders have dreamed of developing commercial property along the resaca.
“This opens the way to create this kind of setup along the water,” Castillo said. “For the Resaca City, it definitely makes sense.”
Under the lease agreement, Varco will pay the city 10 percent of the property’s annual assessed value.
Castillo said construction is expected to start March 11.
But De Leon said construction might even begin earlier.
“You’ll see a lot of work — utility work,” De Leon said. “We’re going to start clearing the site — start grating. We’ll start by excavating dirt, bringing in back fill and leveling.”
The project’s first phase is expected to be completed within about seven months, De Leon said.
“One reason they’re splitting up the whole project is because it’s 70,000 to 80,000 square feet,” he said. “It’s not a good image to have half your project filled. So you build the first phase, fill it and do the second phase.”
Architect Javier Huerta, the project’s designer, has experience in waterfront developments, De Leon said.
“He is a very gifted young man when it comes to that,” he said.
De Leon said the first phase will include a building housing a branch of Texas Regional Bank, of which Varela is a director, as well as a retail plaza and a resaca-side development.
The plaza will include eight to 10 spaces for retail shops that could include Russo’s New York Pizzeria, Tropical Smoothie Café and Orangetheory Fitness, De Leon said.
In Harlingen and Brownsville, Varco’s developments also feature some of these businesses.
Meanwhile, the waterfront boardwalk will feature four or five pads for restaurants and retail shops, he said.
“Those will all be free-standing,” De Leon said. “It will have a deck where people can sit and look at the resaca.”
De Leon said he did not have a timetable for the project’s second phase.
The second phase will include one or two buildings offering retail and office space, a retail strip center and four or five pads along the boardwalk, he said.
“It’s definitely significant and impactful in terms of economic development and vitality for San Benito,” Castillo said.
The project site stands across the resaca from the North Shore subdivision, where some neighbors welcome the development while others are concerned waterfront restaurants could ruffle some of their peace and quiet.
Since 2003, Varco has developed real estate property, with projects in Texas, Arizona and Mexico.
Varela, a partner in the real estate firm as well as in OrigoWorks, a design-build architectural firm, is also director of IBEX Business Solutions.
From 2005 through June, he had served as a partner and director with Pronto Insurance, with more than 100 locations in Texas.
How we got here
In 2013, the city’s EDC used $900,000 from a $1.2 million federal grant to buy the 9.8-acre property planned as the site of a so-called resaca boardwalk featuring shops and restaurants near a museum complex.
Later, the city scrapped the project after officials determined a previous grant stipulated the proposed museum, to house the San Benito History Museum, the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum and the Freddy Fender Museum, be built off Heywood Street.