City to open center today

Developer to break ground on hotel

HARLINGEN — The big day is finally here.

After years of planning and about 18 months of construction, the $16.7 million Harlingen Convention Center officially opens today.

Mayor Chris Boswell will speak at a 9:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring tours of the 44,000-square-foot building.

At the event, BC Lynd Hospitality is expected to launch construction of its $25 million Hilton Garden Inn, to be attached to the convention center.

“We’re excited the convention center is open for business and really looking forward to the community coming out and visiting the convention center so they can get an idea of its capabilities and spread the word,” Boswell said yesterday. “It’s important for the community to support the venue.”

From 6 to 8 p.m. tonight, BC Lynd, which will operate the convention center, will hold an open house simulating events in the building’s ballroom and meeting rooms.

“They want to showcase the building in different configurations so that folks can see what the building can look like for different events,” City Manager Dan Serna said.

The events are free to the public.

“We invite the citizens to see our convention center,” Serna said. “We are very proud of it. It’s a place where memories are going to be created through many events. It’s going to serve our citizens well for many years into the future.”

The convention center’s grand opening comes about six months later than expected.

When the project broke ground in August 2017, officials thought construction would be completed by last September.

But months of delays bogged down construction crews.

Despite the delay, contractor Killian Construction offered a “guaranteed maximum price” of $16.7 million, officials have said.

Meanwhile, BC Lynd’s hotel project is more than 18 months behind schedule.

Today’s events mark the second time Boswell takes the building’s stage.

On March 29, the city opened the main ballroom to hold Boswell’s annual State of the City address before an audience of about 500 visitors.

Since then, Valley Grande Institute, a Weslaco-based vocational school, has held its graduation there and a church group has held Sunday events, Jeff Hamlin, the convention center’s operations manager, said.

Meanwhile, he said, organizations have been booking the facility.

“They’re pretty booked up,” city spokeswoman Irma Garza said. “They’re showing the place several times a day.”

Tonight, BC Lynd is counting on piquing residents’ interest to draw more events.

During its open house, BC Lynd will divide the ballroom into six partitions, featuring simulated events including a wedding reception, a quinceañera, a party, a prom and a cocktail reception, Garza said.

Garza said three meeting rooms will also feature simulated events.

As far back as 1964, city leaders dreamed of building a convention center, Boswell told the audience at the venue’s debut March 29.

After years of planning, commissioners selected BC Lynd as the city’s partner in the project in late 2015.

As part of a contract, the city agreed to fund the convention center’s construction while the San Antonio-based developer builds the attached 149-room, five-story Hilton Garden Inn.

Under the agreement, BC Lynd will also operate the convention center while splitting any profits and covering half of any deficits.

Original plans called for construction of the convention center and hotel to begin at about the same time.

However, BC Lynd searched for the “right” financing for about 18 months, Brandon Raney, BC Lynd’s chief financial officer, said last November.

A consultant’s study found the hotel would help the convention center draw more events.

In a Feb. 19 letter to Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez, HVS Managing Director Thomas Hazinski stated the hotel would help boost the convention center’s revenues.

“The mix of business that can be generated by an independent facility is limited when compared to a facility that can offer the benefits of an attached hotel,” Hazinski wrote. “The operator will initially focus on generating events that do not require an adjacent hotel. Once the (hotel) opens in the first quarter of 2020, the hotel will be able to generate events that require an adjacent hotel.”

If You Go

What: Harlingen Convention Center

When: 9:30 a.m. today

Where: 701 Harlingen Heights Drive

Why: Grand opening