HARLINGEN — Lon C. Hill Park is now set for a multimillion-dollar transformation.
For about three years, city leaders have been planning to turn the park into the area’s first destination park, featuring everything from concerts and sporting events to pavilions and walking trails.
Last week, city commissioners met with members of the Harlingen Community Improvement Board to award a $3.3 million contract to Peacock Construction, the lowest bidder, for development of the project’s first phase.
Amid discussion, officials boosted the first phase’s $3.1 million price tag to build a $225,300 parking lot.
The Community Improvement Board, with a current fund balance of $4.1 million, will fund about $2.6 million to lay the foundation of the proposed super park carrying an estimated overall cost of about $8.5 million.
Meanwhile, a $1 million Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant will also help fund the project’s first phase.
The first phase will include a $554,545 central plaza, a $279,025 entry court and $587,957 worth of walkways along with two pavilions, a gazebo, water jets and restrooms.
“It’s a park with many features,” City Manager Dan Serna said after the meeting. “It’s going to be a very unique and special attraction in Harlingen.”
Serna described the park as a premier outdoor entertainment venue designed to draw families while luring tourist dollars to town.
“It’s going to have something for every age group and folks with limitations,” he said. “I don’t know of any park in the area that’s going to have the water features and layout we’re working on.”
Serna said the project will connect the park to the new Harlingen Convention Center in the Harlingen Heights business district.
“It enhances the convention center,” he said. “If I’m coming to the convention center, I want to know what I can do with my family. You have folks staying at the hotels who can walk to the park.”
Officials are also counting on the park to help drive sales tax revenue, drawing out-of-town visitors who’ll dine at local restaurants and shop in town.
Project’s proposed phases
During the past two years, officials have trimmed the proposed project’s overall costs while pushing back construction timetables.
Now, construction of the park’s first phase, to begin within 60 days, is expected to be completed by fall 2020, Serna said.
Meanwhile, officials have not set construction timetables for as many as four phases originally planned to build up the proposed $8.5 million super park.
“Much of that depends on funding availability,” Serna said. “We’re going to look at this project as it develops and make additions as it moves on.”
The project’s proposed phases would include features such as an amphitheater, athletic courts, an adaptive field aimed at special needs children, a children’s discovery center and a dog park.
As part of the project’s fifth phase, officials have proposed construction of a $1.2 million retractable roof to cover Harlingen Field.
Original project downscaled
The plan to develop a destination park ranks among the top priorities in the city’s new 10-year comprehensive plan.
But by 2017, officials were downscaling the project originally carrying a $12.9 million price tag.
First, Commissioner Michael Mezmar cast the lone dissenting vote aimed at approving the publication of a notice of intent to issue $3.8 million worth of certificates of obligation to borrow money to fund the park’s first phase.
At the time, Mezmar said he didn’t want to borrow money to fund what he described as “park improvements.”
Two months later, then-Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn told officials he had received phone calls asking him not to “borrow money to build a park.”
Uhlhorn added he didn’t want to squeeze the Community Improvement Board’s budget, fueled by an eighth-cent sales tax earmarked to fund so-called quality of life projects, including the new $16.7 million convention center.
Amid concerns, officials began planning to use cash to fund the project on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.
Earlier this year, Mayor Chris Boswell said officials planned to fund the project “one step at a time.”
Last month, former Commissioner Robert Leftwich, while speaking out against a recently approved 4-cent property tax rate increase, told commissioners they could use money earmarked for the destination park’s first phase to fund drainage projects.
What’s in the plan?
• Entry court — $279,025
• Center plaza — $554,545
• Walkways — $587,957