Harlingen to launch destination ‘super park’

The City of Harlingen held a Ground Breaking Ceremony yesterday for Phase I of the Lon C. Hill Destination Park.

HARLINGEN — By next year, a tall, arched gateway is expected to open into a multimillion-dollar super park featuring game courts, an amphitheater and a sports field.

For about three years, city commissioners have planned to turn Lon C. Hill Park into the area’s first destination park, billed as a premier outdoor entertainment venue expected to draw tourist dollars to town.

City leaders broke ground this past week on the park’s $3.3 million first phase expected to pave the way for a super park with a price tag of as much as $8 million.

“This is going to be a great addition to our community,” Mayor Chris Boswell told a small crowd as he stood at the future site of the $279,025 entry court to feature a sprawling archway looming over stone columns.

Boswell said the park will offer residents a venue to help them live healthier lives in the region plagued with high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“When we talk about building a new park, we’re doing something that’s a necessity for our community to make it healthier and more active,” Boswell said during Tuesday’s ceremony. “These improvements will do that. We’re so proud of our parks system.”

Jesse Robles, chairman of the Harlingen Community Improvement Board, said board members funded the project to give residents a family entertainment venue planned as a tourist draw.

“Our responsibility is to focus on quality of life for our city and economic development,” Robles said, referring to the agency’s use of a one-eighth-cent sales tax earmarked to fund so-called quality-of-life projects.

“It’s always a bonus to do quality of life projects with an economic development component,” he told the crowd. “This will be an opportunity for people visiting to see the quality of life Harlingen has to offer.”

The Community Improvement Board, with a current fund balance of about $4.1 million, is paying about $2.6 million to lay the super park’s foundation.

“It’s a labor of love,” Robles said.

Tourist draw

The project will link the park to the new $16.7 million Harlingen Convention Center, City Manager Dan Serna said.

“It’s going to be a great complement to our convention center down the road,” he said.

At City Hall, officials are 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.

“We feel it’s going to be a great draw,” Serna said.

In the Fair Park area, the super park will give nearby families an outdoor venue to help raise their children, said Commissioner Ruben De La Rosa, who represents District 4.

“I remember playing in this park as a child,” he told the crowd. “This day has been a long time coming. I know many children will make memories here.”

Grant funding

During the ceremony, city leaders hailed state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, for landing a $1 million Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant to help fund the project.

“This is truly a gift from the state to the city of Harlingen,” Longoria told the crowd. “It’s because of your hard work that we are here today.”

Longoria said the park’s new all-inclusive playground, which offers special needs children a chance to play with other children, helped land the grant.

“The city wanted to help every single citizen in the city of Harlingen,” he said.

Longoria said he would try to help fund the park’s future phases.

“Harlingen always has focused on community-based family projects,” he said.

First phase

Last month, city commissioners met with members of the Community Improvement Board to award a $3.3 million contract to Peacock Construction, the lowest bidder, for the first phase’s development.

After about three years of planning, crews are ready to launch the nine-month project to build the park’s foundation.

The super park will include a $279,025 entry court featuring an entrance made up of a sprawling archway looming over stone columns.

Opening into a $554,545 center plaza, the park’s first phase will showcase a large pavilion and a lighted water fountain with a 52-foot diameter.

The first phase will also feature $587,957 worth of winding walkways leading to a pavilion, gazebo and restrooms.

Proposed phases

In 2017, city commissioners scrapped plans to borrow money to fund the park’s construction.

Now, officials are planning to use cash and grants to fund its proposed future phases.

Officials have not set construction timetables for as many as four phases originally planned to build up the super park with a proposed $8.5 million price tag.

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.

The plan to develop a destination park ranks among the top priorities in the city’s new 10-year comprehensive plan.

What you should know

The nine-month phase one project to build the park’s foundation will include:
– A $279,025 entry court featuring an entrance made up of a sprawling archway looming over stone columns
– A $554,545 center plaza, with a large pavilion and a lighted water fountain with a 52-foot diameter
– $587,957 worth of winding walkways leading to a pavilion, gazebo and restrooms