San Benito approves plan for convention center, hotel

Pictured is a model of the Rio Grande Valley Epicenter, a $115 million hotel and convention center project approved by the City of San Benito. Courtesy photo

SAN BENITO — It appears this city is continuing to make progress on one of its economic projects that’s been in the works for the past few years.

The San Benito City Commission has approved a development agreement for the Rio Grande Valley Epicenter (RGVE), a $115 million hotel and convention center project.

Western Spherical Developers, LLC will develop the mixed-use commercial development project on 38 acres of land located at the northeast corner of I-69 East and Hwy. 509, according to a press release from the City of San Benito.

This is the first phase of an overall 65-acre development, the release said.

“ This project is a big game-changer for our economy, and there is more to come,” San Benito Mayor Ben Gomez stated. “Since it is financed by the developer, it really is a big win for the city as it will have minimal financial impact on our citizens.”

What it entails

The facilities will include a 23,000-square-foot convention center, a key select service hotel that will support large venue conventions, a crystal lagoon, a visitors and special events center that will utilize banquet venues and a performance hall or pavilion.

Additional aspects of the project will include an interactive education venue, restaurants and retail space, athletic and entertainment-related facilities, green space and professional office space.

According to Western Spherical Developers manager David C. Miles, the construction, development and operation of RGVE will create approximately 319 full-time construction jobs, 758 direct and indirect full-time local jobs during the construction phase and 1,013 direct and indirect full-time local jobs during the operation of the hotel and convention center.

“ Epicenter is positioned to support and further advance the region’s growth opportunities in the industries of aerospace, medical, agricultural, energy, sports and entertainment, transportation and ecotourism,” Miles stated. “Great opportunities also exist to celebrate the Latino heritage of music, dance and visual art.”

According to Miles, an underlying mission for RGVE is to enhance quality of life and participate as an active community partner in promoting area events for families and visitors, business and innovative opportunities, as well as supporting job creation and training for the city and surrounding communities.

“ The strategic location of Epicenter offers an ideal destination for regional and international visitors as well as innovative business initiatives,” Miles stated.

Where it began

According to the press release, the concept for RGVE began when Miles approached San Benito City Manager Manuel De La Rosa in September 2018 to propose the construction of a hotel and convention center.

In October 2018, the city commission hired Mercury Public Affairs in preparation for the coming legislative session where officials planned to introduce legislation to create bills that would help fund construction of the project.

In January 2019, De La Rosa met with state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. and state Rep. Eddie Lucio III to discuss the proposal and seek their support in filing bills that would help accomplish goals needed to advance the project.

In April 2019, De La Rosa met with legislators at the Texas Capitol to seek support for the measures and testified before the Senate’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

According to the press release, Lucio, Jr. and Lucio III each authored and introduced legislation that became House Bill 4347 and House Bill 2199.

HB 2199 is designed to use municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue in certain municipalities, such as San Benito, for development of sports and entertainment facilities.

HB 4347 will enable San Benito to use municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue for hotel and convention center projects, as well as other qualified development.

“ Efforts were successfully culminated at the close of the 86th Legislative session when the two bills were formally enacted,” the press release states. “In the ensuing months, efforts continued at a steady pace to negotiate and wrap-up the agreement the city commission signed this week.”

Gomez stated that city officials credit Mercury Public Affairs legislative consultant Parker McCollough and the local legislators for helping set the project’s wheels in motion and for creating a framework that made the project possible.

“ They were tireless in their sponsorship and guidance during the session,” Gomez stated. ““It is through their perseverance that these two major pieces of legislation were enacted. They crossed the political divide and made this happen.”