Major project moves forward; City approves zone for development

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Christmas came early for Madeira Properties LTD, when on Dec. 1 the Brownsville City Commission voted to create Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) No. 4, removing a key obstacle for a 1,340-acre master-planned residential/commercial project to proceed.

The development will be located at the intersection of I-69E and S.H. 100 just north of the South Texas Independent School District Medical Professions campus. Dennis Sanchez, co-manager of the project for owner/developer Madeira Properties, said it has been in the works about six years but that previous city leaders were cold to the idea of a TIRZ to make the project financially feasible.

“They never communicated to me why they didn’t like a TIRZ, but we couldn’t get any momentum on it,” he said. “So now after a lot of hard work we finally got there.”

A TIRZ reimburses the developer for infrastructure improvements through incremental property tax increases generated within the TIRZ boundaries by development. Plans for Madeira — also the name of the project— include single-family and multifamily residential units, a commercial complex containing retail, restaurant, entertainment and office space, a trail network and plentiful green space in addition to other amenities.

The first phase will be built on 140 acres at the southernmost tip of the development and consist of about 300 units of single-family, duplex and quadplex housing, Sanchez said. Getting the TIRZ from the city was the main hurdle, though now the project goes before Cameron County Commissioners Court on Dec. 21, he said.

“If they’re in then we just sit down and work out the details with the city and the county and sign the agreement and move forward,” Sanchez said. “After so much time thinking about it and nudging it forward, we basically want to do something that we’re going to be proud of. We’re not in a hurry to slap a bunch of stuff together. The market is really hot right now, but we’re still going to be deliberate in what we do because we want to do it right.”

Doing the first phase properly is especially important since it will serve as the benchmark for the rest of the development, which could also include a hotel and convention center, he said.

“We would love to have some sort of event center out there, but those all take years to plan and implement, though certainly we’d like to do that,” Sanchez said.

At any rate, the commercial part will need to wait until some portion of the residential aspect is complete, he said.

“You’ve got to get rooftops out there, so you’ve got to start off on your residential side to get the momentum going so then the retailers can come in,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got a plan to hopefully attract the proper food stores and food services, and with it dry cleaners and all the other ancillary retail services people want.”

He estimated it could take 10 years to build out the entire 1,340 acres, including approximately 2,900 single family homes and 750-plus units according to the city.

“It’s going to take a while,” Sanchez said. “I think the largest developer in Brownsville builds 100 to 110 houses a year. So you do the math. It’s going to take years to build out, but we plan to do it with a master plan so it’s built out orderly, and give a lot of thought to the design of everything and the interaction of everybody — the pedestrian traffic, commercial, trying to look down the road 50 years. What are things going to be like 50 years from now?”

Sanchez said he’s no fan of “visual clutter” such as utility lines and poles, so all those things will be underground. While Madeira is going to be a nice development with plenty of green space, it’s also got to be affordable for the area, he said.

“We have to recognize that… 80 percent of Brownsville’s housing market is $200,000 or less in value, so we’ve got to be practical,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got to make it nice for middle income. That’s what we’re trying to do. So it’s not going to be just nice for the rich people.”

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez said the project is significant in part because of the forecast impact on tax revenues over the 30-year life of the TIRZ.

“Obviously projections are projections, but it’s projected to bring in about $80 million in property tax revenues to the city,” he said.

Sanchez said he’s “pretty confident” in the success of the venture, in no small part because of the prime location at the intersection of S.H. 100 and I-69E.

“That corner by the way is exactly half way between Brownsville and Harlingen,” he said. “We’re exactly nine miles from Ed Carey (Drive) and we’re exactly nine miles from Sunrise Mall. We’re in the center of the county.”