Brownsville Hotel to be Replaced by Retail Plaza

The end is near for the Holiday Inn, formerly the Sheraton, on the expressway frontage road across I-69E from Sunrise Commons.

A demolition permit has been issued and the work is scheduled to begin Aug. 1, according to city permitting director Evaristo Gamez.

Utilities to the building have been shut off and a perimeter fence erected. On Friday, furniture, beds, TVs, lamps and everything else that wasn’t nailed down was up for sale and walking out the door.

Gamez said the demolition work should take six to eight weeks. Once it’s done, the contractor will submit drawings for “Las Palmas,” the retail/restaurant development proposed to take its place.

Preliminary plans call for a retail plaza fronted by four restaurants: Applebee’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Palenque Grill, Gamez said. Construction of the 45,000-square-foot project will take between six months and a year to complete, he said.

The developer, McAllen-based Rubiano Commercial, is in a hurry to get it built, Gamez said.

Other proposed commercial projects contained in the permitting department’s April 1-June 30 quarterly report include a plan to renovate the 217,858-square-foot former Tex-Mex Cold Storage building at 6665 Padre Island Highway and turn it into a seafood-packing business.

Gamez said the property has recently changed hands and that company representatives claim the packing facility will create about 300 new jobs.

Also, H&M clothing store will submit plans for a 20,000-square-foot store at Sunrise Mall, with construction likely commencing before the end of the year, he said.

Rue21 clothing store will submit plants for a shop at Sunrise Mall within 90 days, and Carter’s Children’s Clothing will open a store this year in Sunrise Commons, according to the quarterly report.

Sunrise Mall itself is undergoing $6 million worth of major interior renovation., while construction of Dick’s Sporting Goods at the mall is on schedule and about…

Read more at The Brownsville Herald.

TSC Site Visit Set For August


Texas Southmost College is a step closer to gaining independent accreditation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges will conduct a site visit in mid-August at the Brownsville college campus.

During the regularly scheduled meeting of the TSC Board of Trustees on May 28, TSC President Lily Tercero announced that she recently received word that a site visit was granted for the third week of August.

“I’m very pleased to report that the accreditation onsite visit will occur on Aug. 18 through 20,” Tercero said.

Senate Bill 1909 from the 82nd Texas Legislature states, “The University of Texas at Brownsville and the Texas Southmost College District shall cooperate to ensure that each institution timely achieves separate accreditation from a recognized accrediting agency before the termination of the existing partnership agreement and shall continue a partnership agreement in effect until August 31, 2015, to the extent necessary to ensure accreditation.”

TSC submitted its application in September 2014 to seek independent accreditation.

“We received word in January that we had been authorized for a visit in 2015,” Tercero said Friday. “But, that was just simply the authorization. They had to then determine when that visit would occur. So we received word just recently that we would have a visit in August.”

TSC is still covered under the University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College accreditation umbrella. Under Senate Bill 24, UTB and the University of Texas-Pan American will merge in…

Read more at The Brownsville Herald.

Rockefeller Foundation Visit

The Rockefeller Foundation visited the Rio Grande Valley to meet with the Brownsville Public Utilities Board this week. The Southmost Regional Water Authority’s desalination plant was highlighted during the presentation as a perfect example of how BPUB seeks innovative and proactive ways to tackle issues facing the community.  The desalination plant along with the Resaca Restoration project and the Tenaska Brownsville Generating Plant were reviewed by the foundation as best practices for building resilience by helping people, communities and institutions prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from acute shocks and chronic stresses.

The First New Rail Bridge to Mexico in More Than a Century

Mexico and the United States haven’t built a new crossing point for freight trains between the countries for more than a century. That’s about to change in the next few weeks, largely because of the efforts of local governments in South Texas.

They have pushed to build a new railroad bridge spanning the Rio Grande outside Brownsville, Texas, which is now largely completed. When it opens, it will mark the end of a 15-year effort by local officials to move freight trains crossing into Matamoros, Mexico, out of downtown Brownsville, the southernmost city in Texas. Many localities have dealt with similar problems, but the international border crossing added a new dimension of complexity to the effort.

Photo Courtesy of Story written by Daniel Vock.

Photo Courtesy of Story written by Daniel Vock.

Local officials — including at least three Brownsville mayors and three county “judges,” or executives, on the American side, plus more in Mexico — stuck with the project because of the benefits they hope it will bring.

Diverting freight trains west of the city will eliminate 14 railroad street crossings. The current route takes freight trains through residential areas, along neighborhood parks and through commercial areas, said County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr.

“The problem is that a lot of times, before the train is allowed to go into Mexico, they have to stage it. That blocks off several areas of downtown Brownsville,” while also making it harder for fire engines and police cars to respond to emergencies, he said.

Most of the work on the new crossing is done, but the Mexican government is in the process of setting up its security checkpoint, which will screen traffic in both directions until the U.S. can move its equipment once the existing rail crossing is closed.

Sepulveda, who was just promoted to the county’s executive post last month, first started working on the crossing after a neighborhood hearing 15 years ago, when it was clear that the…

Read more on the Governing website.

All BISD High Schools Share Distinction

A year of preparation has paid off for Gladys Porter High School , which can now call itself an official early college high school, just like Hanna, Lopez, Pace, Rivera and Veterans Memorial high schools.

Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams made the announcement earlier this week that Porter was among 44 Texas high schools to win the ECHS designation for the 2015-2016 school year. A year ago, the Brownsville Independent School District ’s other five comprehensive high schools received the designation.

BISD’s original Brownsville Early College High School , or BECHS, was chartered in 2008, the first such school in the Rio Grande Valley . Its campus is adjacent to the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. TSC is BISD’s partner in delivering dual-enrollment courses at the district’s high schools.

This week’s announcement means that students at all BISD high schools, Porter now included, can begin taking dual enrollment courses in the ninth grade and earn as many as 60 college credit hours during their high school careers, the equivalent of an associate of arts degree.

Interim Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas said BISD is…

Read more at The Brownsville Herald.


Burton Named SBA District Director

Angela Burton. Photo Courtesy of the Brownsville Herald.

Angela Burton. Photo Courtesy of the Brownsville Herald.

Angela Burton, former executive director of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, has been named district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration Lower Rio Grande Valley District Office.

Burton , who served as chamber head for nine years before becoming deputy director of the SBA district office in July 2013, starts her new job April 5. The Lower Valley district, part of SBA Region VI and headquartered in Harlingen , covers 14 counties and includes a satellite office in Corpus Christi .

She succeeds former district director Sylvia Zamponi , who retired in January. Burton feels she was tapped for the job in part because of her business background and familiarity with the Valley.

“I bring some economic development experience to the table, and I understand our market very well, she said. “We have a unique market.”

Region VI Administrator Yolanda Garcia Olivarez, who in addition to Texas oversees Arkansas , Louisiana , New Mexico and Oklahoma, said Burton ’s expertise would be…

Read more at the Brownsville Herald.


Bright Future for Brownsville

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. Photo Courtesy of  Kaila Contreras/Collegian.

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. Photo Courtesy of Kaila Contreras/Collegian.

In his State of the City address, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said “the opportunities before us have never looked brighter.”

Martinez, who delivered the speech Wednesday at the Brownsville Events Center before hundreds of people, said the unemployment rate is down to 9.03 percent; sales tax receipts are up nearly 7 percent over the last fiscal year; building permit values increased by 14 percent over Fiscal Year 2014; and revenue for Cameron County’s Veterans Memorial Bridge at Los Tomates is up more than 26 percent in the first quarter over the same time last fiscal year.

“Today, SpaceX has broken ground and they’re hiring people just as they said,” he said, adding that the company, which designs, builds and launches rockets and spacecraft, would bring 300 permanent jobs to Brownsville.

The company is building a rocket launch pad near Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County.

In an interview with The Collegian before the address, Martinez was asked what awaits Brownsville in 2015.

“I think you’re going to see a whole lot of interest in manufacturing,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a whole lot of interest in different types of jobs as to the ability to come in here and get started.”

Martinez announced that SpaceX will have a vendor fair on Tuesday at the Events Center.

In his speech, the mayor said he went along with representatives of STARGATE to ask for $500,000 in seed money from the Brownsville Economic Development Council. The Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Gigahertz Astrophysical Transient Emission, or STARGATE, research center will be a…

Read more on the Collegian.

City Plans to Issue to $9.5M in Certificates of Obligation

Brownsville Deputy City Manager Pete Gonzalez. Photo Courtesy of Héctor Aguilar/Collegian.

Brownsville Deputy City Manager Pete Gonzalez. Photo Courtesy of Héctor Aguilar/Collegian.

Brownsville Deputy City Manager Pete Gonzalez informs the City Commission about the publication of a notice of intention to issue certificates of obligation to finance public improvements, including streets, a multilevel parking garage and the purchase of ambulances and traffic signals.

The City of Brownsville plans to issue $9.5 million in certificates of obligation to finance various public improvements, including street and drainage projects, buy three ambulances and a bus and build a multilevel parking garage.

In its meeting last Tuesday, the Brownsville City Commission authorized the publication of a notice of intention to issue combination tax and revenue certificates of obligation.

The notice must be published once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper, with the date of the first publication to be before the 30th day before the date tentatively set for the passage of the order or ordinance authorizing the issuance of the certificates, according to the Local Government Code.

The certificates of obligation can be authorized if the funding is intended for construction of any public work; purchase of materials, supplies, equipment, machinery, buildings, land, and rights-of-way for authorized needs and purposes; or payment of contractual obligations for professional services, including services provided by tax appraisers, engineers, architects, attorneys, map makers, auditors, financial advisers, and fiscal agents, according to the code.

Documents attached to the agenda’s binder show the city plans to use the funds as follows…

Read more on the Collegian.

STARGATE Attracting Technology Giants

STARGATE Director Fredrick Jenet. Photo by Jesus Sanchez of The Collegian.

STARGATE Director Fredrick Jenet. Photo by Jesus Sanchez of The Collegian.

The director of UT Brownsville’s STARGATE says the program has started to attract many of the “big players” in technology, including Google and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Christopher Wren, one of the architects of the Android operating system and a Google software engineer, will present a lecture titled “Just Google It” to UT Brownsville students at 10:30 a.m. April 14 in the Student Union’s Gran Salón.

He will also be the keynote speaker at a breakfast the same day hosted by United Brownsville and STARGATE that will raise funds for Project Space, which will enable students in South Texas to become leading scientists in space exploration.

Fredrick Jenet, creator and director of UTB’s Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission complex, or STARGATE, said one of his goals has been to bring Google to the Valley and “perhaps have an office down in STARGATE.”

“He’ll be coming down both to talk to us, in sort of a TED talk style, technology talk … [to] give us some insights into the operating system as well as insights into entrepreneurships and innovation within Google itself,” Jenet said of Wren. “And he’s also going to be recruiting, so he wants to get lists of names of people interested in Google itself.”

Wren’s lecture will be the first of the Project Space: STARGATE talks, which will bring big technology companies and national labs here and introduce them to “what we have in South Texas,” Jenet said.

“We are attracting the eyes and attention of a lot of the big players,” he said.

STARGATE is a public-private partnership between UT Brownsville’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) and SpaceX.

The STARGATE research center, which will be located next to SpaceX’s future command and control center at Cameron County’s Boca Chica Beach, will develop…

Read more on The Collegian.

To learn more about STARGATE, watch the YouTube video below.