Mari Shawn has seen neighbors come and go in the last 20 years.
The historic houses and locales on McIntyre Street have made way for open lots and empty homes as Edinburg’s Fire Department gradually expands their facility. Traffic has picked up, she says, due to the construction of the new City Hall and Edinburg school district facilities mere blocks away, but the street will always remind her of the Edinburg of old even as she looks forward to a new one in its place.
Despite the lack of neighbors, Shawn says she isn’t too sad to see the old residences go. For Shawn, whose house is nestled in what can be the heart of a proposed revitalization effort by the city for its downtown area, the street may just as well be paved in gold.
“We need to take advantage of it and make it into something profitable,” she says about the area surrounding her home, which has stood since the 1920s. “The city here also has that Mexican culture. The people who come in, the tourists, they love it.
Originally a McAllen resident who owned a women’s boutique in that city’s downtown, Shawn has lived in the house on McIntyre Street across from the old Sam Houston Elementary School since 1989.
“I want businesses to build up because I think it’s needed. Edinburg needs that incentive, and I think a mercado would light up a fire underneath them (City Council),” Shawn said. “All of those old houses will turn into businesses because that’s the way our culture is, we are entrepreneurs. It’s going to encourage everyone to be a part of it.”
Shawn was one of several in the community present at a special forum on March 1 conducted by Broaddus & Associates, who have announced the latest “development phase” in a downtown revitalization plan they hope can be used to attract business to the downtown area, update the city’s architectural standards, as well as add physical enhancements to the small strip located between the University of Texas-Pan American and the County Courthouse.
As the city’s consultant for the master plan, Broaddus has also outlined the creation of numerous “destination districts” they say can be implemented across the city to attract business. Other guiding principles for Broaddus include the creation of a “symbolic heart” of the city, the design of integrated streets, creating parking in the downtown, and building for authenticity, according to Broaddus representatives.
Since the masterplan’s inception last fall, Broaddus has garnered more than 450 responses from the community and local businesses, which in unison have called for something that helps make downtown a destination beyond the “8 to 5” timeframe, representatives say.
“I think there seems to be a void of downtown as a destination after 5 p.m. Key to that is to have an integration or mix of uses which can include entertainment venues, restaurants or retail as a component that helps make downtown a destination beyond the 8 to 5 timeframe, which it clearly is,” said Stephen Coulston, vice president for Broaddus planning.
Details in the master plan include the development of at least five large projects that branch off into distinctly smaller sub-projects. Broaddus has outlined the creation of a “Palm Tree Corridor” leading to the Courthouse on East University Drive. The firm is also looking at the development of a South 13th Street District beginning where Palomarez Pool Hall currently stands and going south. The district would be similar to McAllen’s 17th Street, which would include entertainment venues and restaurants.
Broaddus is also looking at options for a Courthouse Plaza Implementation Strategy, which would tentatively add a shaded promenade and more green space to the location. Other options for the city to consider include the implementation of a Firehouse District revolving around an improved Sam Houston facility located on McIntyre Street. The district would include coffee shops and cafes to cater to young professionals, according to Broaddus.
In the current plan, Broaddus is considering a two-year window for development of the downtown. Year one would tentatively include drainage and street design, the modification of zoning for projects outlined in the plan, as well as the creation of a Public Improvement District. Broaddus has also spoken about the feasibility of closing Closner Blvd. in front of the Courthouse, where there is a large amount of pedestrian traffic.
Year two of the project would include the completion of the streetscape, as well as the implementation of EB-5 visas for foreign nationals who can then “buy citizenship” for the purpose of developing commercial business. EB-5 is a permanent residence option that enables a foreign national to “obtain permanent residence but requires an investment of $1 million (or $500,000 in a high unemployment or rural area) in a commercial enterprise that will employ 10 full-time U.S. workers”, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In trying to distinguish between feasibility of the project, and what may actually take shape in the city, Coulston said the council has to consider two different aspects.
“They are investment in infrastructure, which is real investment in terms of money,” he said. “The other one is investment for incentives and creating policy to encourage investment.”
There is currently no cost estimate for the plan, the scope of which will ultimately be decided by the City Council later this year. The latest “development” stage of the project will be used to “work out some of the kinks” before specific recommendations are outlined in a final plan tentatively by the end of April, according to Broaddus representatives.
“The next stage is the refinement plan, where we will begin the documentation and final report to come up with the specific recommendations that are intended for the near term priorities the council can act on,” Coulston said. “I think the temper of the current council is one very anxious to see some activity come out of the plan. We are really interested in getting an implementation plan and turning these into real projects.”
Mari Shawn says she would like to see the area simulate San Antonio’s “La Placita” by by bringing in vendors that have the money to invest in Edinburg.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. The building (Sam Houston) is there, and it’s a beautiful building. They don’t need to find parking for the people. Let them find their own parking and put the meters up,” she said. “Maybe during the weekends they can close the streets so we can have an open market, because that is what people like.”