McAllen construction magnate Alonzo Cantú on Tuesday, Feb. 24, for the first time publicly unveiled plans by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR) to build a $14 million Edinburg Medical Conference Center and a 100-room hotel as part of his vision to expand medical education and resources in the three-time All-America City.

The presentation was made on his behalf by Laura Nassri Warren, AIA, of The Warren Group Architects, Inc. of McAllen, during the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, held in the City Council chambers at Edinburg City Hall.

The small delegation from DHR met its first major goal: they received support from the EEDC board of directors, who formally recommended to the Edinburg City Council that the project be considered for economic incentives — which could include state sales tax breaks and other regulatory benefits — designating the proposed conference center and a DHR medical tower as a Texas Enterprise Zone project.

No local sales tax breaks for the project were recommended by the EEDC board of directors. Cantú, who serves on the board of directors for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, attended the session, but did not speak, instead allowing Warren to make the formal presentation, along with Susan Turley, chief financial officer for DHR.

However, following the session, Cantú provided additional perspectives on his hopes for the planned medical conference center, and the partnerships he wants to develop with the local municipal government on the project.

“It is important that the Valley is recognized as a health center, such as San Antonio, so people don’t have to go to San Antonio, Houston, or Corpus Christi. We will be able to provide those medical cases and surgeries (in Edinburg),” said Cantú. “The surgeries would be at the (main) hospital. Our plan would be, when we bring out-of-town doctors to provide (continuing medical education) courses, to film and broadcast those courses, either through local government channels, such as the City of Edinburg, or perhaps get our own TV cable channel, a health broadcast network, and feature presentations, training for employees, and provide medical education for the public.”

54,000-square-feet in size

The medical conference center, projected to be 54,000 square feet in size, would represent the latest cutting-edge medical resource for DHR and for South Texas, he said.

The proposed hotel would be located on DHR property, along South McColl Road.

The proposed medical conference center would be located immediately east of the planned hotel, separated by a parking lot.

But Cantú noted that the development of the planned hotel — which would represent an additional investment by DHR of between $5 million and $10 million — depends on the fate of the medical conference center.

“It depends on how it goes with the conference center. We would probably work on getting a study as to what kind of hotel would be needed — probably an extended stay hotel because the patients who come in will be here a few days,” he said. “Our consultants would tell us what kind of hotel would be needed — probably a 100-room hotel.”

The proposed medical conference center would be able feature an auditorium with a performance arts capability, conference rooms, a board room, a catering kitchen facility, according to the project architect.

Depending on the configuration of the rooms, up to 310 persons could be accommodated in the ballroom, which would be the largest component in the two-story facility. Conference rooms would be able to hold more than 250 persons.

All rooms would feature world-class visual and audio technology systems.

Beyond the resources it would provide for functions and other gatherings, the focus would remain on promoting medical education for the region.

Help plans to bring

UT medical school

According to the plan distributed by DHR distributed to EEDC board members, the planned Edinburg Medical Conference Center would also bring these additional advantages to the area:

• Provide a venue to the medical community to inform and educate South Texans of medical resources available in the region.

• Support health awareness programs with a state-of-the-art medical campus.

• Enhance medical education program growth by partnering with local universities and colleges.

• Provide a venue to promote the creation of educational opportunities in medical, nursing, and research programs.

With several Valley state lawmakers proposing legislation to create a full-fledged University of Texas System medical school, Cantú said the medical conference center would help improve South Texas’ chances of landing the coveted medical school.

“We would have the infrastructure in place, we would have the credibility, plus we would have doctors who are teaching at other hospitals who would see we do have the state-of-the-art equipment and technology,” he observed. “So, if a medical school was started, we would be ready to have some of the medical students training here.”

Regardless of the fate of the medical school legislation, he remained focused on the overall impact the conference center would have on Edinburg and DHR.

“We just want to be a full-service health center here, and provide all the services that are needed to deliver state-of-the-art technology,” said Cantú. “It would also give us credibility with some of the big science centers in the state, such as the University of Texas Health Science Center Medical Branch in Galveston, by bringing some of their doctors come down here, not only to do procedures, but also to work with some of our physicians.”

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, the Edinburg City Council was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the EEDC’s recommendation for the enterprise zone designation.

Under state law, the proposed medical conference center would be eligible to apply for state sales and use tax refunds on qualified expenditures. The level and amount of refund is related to the capital investment and jobs created at the qualified business site.

According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Texas Enterprise Zone Program is an economic development tool for local communities to partner with the state to promote job creation and capital investment in economically distressed areas of Texas.

This law is the result of legislation successfully carried during the 1980s by then state representative — and current state senator — Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Hinojosa’s measure allows local communities to nominate a company as an enterprise project to be eligible to participate in the Enterprise Zone Program.

Legislation limits allocations to the state and local communities per biennium. The state accepts applications quarterly with deadlines on the first working day of March, June, September and December.

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