EDINBURG – City leaders have launched another proven strategy for economic development with their recent decision to better organize, promote, and support one of the most valuable assets in the city - its outstanding arts community.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation - which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council - announced the selection of Evana Vleck, the former marketing director with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, as the city's first-ever Downtown Development/Arts Coordinator.
The arts - generally broken down into the more familiar categories as visual arts (paintings, sculptures, photography) and performing arts (dance, drama, music) - symbolize more than cultural and intellectual treasures for Edinburg.
The arts can and do represent prosperity for any community willing and able to elevate them into a powerful engine to boost their local economy.
"It is very important. It is the next level in our evolvement as a city," says Mayor Richard García, who successfully lobbied the Edinburg City Council and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) Board of Directors to authorize the creation and funding of the Downtown Development/Arts Coordinator position.
"Thank goodness, we are doing great in our community, such as in our retail sales and jobs creation, for example," the mayor noted, then added, "I believe that being a family-oriented city, for our community to be well-rounded, they say that the family that plays together stays together. This is one more way, another opportunity, to achieve that for our citizens."
He added that the economic development priorities initially undertaken by the city council and EEDC "were to first address the basic needs of our city, such as building the new City Hall complex, establishing a new water plant, expanding the fire department. We have achieved those goals, and now, the logical progression is into arts and entertainment."
Edinburg has deep-rooted traditions in the arts, not only as a result of home-grown talent, but with the constant presence every year of hundreds of University of Texas-Pan American faculty and students who teach or study their respective skills at the highest levels.
"The arts are vital economic generators for any local government which understands and supports this important segment of their community," says Nelda T. Ramírez, the EEDC's interim executive director. "Just look at the announcement last August by the UT System Board of Regents, who gave their final approval for the state funding and construction of a $42.6 million, 1,000-seat performing arts center at UT-Pan American. That's just the latest example of how the arts have a positive impact on our city."
The UTPA Fine Arts Academic and Performance Complex, scheduled for substantial completion by October 2014, will replace the aging Fine Arts Auditorium and Fine Arts Annex, according to the UT System.
But several blocks east of UTPA's future performing arts center is another important venue that has been upgraded to help promote economic development in the downtown region.
The Edinburg-owned City Auditorium, located at 204 North 7th next to Edinburg City Hall, features theater-style seating for almost 750 people, including accessibility for handicapped patrons, in a climate-controlled environment surrounded by beautiful architecture stemming from the early 20th century.
As part of the city's ambitious campaign to make the downtown region a destination point for commerce, tourism, and entertainment, the City Auditorium has recently benefited from more than $100,000 in improvements designed to increase the number and types of events it can host in the coming months and years.
Vleck explained that creating a vibrant arts district - and including the City Auditorium as a major element - is part of the Edinburg Master Plan, which is a landmark economic development blueprint funded by the city and the EEDC. Details of that master plan are available online at the following address: https://sites.google.com/site/hcchmasterplan/. On the left hand side of that website page, hit "General Project Documents" to view and download the PDF entitled "EdinburgDowntown".
"We can utilize the City Auditorium, which is a beautiful building, in many ways," Vleck predicted, observing that the historical facility already features a fixed stage with related theater lighting. "We can offer a wide array of talent the venue and opportunities to showcase their skills, services, and goods."
The mayor emphasizes the positive roles that can be played by the City Auditorium.
"We want to put to work and take advantage of its location for cultural events," García said. "I foresee plays, concerts, maybe some opera productions. There is a theater production group that does productions at The Camille Playhouse (www.camilleplayhouseonline.com) in Brownsville. We are going to see about the possibility of them performing our City Auditorium if we can set up the staging materials for our facility. Perhaps we can partner with people in Cameron County. We have talked about being regional in our approach with everything in the Valley, and this would be a good starting point."
Showcasing Edinburg as a South Texas hot spot for the arts is another part of Vleck's duties, and the accomplished media professional is already way ahead on that goal.
"We want to be regional, the arts hub, we want to be where it happens in the cultural arts events," Vleck said. "Part of that is branding Edinburg Arts (www.EdinburgArts.com). We are on Facebook, we have a community page, a fan page. Anyone is free to e-mail me (Evana@EdinburgEDC.com), call me anytime (956/383-7124) if you are an artist, if you are part of the business community, any resident who wants more information. We are about the business community embracing their city and building upon our arts community. We want everyone to be part of our growth."
The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It's five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Jaime Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to www.EdbgCityLimits.com