Donna bridge area developers discuss efforts - The Monitor: News

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Donna bridge area developers discuss efforts

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Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2012 8:01 pm

DONNA — As the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge approaches two years of operation, land developers yoked to its success are continuing efforts to bring commercial truck traffic to the bridge – even as they fell short of that goal this year.

Board members for the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) created around the Alliance River Crossing property met Wednesday to discuss developments over the past year, and where to go from here. Mission-based Rhodes Enterprises has planned the $900 million development to surround the bridge – as soon as it starts attracting traffic.

The TIRZ – a zone created through agreements between the city, county and developer – allows the developer to be reimbursed the new property taxes development creates to pay for “public improvement” aspects of development, such as infrastructure.

Rhodes representatives said the company had invested some $1.7 million in the last year in development of lots around the corners of Farm-to-Market Road 493 and Military Highway. A currency exchange has opened on one lot and a gas station is under way on another.

Rhodes Enterprises hired the city’s former bridge consultant Ernesto Silva in fall 2011, giving him one year to earn the bulk of his fee by getting construction going on a commercial truck inspection facility. The city – which still owes Silva millions from his past work for them – declined to partner in hiring him again.

Silva’s contract expired Sunday, without certainty that bridge would see trucks anytime soon.

“I think it’s going to take a little more negotiation at this point,” company President Michael Rhodes told board members.

Rhodes indicated he would work on negotiating further with Silva to continue his efforts, primarily focusing on drawing trucks without cargo. Meanwhile, the city of Donna, in the past year, fired Rio Bravo-based bridge consultant Adrian Gomez Eddy and hired College Station-based Advent GX to work on general economic development for the city.

Rhodes Enterprises Project Manager Jorge Velasco said he was optimistic that the group was making progress, though he acknowledged that getting trucks on the bridge was more of a challenge then he once thought.

Hurdles have been cleared, he said – especially making Mexican and U.S. authorities aware of the bridge’s existence – now they just need $4.5 million and Customs and Border Protection support to build a facility.

“Once we get those two things we are ready to go,” Velasco said.

Velasco said the city of Donna was exploring avenues to get funding for the facility, but City Manager Oscar Ramirez did not return phone calls to explain what those avenues might be.

Velasco acknowledged the challenge of fighting for federal attention against neighbors such as Pharr and McAllen, who have greater resources to lobby for the interests of their own bridges against competitors. But he said he believed Silva’s efforts had helped make Donna’s bridge a higher priority for the Texas Border Mast Plan, a research group creating a plan for border infrastructure priorities.

“I do believe that the purpose of the Border Master Plan group is to put everybody on the same footing,” he said.

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Elizabeth Findell covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, the Mid-Valley and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at efindell@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4428.

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