McALLEN — Talk about the University of Texas System building a McAllen headquarters for the new Rio Grande Valley super-university appears just that — empty talk.
When the Texas Legislature moved forward with plans to merge UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville last year, regional tension flared. Lawmakers responded by offering something for everyone.
Hidalgo County and Cameron County split the medical school. Brownsville and Edinburg doubled-down on their existing campuses, which will expand. Harlingen kept the city’s Regional Academic Health Center relevant. And UT agreed to build the new university’s administrative headquarters in McAllen — at least that’s what local lawmakers, Mayor Jim Darling and the McAllen City Commission thought.
“So if something’s changed, it’s unbeknownst to me,” said state Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission.
Apparently Guerra and Darling missed the memo.
During early discussions, the UT System talked about building the new university’s headquarters in McAllen, said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, executive director of public affairs for the UT System. They never formally selected a headquarters, LaCoste-Caputo said, and the focus gradually shifted to the new medical school’s location.
“And so that discussion still needs to happen,” LaCoste-Caputo said, referencing the new university headquarters. “The decision still needs to be made.”
Concerned, Darling and City Commissioner Scott Crane met with UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa last month during a visit to Austin.
They planned to discuss how McAllen would support the new university headquarters, Crane said, with cash or city-owned land. The City Commission considered offering property near McAllen-Miller International Airport and Interstate 2/Expressway 83.
“The chancellor was very noncommittal,” Crane said. “He didn’t give us any specifics. He basically sidestepped the answer.”
Cigarroa didn’t provide any reassurances during the roughly hourlong meeting, Crane said, and kept referencing the new university’s master plan, which a consultant will submit next year.
“He kept saying wherever the facility is for the administrative offices, the administrators that sit there have got to be able to get to the Edinburg campus, the RAHC in Harlingen and the Brownsville campus very quickly,” Crane said. “I, to this day, feel very uneasy about what they’re going to do with those offices.”
Concerned, the McAllen Economic Development Corp. quietly started collecting news clippings about the new university’s headquarters. The Monitor, the Austin-American Statesman and other newspapers published articles referencing the topic.
“An administrative headquarters overseeing those campuses and the medical school would be established in McAllen,” according to a Dec. 6 article published in the Statesman, which continued: “in an apparent share-the-glory nod to the political realities of the Valley, whose leaders tend to be highly territorial.”