EDINBURG — Unkempt grass, a cozy salon and the barren back lot of Elsa State Bank line the ramshackle West McIntyre Street between the University of Texas-Pan American and main Edinburg fire station.
And there also lies a key portion to a downtown revitalization plan that city leaders expect will soon fall into place with UTPA’s newly approved, nearly $42.7 million performing arts center.
“It will tie down every revitalization plan we have … for a new quality of life,” said Nelda Ramirez, interim executive director of the Economic Development Corp.
“With this performing arts center just down the street from all of our plans, it’s only going to enhance what the city is already trying to accomplish,” she said. “Our city and university partnership will only grow from here.”
Last month, the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved the construction of a 60,000-square-foot fine arts center to replace the current, aging auditorium and fine arts annex.
University officials and students praised the multimillion-dollar project — which the state will fund — and said when the new state-of-the-art theater and four new rehearsal spaces open in 2014, UTPA will be able to host music conferences, performances and events never seen on campus before.
“And that will present great competition to attract people to live and invest in our community,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who won legislative allocations for the project in 2006. “Not all communities can boast something like this.
“I’m talking about concerts, performances, orchestras,” he added. “It will all spur private development near the university, add additional tax revenue and give people from within the (Rio Grande) Valley something to visit in their own backyard.”
An economic impact study from the university confirmed the senator’s expectations.
After demolition of the existing buildings, construction of the fine arts project should begin next fall, directly creating 333 jobs, or $12.4 million in labor income, in that first year, according to the study.
Using a multiplier effect, the study also estimates 172 indirect jobs and $61.7 million in total economic output should flood the area next year.
“All of these values are completely put into the project and in Edinburg,” Ramirez said. “People traveling from McAllen, Mission (and) Pharr to come work on this project will be more than likely staying somewhere in Edinburg to eat.
“Then you’ll see the vast amount of people coming to visit our city, visit the center and in turn stop and shop and eat and spend their money here,” she said.
And that’s where the city’s master plan comes in.
Though it envisions a complete transformation of downtown Edinburg, the plan reserves special attention to West McIntyre Street, which the EDC imagines will house new bike lines, walkways, art installations, better landscaping and more.
“It will only enhance the ‘walk-ability’ efforts that we’re trying to achieve in connection between the university, City Hall and County Courthouse,” Ramirez said. “People can work, eat, live, dine and shop in the downtown area.
“And the performing arts center will host the fine arts events tying it all together.”
West McIntyre Street plans also include a bus and perhaps light rail transportation hub for Valley Metro transit services and could increase traffic to the university and local businesses, Ramirez said.
Both years in the making, the master plan and UT regents’ approval of the new fine arts center came with perfect timing, Edinburg Mayor Richard García said in a news release.
“In a few months, we will be soliciting public bids from qualified firms for our planned makeover of West McIntyre Street into a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly, environmentally enhanced corridor,” he said. It “will help existing businesses and attract new shops and venues to serve thousands of residents and visitors.”
Ramirez said construction on McIntyre Street east of City Hall should begin in November, setting the stage for a new townscape before workers turn westward next year.
And she said talks have already begun on placing a hotel near the area while officials search for a downtown development coordinator who can steer business, apartment and even condominium development.
“There are already people looking at the fine arts center and the type of business they’d want to build around it,” Hinojosa said. “Why wouldn’t they? It’s right in the center of town, right in the heart of Edinburg.
“Many places I’ve visited have the arts center far and away from downtown, isolated,” he added. “This one just happens to sit in the growing center of activity for Edinburg. This is a very positive step and quite frankly, a long time coming.”
Neal Morton covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4472.