Rio Grande City mayor emphasizes partnerships in state of the city address

RIO GRANDE CITY — Mayor Joel Villarreal didn’t rappel into city hall Thursday, as he would have liked to, he joked referring to McAllen Mayor Jim Darling’s stunt; but instead simply stepped up to the podium to deliver the annual state of the city address.

“We must demand and expect more from the place we call home,” he said in his introduction. “We must fight for our future generations and the leaders of tomorrow.”

Villarreal highlighted projects that were initiated in the past year and efforts the city hopes to launch, or continue, in the coming year.

Last year, the city launched their main street beautification project by which they restored some of the historical areas in the city’s downtown and placed new benches and trash receptacles which bear the city’s logo. The initiative garnered national recognition.

The city also began offering trolley tours. They had 109 tours in 2017 with nearly 2,000 guests.

The city also continues to grow with 119 commercial building permits issued last year. The permits resulted in about 300,000 square feet of improvements valued at $26.5 million, Villarreal said.

With the growth comes the need to keep facilities up to date, therefore the city is investing $1.8 million in rehabilitating or replacing some of their water lift stations.

“I know it is not glamorous but again, it is necessary,” Villarreal said. “These lift stations, again, are going to carry us for many years to come.”

Villarreal also noted the importance of stabilizing the city’s water pressure, which the city’s public utilities department is currently working on. The mayor praised the department’s director, Araceli Saenz, for her leadership, having to fill the role after the death of former director Ruben Klein last year.

The challenging part for the department is that the city has multiple water districts they have to work with.

But that’s just one of the many partnerships the city has forged.

Early last year, the city took part in the formation of the Starr County Special Crimes Unit. The unit is a task force that is comprised of law enforcement officials from various agencies throughout the county.

But the city has also focused on regional partnerships that have led to improvements at their international bridge, which last year became one of the first to implement unified cargo processing.

Another major effort is a commercial development dubbed the St. Ives Project.

The city, in partnership with the Starr County Industrial Foundation and the Rio Grande City Economic Development Corporation, is working with St. Ives Realty to develop a site along U.S. Highway 83 for retail stores and hotels.

The entities are expected to close on the contract in April or May, shortly after which construction will begin on infrastructure and utilities.

The project is expected to create 600 to 1,000 jobs upon its completion.

“As we forge our path forward, we must be cognizant of the symbiotic relationship we have amongst our municipalities,” Villarreal said in his closing remarks. “We are interconnected and we must build partnerships and collaborations for the betterment of our communities and the betterment of our region.”