City, organizers enter into contract after two years of talks

SAN BENITO — For 12 years, organizers have displayed San Benito’s rich history in a cramped room packed with wonder.

Tucked away in San Benito’s Community Center, city founder Col. Sam Robertson’s legacy has shared the 1,000-square-foot area with hometown legend Freddy Fender and master accordionist Narciso Martinez, the father of conjunto music billed as born in the city’s cantinas.

Meanwhile, the three museums’ organizers pushed for a $1 million grant used to launch the project to build a museum to showcase the city’s history.

More than two years after the opening of the $1.7 million San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum, city commissioners are expected to approve an agreement allowing the San Benito History Museum and the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum to display their exhibits in the new 7,000-square-foot museum.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Wayne Powell, president of the San Benito History Museum, said Tuesday. “We’re going to be able to go in there.”

However, the future of the Freddy Fender Museum hangs in limbo.

For two years, organizers have worked with city officials to settle on the agreement’s details.

“We are pleased we’ve been able to work with the city and the vision of the museum is within sight,” Sandra Tumberlinson, the history museum’s treasurer, said.

Now, organizers are counting on displaying their exhibits in the new museum by this fall, Tumberlinson said.

“We are optimistic that this is the beginning of a great adventure and look forward to working with the city to bring the museum to life,” she said.

The eight-page renewable agreement runs through Sept. 31.

“This agreement provides the user management and supervision of programs and activities necessary to promote tourism and contribute to the city’s quality of life,” the draft contract states.

The agreement will allow organizers of the history and conjunto museums to display their exhibits in the new museum’s main area.

“We plan to feature all the Conjunto Hall of Fame and all of the Historical Society’s History of San Benito, including Freddy Fender,” Tumberlinson said.

Sharing space

For nearly two years, Luis Contreras, the city’s cultural arts director, has hosted traveling exhibits reflecting the region’s Mexican origins in the new museum.

As part of the agreement, the city will continue to feature rotating displays.

“During the term of this facilities use agreement, (the museum groups) understand and agree other events such as special community programming, concert events and/or outdoor exhibits may be held,” the draft contract states.

New display cases

For two years, organizers have struggled to raise money to buy display cases in which to exhibit their artifacts.

As part of the project, city officials have agreed to help fund the display cases with estimated costs of about $200,000, Tumberlinson said.

“We still have some money arrangements,” Powell said, referring to the display cases. “We’ve got some money and we’re going to raise some money.”

Under the agreement, the organizers will fund an insurance policy providing as much as $1 million worth of coverage.

“We have been insuring the existing museum all these years and we will continue insuring the museum,” Tumberlinson said, adding the group will also install its security system.

Fender’s museum

Since the three museums opened in late 2007, Fender’s legacy and hit songs have helped draw fans to the Community Center.

But the small museum honoring the homegrown Grammy-award winning singer will likely not move into the new building.

In 2018, Vangie Huerta, Fender’s widow who owns legal rights to his artifacts, said city officials had not responded to her request for an agreement stipulating her husband’s name would be prominently displayed outside the new building.

Tuesday, she didn’t respond to a message requesting comment.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com