McAllen seeks to highlight city’s cultures during state of the city

McALLEN — Nearly out of breath from dancing with “cultural groups” of “the many diverse communities” in McAllen, Mayor Jim Darling sought to highlight the city’s cultures in Tuesday’s annual State of the City Address.

Separate groups of Native Americans, African Americans, Koreans, Scots, Jews and Mexicans were featured in dance routines and in video segments before an audience of more than 1,000 at the McAllen Convention Center.

After another introduction, which featured recordings of all six city commissioners discussing projects in their respective districts across the city, followed by a personal introduction by Army Col. Frank Plummer, Darling reported the state of the city is strong, vibrant and “ready to move forward” into “the roaring 20s.”

Darling also sought to prop up local business, encouraging the audience to eat at locally-owned restaurants.

“McAllen is fortunate to have many great restaurants,” Darling said, adding that there are “more than 1,300 active restaurant permits in the city.” Darling continued: “Make a point of seeking out local restaurants you haven’t tried yet this month. You’d be supporting an important part of the community.”

Darling noted the success of some food trucks in McAllen, and pushed a local storefront revitalization project spearheaded by the city, delved into traffic and drainage issues and sought to promote tourism in the city.

Darling and city commissioners also highlighted projects such as the Bicentennial Boulevard extension, the youth baseball and softball complexes, an expansion of Quinta Mazatlan and soaring sales tax revenues.

Commissioner Javier Villalobos touted the $12.6 million Bicentennial Boulevard extension from Trenton Road to State Highway 107, a project currently under construction. Villalobos and Commissioner Victor “Seby” Haddad both discussed the first-to-the-region youth sports complexes, one for baseball and the other for softball. Commissioner Veronica Whitacre described the ecotourism at Quinta Mazatlan’s wildlife sanctuary, and outlined the vast expansion in the works.

Cultural tourism in McAllen manifested itself multiple times in 2019, first at the inaugural Oaxaca-inspired MxLAN music and arts festival, then at the inaugural Dia de los Muertos-themed Catrina music festival.

Darling said these events and others at the Convention Center in 2019 led to a “total economic impact” of “nearly $60 million,” as well as thousands of hotel nights and 140,000 tickets sold.

In continuing about the local labor and economy, Darling said McAllen reached a low of a 3.5% unemployment rate, a best for the city.

“We need to continue to work to create higher paying jobs,” Darling said.

Another point Darling emphasized was the merging of the three metropolitan planning organizations in South Texas to form the Rio Grande Valley MPO, a move that Valley officials said will result in millions of more dollars for transportation projects in the region.

Darling also gave shout-outs to Presidents Steve Ahlenius of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and Keith Patridge of the Economic Development Corporation for “thinking big” with economic development, before Darling presented a citizenship award to Nedra Kinerk of Futuro McAllen.

Darling then concluded with a surprise phone call.

Christina Wilson, a McAllen native who’s enlisted in the military and is deployed overseas, was shown on a live video feed at the end of Tuesday’s address. Wilson was met with rounds of applause.

mferman@themonitor.com