Amazing Progress: Boswell’s annual speech debuts convention center
HARLINGEN — Mayor Chris Boswell stood on the dark blue stage at the Harlingen Convention Center’s debut event yesterday, pointing to the glittering $16.7 million facility as a sign of the city’s plans to build for the future.
The convention center will host many of the events marking the city’s fast growth track, Boswell said at his annual State of the City Address hosted by the Harlingen Rotary Club.
“ Today, we hear about our city’s amazing progress as we sit in a magnificent new public facility which is in itself a symbol of our city’s progress,” Boswell told a large audience made up largely of Rio Grande Valley officials. “This will be a place not to commemorate Harlingen’s past but to celebrate and live out its future in a myriad of different ways.”
In his annual progress report outlining 2018, Boswell said 500 new jobs were created while the jobless rate dropped to a record low of 5 percent.
Meanwhile, sales tax revenue continued to climb with new businesses and construction sparking the city’s economy.
“ Harlingen is flying fast into the future and certainly in 2018 it has achieved greater heights in public safety, infrastructure development, financial security and economic development,” he said.
“ Great progress has been made and I want to thank each and every one of you as business owners, community leaders, educators, citizens, nonprofit leaders, philanthropists and volunteers for working together to bring our city to where it is today.”
But among the event’s 350 guests, much of the focus turned to the brand new building which Boswell described as a “symbol” of that progress.
Since 1964, he said, the city’s leaders have dreamed of building a convention center to showcase events from conferences to weddings and quinceañeras.
“ Just as we hope each generation can improve upon the last, Harlingen should find ways to improve those places we invite our friends, neighbors and guests to meet with us,” he said, noting the city largely funded the 44,000-square-foot building through the Harlingen Community Improvement Board’s one-eighth-cent sales tax earmarked to fund what he described as quality-of-life projects.
“ It is a place where our friends and our children will marry or celebrate marriage and begin new lives together in our community, a place where young 15- or 16-year-old women will celebrate their special day, a place where couples will celebrate 50th anniversaries, a place where students will receive their college or university diplomas and begin new careers, where businesses will hold corporate meetings, a place where hospital staffs may gather for large meetings or training, where trade associations, professionals or government officials will gather to improve their knowledge of their professions and, yes, a place where conventions will be held,” he said.
Boswell pointed to the city’s booming west side and the continued development of the medical complex as signs of economic growth.
Since 2017, building permits have boosted construction values from $64 million to $78 million last year, he said.
“ There is new business development throughout the city including new restaurants, new retail shopping centers, new schools and a landmark development called Stuart Place Crossing,” he said, referring to the retail center featuring Texas Regional Bank’s new $10 million four-story corporate headquarters.
Housing starts are surging, Boswell said.
Last year, he said, the city approved 115 new subdivision lots — an increase of more than 51 percent over the year before.
The city’s strong financial standing reflects its economic growth, Boswell said.
By the end of 2018, he said, the city’s cash reserve stood at $17.5 million, capable of maintaining operations for 135 days.
Meanwhile, retail sales tax revenue has climbed for an “unprecedented” 21 consecutive months, he said.
“ Our strong fund balance is what enables our city to pay for capital improvement items out of savings rather than borrow money,” he said. “This reflects the city’s own strong financial performance and increased revenue through sales tax.”
Downtown, a $4.5 million project to renovate the nine-story Baxter Building into largely low-income apartment development will serve as a centerpiece in the drive to revitalize the area.
“ It was not only important but essential that we work to protect and preserve this unique and iconic structure, rekindle the confidence and pride in our downtown so vital to realizing the many successes of which we are capable,” Boswell said. “Now we have a beautiful functional building which will bring family residences into our downtown to live and to support the other businesses that thrive there.”
VIA on a roll
Valley International Airport helps drive the city’s economy.
“ There is no other way to say it but that Valley International Airport is on a roll,” Boswell said.
Last year, he said, the airport’s incentive packages helped land Frontier and American Airlines, vastly expanding its travel destinations.
“ Valley International Airport is now home to all the major air carriers in the United States,” he said. “At peak times, all of our gates are full.”
Meanwhile, the airport’s cargo business increased by 28.5 percent last year, making it the 76th-ranked cargo carrier in the nation, Boswell said.
“ Our air cargo numbers have increased dramatically,” he said.
Medicine and education
The city’s medical complex continues to lead the city into the future, too.
“ Harlingen has long played a role in the development of the School of Medicine,” Boswell said.
Last year, the South Texas Medical Foundation gave the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine 35 acres on which to build the upcoming institute of neurosciences and other buildings.
“ As Dr. Guy Bailey put it — this institute of research and collaborative medicine will be of national prominence,” Boswell said, referring to the university’s president.
The city continues to set the stage for leaps in education, Boswell said.
Early this year, he said, the city gave 30 acres to the university to help the Harlingen school district develop an early college high school campus.
“ This will be a dual enrollment and higher education campus in the city of Harlingen,” he said.
According to Bailey, “the early college high school students will receive an authentic college learning experience under the guidance of UTRGV professors,” Boswell said. “We know that higher education opportunities and enhanced public education opportunities through the Harlingen CISD are the cornerstones of future economic prosperity. This is a great thing for the future of our children and for the future of Harlingen.”
Police and safety
Across town, the Harlingen Police Department continues to work to cut crime, Boswell said.
In a recent study, he said, SafeHome ranked Harlingen 37th in its list of the state’s the top 40 safest cities.
“ Harlingen is a safe place to live and we are blessed by this safe and secure environment,” he said.
While violent crime dropped 41 percent, the city cut property crimes by 43 percent compared to figures reported during the city’s 10-year highs, he said.
“ These reductions in the numbers of crimes committed in Harlingen are despite our increases in population and business activity,” he said. “The security we enjoy is important in recruiting business and industry as well as health care professionals. The safety of our cities in the Rio Grande Valley is a story which each of us should tell.”