SAN BENITO — It has begun.

Developers and city leaders met Saturday to break ground on Phase One of the RGV Epicenter.

“I believe this project is a welcoming project for San Benito, and we welcome new development of this magnitude,” said San Benito City Commissioner Rene Garcia.

“This is something we’ve never seen before in San Benito,” Garcia said. “You normally see this in bigger cities.”

Garcia, along with Mayor Ricardo Guerra, Charles H. Johnson IV, and several other leaders and developers, met at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum for the ceremony. It had originally been scheduled to take place on FM 509 near Interstate 69 but was changed because of Friday’s rain.

About 100 people turned out for the ceremony which began inside the museum. Johnson, president of Johnson Consulting, spoke to the audience as did state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and several key figures in the project that began about three years ago.

“Sometimes it takes people from the outside to look at the Valley’s potential, the community’s potential,” said Carlos Cascos, former Texas secretary of state and Cameron County judge.

He was referring to Western Spherical Developers LLC, based in Friendswood, Texas, and Chicago-based Johnson Consulting.

“They see things that maybe we don’t see because we’re so close to it,” Cascos said. “I congratulate everybody who worked two or three years to put this project together, not two or three months. It’s long in coming, and I think it’s going to be a great anchor in a motivation location for Cameron County.”

When the $180 million Phase One is completed, it will have a convention center, a hotel, entertainment center, performance hall, restaurants, retail shops, office space and a lagoon.

“We’re thinking the first phase will be completely out of the ground and open 2025 or 2026 time frame,” Johnson said. “A hotel usually takes two to three years of construction, so we have the lagoon to build and all that.”

He appreciated the number of residents who turned out for the groundbreaking.

“I thought it was outstanding and I thought it was respectful for what we are trying to accomplish,” Johnson said, “and we’re so grateful to have everybody here.”

San Benito is a “gold mine that hasn’t been discovered,” said School Board Member Janie Lopez.

“I think this is exciting for our community,” Lopez said, acknowledging the work by city leaders and developers to pass legislation making the RGV Epicenter a reality.

“It’s just a big blessing for the community that the families are going to have something to do,” she said. “It’s going to help build more family unity, also as they go to these convention centers and so forth.”

The second and third phases will include a sports arena and medical village. The first phase, once completed, will create 1,013 jobs.

“It’s a game changer,” said Pct. 3 Constable Adrian Gonzalez, who is also a member of the San Benito Economic Development Corporation.

“We’re turning a corner, and I see wonderful things in the future,” he said. “We’ve got all our elected officials here and members of the community and we’re here. It’s just wonderful to know that all these developers are looking at San Benito as the next place to build something.”

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