HARLINGEN — After two days of discussions, city leaders are developing a strategic plan aimed at bolstering the health care industry, education and manufacturing while calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in water, sewer, drainage and street upgrades during the next 20 years.
The city’s first strategic plan in nearly 10 years calls for tapping funding sources such as the Texas Water Development Board to help finance as much as $150 million in water and sewer overhauls while working to upgrade drainage and streets for as much as $300 million through 2040.
At City Hall, the goals will help officials plan projects aimed at charting the city’s course into the future.
Since Monday, city commissioners along with members of the Economic Development Corporation and Harlingen Community Improvement Board met with Mike Mowery, president of leadership development with Keller-based Strategic Government Resources, to set the city’s strategic plan.
“I think we’ve got a good vision — I think we’ve got a good direction,” Mayor Chris Boswell said after Tuesday’s half-day session at the Harlingen Convention Center. “These have been very productive conversations we’ve had. This has been fantastic for the leadership of our community.”
After Tuesday’s session, Commissioner Michael Mezmar compared waving a “magic wand” to coming up with money to fund the infrastructure projects’ towering price tags.
To help finance water and sewer upgrades, officials could consider working with a lobbyist along with the Water Development Board, he said.
Meanwhile, officials could call for a study to consider boosting rates to help fund water and sewer projects.
“It’s years down the road,” Mezmar said during an interview.
“The city has to spend its money wisely on the greatest good for the greatest amount of people,” he added.
Health industry investment
During the two-day session, city leaders planned to invest in the health industry expanding around the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine and the city’s growing medical complex spurring higher-paying jobs.
Under the plan, they proposed searching for land on which to expand the complex while turning to the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation for funding.
As part of the strategic plan, city leaders pointed to the expansion of manufacturing as one of the city’s top goals.
As part of their plan, officials discussed working with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to develop a “cluster” of aerospace companies around United Launch Alliance to manufacture parts to help supply SpaceX as it expands in the Brownsville area, Commissioner Frank Puente said.
“Why not target aerospace companies that build products for SpaceX?” he asked.
Meanwhile, officials plan to continue marketing the city’s aerotropolis, a 450-acre tract set aside to draw international corporations and logistics companies to the U.S.-Mexico border.
For the project, economic drivers include the Port of Harlingen and the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios.
Boosting retail, entertainment
The strategic plan includes a push to boost the city’s quality of life through the development of retail businesses and entertainment.
“It’s going to lure more people to Harlingen and that will have a domino effect — they start eating out more, spending more and buying,” Puente said after the sessions. “I don’t sense the feeling of ‘a lot is here.’ I wish there was more to do in Harlingen.”
As part of the plan, leaders are calling on the EDC to help market the city at retail conferences while helping search for entertainment venues.
“We want to get more involved in pitching what Harlingen has to offer,” Puente said.
The plan also calls for the development of parks, including expansion of the Hike and Bike Trail along with trails geared for mountain biking and motor sports.
Meanwhile, leaders called for upgrades to the Tony Butler Golf Course, where a $3.1 million project’s in the works.
At the popular City Lake, Puente suggested opening the waters to kayaking and paddle boats.
As part of the plan, leaders will push to draw entertainment into the city’s downtown district.
“My point is, let’s utilize what we have right now,” Puente said. “We can utilize the water and trails.”