The grand opening of the Port of Brownsville on May 16, 1936, was a major event.

People came from around the Rio Grande Valley and even as far as Laredo to take part in the multi-day festivities, which included a parade and concluded with a bullfight. It was a big deal because of the opportunity the region’s first deepwater port represented for the entire region, especially in terms of agriculture, the port’s and the Valley’s mainstay in the early days.

Due to the pandemic the port’s 85th anniversary passed quietly just this past May 16, with just a brief mention of some port tidbits, such as the fact that it and the Brownsville Ship Channel were the brainchild of Italian-born businessman Louis Cobolini, secretary of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce in 1910. Also, that today Brownsville is the largest U.S. shipping point for steel into Mexico.

But the big party is coming, according to Jorge Montero, the port’s director of communications.

“Unfortunately, with COVID, we decided to reschedule our 85th celebration,” he said. “We decided to reschedule it for Oct. 16 to give it a little more time for things to get better.”

The port normally has a big blowout every five years. About 4,000 celebrants showed up for the 80th anniversary, for instance, and the port wants to attract even more this October, Montero said, adding that the port’s annual 5K “Dock Dash” will be combined with the anniversary festivities this year. The run, which used to be held the first Saturday in March, itself usually draws about 500 participants, he said.

And although public access to the port was curtailed due to heightened security measures after 9/11, the 85th anniversary celebration will feature public bus tours of the port and boat tours of the ship channel as with past celebrations, he said.

“Going up and down the channel in a boat and seeing the yards and the ship recyclers and Keppel AmFELS and all those docks, it’s pretty cool,” Montero said. “We’re going to have boat tours, which have been very popular and very in demand.”

The port is already planning for the October bash, he said. Meanwhile, “bits and pieces” about the facility’s evolution and history will be posted periodically during the months leading up to the main event. Eighty-five years in business, not to mention strides the port has made within the last five years, are definitely worthy celebrating; it’s just that people will have to wait a little while longer, Montero said.

“I think it will be worth it,” he said.

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