San Benito program aims to revive downtown

SAN BENITO — The city is taking new steps to help revitalize its downtown.

Today, city commissioners are expected to discuss a program offering grants to help downtown property owners spruce up their storefronts.

Commissioners also will discuss new downtown coordinator Bernard Rodriguez’s plans to meet with downtown merchants.

“We’d like to get their input,” Rodriguez said yesterday. “That’s valuable in moving forward. All this has a purpose — economic development, bringing business to the downtown.”

Rodriguez’s plans include a program funded through the city’s Economic Development Department offering grants of up to $10,000 to match downtown property owners’ investments to improve their storefronts.

“It is rewarding to be able to offer our downtown building owners an incentive to improve their storefronts,” Mayor Celeste Sanchez said yesterday. “This is all part of our downtown revitalization plan to bring unique businesses downtown and my personal vision of making San Benito a city of choice.”

Grants can help fund projects as small as painting storefronts and improving signage to full renovations, Rodriguez said.

He said decades of facelifts have stripped many of these buildings of their beauty.

But the downtown buildings remain “gems” dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, he said.

“A lot of times construction, through time, covers up architecture,” Rodriguez said. “At one time in the ‘60s, the thought was to cover buildings with metal sheets, making the building ‘look’ modern. Now the trend is to come back to the historical roots of architectural designs.”

Today, rows of storefronts stand empty in buildings whose hidden grandeur once harkened the city’s heyday as the commercial hub of northern Cameron County from the 1930s to 1950s.

As part of the program, property owners are required to seek three contractors’ construction bids then allow the city to select the best, he said.

Rodriguez also plans to organize the key players in the drive to revitalize the downtown area.

A meeting to discuss the program with business owners is tentatively set for 5:30 p.m. May 11 at the San Benito Chamber of Commerce, he said.

“This gives me the opportunity to meet with business owners, the chamber membership and the community in general to discuss the downtown projects and to listen to them to get their viewpoint and ideas and assistance in moving downtown San Benito forward,” he said.

Downtown storefront program

– Economic Development Department grants of up to $10,000

– Program requires matching funds

– Grants to fund painting, signage improvements, renovations