Thursday, November 10, 2005

Brownsville’s Gain on McAllen and Harlingen

North Brownsville in 2004. This area has experienced so much growth over the last five years that it has helped reverse the trend of people going to shop at Harlingen and McAllen. This picture doesn't even show the new growth that has happened in the last year!

Just ten years ago, people in Brownsville would travel the 20 minutes to Harlingen or even 55 minutes to McAllen to go shop, eat, and entertainment. Harlingen has the Valle Vista Mall that had a food court (something that was sorely lacking in either of the two malls in B’ville, Amigoland Mall & Sunrise Mall) and good brand name store to shop as well as retail restaurants such as The Olive Garden. McAllen, of course is the Mecca for shopping and eating as it has dozens of national stores and restaurants to choose from with more opening almost every few months and not to mention the recently renovated La Plaza Mall with about 120 stores. This mall is the largest of the RGV (Rio Grande Valley) and attracts visitors from Monterrey, Harlingen, Brownsville, and many more cities. It’s so busy, especially on weekends, that finding a parking space is like finding gold in a river; every body flocks to it and fights for that space.

McAllen and Harlingen were profiting from Brownsville because of the lack of choices to go shopping and eating. Brownsville did have two malls, Sunrise Mall and formally The Amigoland Mall (now closed and sold to UTB/TSC). But even with the two malls, there was not much in national brand name stores to attract customers that the two other cities were attracting. Other than the two malls, there was virtually nowhere else to go shopping.

Brownsville was literally crying for more choices in retail stores and restaurants. You could read it in the Letter to the Editor in the Brownsville Herald and people talking about it over conversations as people would go shopping. It was in the air: more stores and restaurants, please. How funny, because Brownsville is the largest city both in population and size. Ten years ago, the population was nearly 100,000 (1990 Census) but the city was not attracting the kind of retail stores and restaurants that people wanted; hence the exodus of people that would go shopping at Harlingen and McAllen. These two cities would even boast how they were siphoning customers away from Brownsville and into their cities. Brownsville was losing the battle and eventually the war on convincing people to buy in Brownsville. There were even campaigns to get people to buy in Brownsville but few listened and continue their weekly trek to Harlingen and McAllen.

This exodus to Harlingen and McAllen began to change in 1997 with the arrival of Target, Applebee’s, Michael’s, and Office Depot that was built in a new plaza on Boca Chica Blvd across from Wal-Mart. Boca Chica Blvd, prior to the new plaza, was the Mecca for eating as there were many fast-food restaurants to choose from. Remember Rally’s, Checkers, Wendy’s, Whataburger, and others? There were few restaurants but even fewer national restaurants on Boca Chica. But with the advent of Target and Applebee’s, people began to wonder if this was the beginning of a new era in new stores and places to eat.

By late 1997, there was something adrift in the air that people could sense. Something very big was coming and rumors began to spread about the impending doom of Amigoland Mall and a new, larger remodeled Sunrise Mall. The thought of losing one of our malls had mixed reaction. Some (such as I) dreaded the idea of losing a mall. I had always and will always prefer the Amigoland Mall to Sunrise Mall because for whatever reason, I had a more attachment to this mall. It could be that the Amigoland Mall opened at about the same time when I was born or that this mall was the first mall that I went to when I was a kid. I loved the architecture and the ambiance. Even when I began to drive I would rather travel the 15 to 20 minutes (or even longer if the train blocked the way) to make it to Amigoland Mall. To me, this was my place as well as to many others. This was also the place where I met my wife. I met her in 1999 working in two stores: ECT (I used to call it ecstasy!) and Her Place. I was working with my parents at The Nut House, just a few steps away from the girl who would become my wife. About one quarter of my life would be erased if this mall closed, I would think to myself. But to those of us who believed in this mall, we refused to acknowledge the rumors. No one in their right mind would let go of this mall. To others, this was necessary and even long past over due because the demographics, the train switch yard, and the long lines to the B&M Int’l Bridge made going to Amigoland Mall difficult, if not impossible. The era of Amigoland Mall had come to an end, critics would say. And end it did just a few short years later.

In late 1998, the rumors were confirmed, The Sunrise Mall would be renovated and expanded to twice its current size from roughly 500,000 sf to 1 million sf and would cost $50 million for the expansion and renovation. This was incredible news because nothing like this had happened since 1980 when the Sunrise Mall was built. Finally, more name brand stores with even a food court! Even better was that another shopping strip plaza would be built where K-Mart would relocate and would be called Sunrise Commons. The promises of new national retails and restaurants coming to town were salivating in peoples’ mouth as the anticipation and waiting was hard to bear. It was like waiting for that turkey on Thanksgiving Day waiting all day smelling the sweet smell of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and everything that came with turkey but having to wait until night to eat. But it would be all worth it at the end when you got that first taste of that turkey.

But the questioned lingered and a new one arose. First, would the Amigoland Mall close? And second, was Sunrise Mall taking a huge risk by investing $50M in a demographically poor and stagnant area where the household income was less than twice the national average? It was possible that we could end up losing both malls if this one became a failure. What national retail/restaurant would want to come to Brownsville? Could the market sustain them and make them profitable? These are questions that every company must ask itself before investing huge sums of money into any market. But people didn’t care, they wanted this mall to hurry with its expansion and fulfill their promises.

When the news of the Sunrise Mall expansion and renovation hit McAllen and Harlingen, it sent shivers down their spines. Could it be possible that the Brownsville mall beat McAllen’s mall by attracting more people to Brownsville? Could the trend of pulling people from Brownsville be reversed? Not by my chini, chin, chin!! Right away, McAllen began looking into expanding and renovating their mall to meet or even beat Brownsville’s mall renovation. Hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars were at stake. The McAllen mall would draw millions of visitors a year from Monterrey and other wealthy Mexican cities and the Rio Grande Valley. The La Plaza Mall was the most profitable mall south of San Antonio and most of the US. McAllen was no longer gloating. This was serious. McAllen could fall behind Brownsville if they didn’t do something. Soon after the Sunrise Mall announcement, the La Plaza Mall announced their intentions to renovate and even bring in a Foley’s store. It would be bigger than the Sunrise Mall expansion. In Harlingen, the city leaders were either asleep, ignorant, or shocked and in disbelief that they did not take any action, such as McAllen did. They figured that The Valle Vista Mall would still be attractive to Brownsville since it had always been that way. Even a few stores began to open. Harlingen remained silent and concentrated its efforts to bring more industry to the region and expand its medical facilities.

Not soon after the Sunrise Mall expansion, other shopping centers and hotels made their intentions of coming to Brownsville, such as Chili’s, Chucky Cheese, Johnny Carino’s, IHOP, Rudy’s BBQ, Marshall’s, Old Navy, Just for Feet, Best Buy, Toy ‘R’ Us, Hawthorn Suites Hotel, Marriott Hotel, and the Red Roof Inn to name just a few that would open or break ground a year later. More announcements were sure to come and did.

In the summer of 2000, the newly renovated and expanded mall began to open its doors to the thousands of people waiting for the grand opening. And boy was it a grand opening. In the first weekend it reopened, there was an estimated 100,000 people visiting the mall per day! Success was accomplished. Fears of failure were diminished with every passing day and months. More shopping centers announced their comings such as the Sunrise Palms and Sunrise Corner. Not far from the Sunrise Commons, on Alton Gloor (Tejon Rd) and Frontage Rd, Wal-Mart was planning to build their first super center along with a larger Sam’s Club. That area then began to attract hotels, restaurants, and other retail stores. Things finally began to look up for Brownsville, a sleepy little town turned into a city practically over night. The 2000 Census showed Brownsville at 140,000 people and growing exponentially and could even hit the 200,000 mark by 2010 (which is very possible as the unofficial population stands at about 160,000 in 2005)

Near the intersection of Paredes Line Rd and FM 802 (now called Ruben M. Torres Bldv), Mr. Hudson had a vision of creating the Paseo del la Resaca 1,000 acres community village that would have residential, retail, and restaurants. It will also include the Village Center that will become the power center that would have over 500,000 sf of retail, restaurants and even a hotel and Mr. Hudson likened it to the San Antonio River Center as the Village Center will be built along some of the seven mile long man made Resaca that will sport a linear park around the Resaca and have bridges and boat ramps. HEB constructed their store on the corner of Paredes Line Rd and FM 802 and the mini mall Paseo Plaza and other stores made their home there. By 2005, nearly 80 percent of the planned Paseo de la Resaca has been completed and only the Village Center, Paseo Real II, and another office subdivision remain to be completed. This whole area exploded with growth where once cattle and even deer roamed. Paseo de la Resaca resides only a couple of miles from the Sunrise Mall via FM 802 and the Future Morrison Rd (will connect Alton Gloor with FM 511 once complete; the section between McAllen Rd and Pablo Kisel has been completed).

Within the past year, newer shopping centers are coming as well as new hotels, office buildings and banks. Just to name a few: Morrison Crossing Power Center (Home Depot and Petco are already open and more to come next year), Las Tiendas Plaza (across from Morrison Crossing and will sport a Super Target, Goody's, Hobby Lobby, Dress Barn, Famous Footware, Fashion Bug, Dots, Office Depot, Petsmart, TJ Maxx, Payless, Radio Shack, Taco Cabana, Payless Shoe Store and a Bank), Courtyard Hotel (broke ground and is under construction), First National Bank (completed), 2 ½ -story Plaza Escondida Office building (complete), South Texas Rehab Hospital (complete), Bed Bath & Beyond, the 4-story Staybridge Hotel, Mens Warehouse, and Carnival Shoes (at Sunrise Palms and others under construction), and really so much more retail, restaurants, office buildings, banks, and others that are too numerous to mention. All this growth within a mile radius of each other. The growth is phenomenal. Just this year, Morrison Crossing developers announced four 4 to 8 story buildings housing a medical center, hotel, offices, and apartments at their location. There was no definitive date as to construction but it will surely come within the next few years. The idea is to have a continuous one mile radius consisting of retail, offices, banks, and more between FM 802 to Alton Gloor. Already, a Super 8 Motel opened a 3-story hotel at the intersection of Expressway 77/83 and FM 511! The Driscoll Children’s hospital also opened between Alton Gloor and FM 511 along the expressway. And if this is not enough for you, how about another 1500 acre planned community village similar to the Paseo de la Resaca on the corner of Expressway 77/83 and FM 100 (the highway to Los Fresnos and SPI)!! This place will include hotels, retail, restaurants, etc with residential housing to go along with it. That’s on the door steps of San Benito and Harlingen!! The city limit ends at the intersection of FM 100 and Expressway 77/83. Now that’s growth! But don’t think that all this growth is happening in the north part along the expressway. No sir, it’s happening all over town with another Super Wal-Mart that opened on the intersection of FM 48 (to SPI) and FM 802 and not to mention all the businesses that is popping up all over this place. Also, there are so many more coming too numerous to list. How ‘bout Hooters? Got it!

You see, Brownsville is no longer this sleepy little town where life would just pass us by. We can truly call ourselves a “city”. We entered the 21st century with a bang and don’t seem to abate any time soon. In fact, it may just get a whole lot bigger and better. Who needs Harlingen or even McAllen? I certainly haven’t been going there as often as I used to and that’s true for the tens of thousands of people who shop Brownsville first. There’s no need to if Brownsville has what McAllen has. I won’t even mention Harlingen as that town is a dud as it continues to lose retail tax base at an astonishing $300M a year (read it in the Brownsville Herald)!! Yeah, they (Harlingen) can boast better and higher paying jobs but where do people go once they left work? Shopping!! Now they come to Brownsville to do their shopping and eating. Ten years is all it took to reverse the downhill trend that Brownsville was headed.

McAllen may still be the power hub of the RGV but I can guarantee you that Brownsville is gaining ground and very fast. Now, Brownsville can boast that it’s attracting retail and businesses first before they open in McAllen. Before the trend was that a national retail store would open in McAllen, then Harlingen, and finally Brownsville (if they even dared to go this far south). Now, it’s beginning to look the other way. Harlingen even gets bypassed altogether now.

One thing is for sure, I don’t hear McAllen or Harlingen gloating or boasting their economies. Instead, I hear the inevitable sound of construction and boom of hammers hammering away building a better, more prosperous city we like to call: Brownsville; “on the border, by the sea.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's alot of development. I looked at the Las Tiendas website at property commerce and saw that there will be a Target, Goody's, Hobby Lobby, Dress Barn, Famous Footware, Fashion Bug, Dots, Office Depot, Petsmart, TJ Maxx, Payless, Radio Shack, Taco Cabana and the Bank; But I did not see a Kohl's.

Will the Kohl's be in that center or a nearby center?


3:38 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Hmm. I thought I had read it in the Brownsville Herald some time ago. I will go into the las Tiendas website. I didn't see all the ones you listed. But then again, I haven't been to their website in a long while.

Thanks, I will update the article with the stores you listed.


5:38 AM  
Blogger MC said...

the people of brownsville still act like small-town (hicks) sometimes... not as bad as san benito citizens or harlingen citizens, though.

and don't get me started with mcallen people, thinking they're better than everyone else...

fact is, despite development and being a larger metro, the people of brownsville still need to grow up... though they're way ahead of the rest of the valley

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole RGV is growing (well not sure about Harlingen). Brownsville may be the valley's largest city, but McAllen-Edinburg-Mission-Pharr form a larger metro area. Almost but not quite twice the size of Brownsville's metro, according the Census Bureau.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked out the property Commerce site on Las Tiendas plaza and here is a list of what they had listed: Target. T.J Maxx, Mervyns, Dress Barn,Famous footwear,Fashion bug,Dots,Office Depot,Petsmart, Taco cabana, payless and radio shack. This is subject to change as more stores are added

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Texas Two-Step said...

Yes, Brownsville has made a remarkable economic turnaround in the past 10 years. New stores, restaurants and businesses are popping up everywhere.

Harlingen may indeed be asleep at the wheel. Oh yeah, except for Frank Puente, a city commissioner who is just drunk at the wheel.

The Chamber in Harlingen must have a phobia of economic growth. They sure don't seem to have a plan for the future. They have a museum they don't promote and a sorry excuse for a garage sale that they call Jackson Street Market Days downtown. Oh, but they do have one thing that no other city can boast about. This is something to be darn proud of, too. Harlingen has a big, expensive taxpayer-paid-for red sign marking the LA PLACITA district! Despite the fact that La Placita is an infamous seedy bar district where the drunks and prostitutes hang out, Harlingen thinks this is moving the city forward. Viva Harlingen!

1:38 PM  
Blogger Jorge Krieg said...

How in the hell in the world is brownsville growing so much? There is somehting "fishy" going on here! I mean, how many ppl have good paying jobs in Brownsville? Last time I checked, BISD and HEB were Brownsville's top employers. A far cry from high paying jobs. The piverty level is pretty high here, and I can't understand how all these up-scale communities are flourishing. I can even bet that the avg. income of a well-to-do family in brownsville is about $30-50,000 per year. and that is not a conservative guess. There must be massive money laundering going on here. I see bank after bank poping up. Where is all this money coming from? Where are the jobs that pay a salary that can afford you a nice home? Brownsville's percentage with a college degree has to be well under the 10% range so I assume that the rest are not earning a high wage. I just can't seem to get over the fact that Brownsville's growth does not add up. The commercial can possibly be excused with tourism, but the residential?

11:02 AM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Mexico has a lot to do with it. But you do bring up an interesting point; where's all the gorwth coming from with these very expensive homes poping up like weed? I honestly don't have a complete answer to it. But I don't believe that a massive laundering is going on no more than in any other city. That's far fetched and you would have to back up you claims for me to believe it. I wouldn't discount it totally but I would need to see hard proof of it.

A factor, though not the answer to your question, may be the lower cost of living here where a good 3 bed/2 bath/1 garage is at a good price for about $70,000 with about 2,000 sf. The prices in B'ville have not risen so drastically in the last few years (other than gas) but I do believe that a real estate bubble burst is immenent in the near future is growth continues as is.

Another "reason" for the huge growth spurt is that just about anyone can buy a home where all you need at minimum is a good part-time or two part times with a stable income to buy a house. I know cuz I'm one of them. though I'm not buying a $100,000 home but I can afford one with the income that I make. Really, all one needs to buy a home is about $12,000/year for a $55,000-$60,000 home and even at these price ranges there a very good homes with enough space and comfort. Check out the real estate brochures and see for yourself.

You do ultimately bring good points but in retrospect, any bank is willing to give you a mortgage loan with a high interest and that's where this banks make money.

Well, thanks for your comments and I've already started on my next few articles to post but I still need to finsh them. Keep on posting comments.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that a lot of houses are appearing all of a sudden and the main question here is who is buying them? I can tell you this much from my own personal experience. Both my husband and I are in our early thirties and we have three boys. I am a teacher with BISD earning close to $38,000 a year. My husband is a Respiratory Therapist working at Valley Regional earning more or less $80,000 a year. No money laundering here just a good education and honest work and we just bought a $200,000 house in Brownsville. So yes there are a lot of teachers married to others teachers whose combined income comes close or over $100,000 plus numerous nurses and medical professionals living in Brownsville with high incomes. Plus you have Border Patrol, and other Government employees. Believe it or not there is a 'small' (but growing) population in Brownsville that make close or over $100,000 with out illegal means. Being a native of Brownsville I am proud of that, but Brownsville still has a good way to go when it comes to culture, museums and children activities. We are almost there compared to before.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the comments related to income of local Brownsville residents, I have not seen any mention of the recent faculty hires by the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB/TSC). UTB is transitioning from a mostly teaching-based institution to a more evenly balanced university with a greater emphasis on research. Area specialties include teaching/education, health industry, and even the natural sciences like physics, biology and environmental sciences. The new faculty hires are coming in at pay scales just under those offered by UT Austin, Texas A&M, and equal or exceed TAMUK, TAMUCC, UT PanAm, and even UTSA. These young professionals are attracting other professors to the region and are inspiring the local student populace to reach their potential. Although these 70 - 100k earners (starting salary) are currently a small percentage of UTB's employment budget, at current growth rates, this will change rapidly in the future. I don't have specific numbers to back up my claim with the exception of starting salaries; however, I imagine these folks are having some significant impact.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point, MC. McAllen is oversaturated with snobs. Clearly, McAllen's citizens never get out of their involuted town b/c a lot of them act as though it is on the same tier as NYC or London.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brownsville is the largest city in the RGV and has more well-known popular shoppoing centers and restaurant ,but it is still a over populated rude people center for disaster. They may have good stores , but Harlingen is a less populated town with a mall with a few good retail stores and a new shopping center in the future consisting of 37 stores and their mall seems to be losing customers but still name brand stores like JC Penney, Sears, Dillards, Mervyns, Marshalls, and the new despartment store Steve and Barry's University Sportswear it is the only location in the valley and is bringing the mall more customers and more money with eighty stores like Charlotte Russe, RAVE, Hot Topic, Famous Footwear, Payless Showsource, Foot Locker, The Limited 2, New York and Company, and many more vist Valle Vista Mall valey's number one choice in shoping

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:34 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

I agree witht he guy that mentioned the laundering. Where is all the moneycoming from? The Mcallen- Mission- Edingburg- Phar Metro is definitly bigger and better then Brownsville. People still want to go to a cleaner, overall better city. Why are citizens of Brownsville boasting so much about there city when they are still in Mcallens shadow. Clearly they are caught up in themselves.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brownsville has a lot growing up to do, starting at the top (with the city officials). Enticing big business to relocate is a start, but let's not stop there. Let's focus on rebuilding the downtown area. Let's look for investors to invest in a skyline, consisting of a few skyscrapers and fill'em up with Banking, and other professional offices. And then bring in some nice eateries and shops, and then you need to build upwards with a condo/townhome skyscraper right in the middle of all this 'new downtown'! Yes it can be done! I am from a major city, and Brownsville easily has an advantage over any other city in the valley (including Mcallen) to become a MAJOR city (over 500,000 city proper). Mcallen can never reach that population as a city, they will always have to rely on all the other neighboring cities. GO BROWNSVILLE!

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Jobs In Brownsville said...

For those looking for jobs check us out

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wish there were more stores at the sunrise mall like hollister and abercrombie. i still travel to mcallen every other week to shop there. They also have newer clothes at the stores my family shops at, we always say that we get the "leftovers" at brownsville.

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go McAllen!!!

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad to see so many positive changes in these past years for Brownsville. Also, very proud to say that Brownsville has truly come a long way and is a stand alone city, unlike others in the RGV. Yeah, everyone knows Mcallen hogs up all the business from its neighboring cities. Bigger and Better Brownsville will be coming your way, just keep watching -you'll see. Go Brownsville!!!!

3:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mhh i say Mcallen is the place to be! Its has more of an urban feel, not to mention it has excellent
restaurants the biggest shopping mall with the best world brands they actually opened a new Michael Kors store very expensive.
You know Mcallen could actually really have a good chance to be a major city in the Valley I mean downtown is incredible with skyscrapers although it needs a lot more for its size it would really attract a lot of attetion
but i do give props to Brownsville and its business growth

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you may be from detroit or watever you say but mcallen indeed in much bigger than brownsville and not only cuz of the city surrounding it but look at how much land brownsville takes in comparison to mcallen,,,, brownsville has 143 sq miles while mcallen only has 41 sq if you add all the rest of the cities it comes up to near the 143 brownsville has google it up...

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you may be from detroit or watever you say but mcallen indeed in much bigger than brownsville and not only cuz of the city surrounding it but look at how much land brownsville takes in comparison to mcallen,,,, brownsville has 143 sq miles while mcallen only has 41 sq if you add all the rest of the cities it comes up to near the 143 brownsville has google it up...

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaahhh Brownsville is still boring & confusing McAllen is the best & Harligen.

3:46 PM  

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