Story by Elizabeth Findell, The Monitor
WESLACO—The Weslaco Economic Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce moved into palatial new digs on the south side of city hall this week after a more than $1 million renovation, but to corporation Director Hernan Gonzalez, some of the magic is in the little details.
For one thing, he found a local artist to transform the unattractive yellow fire hydrant on the front lawn into a parrot. For another, the vaulted ceiling of the entryway recalls a classic train station.
“Seeing people’s expressions” is the best part, he said. “This really has wow factor.”
The corporation and the chamber both moved out of their previous location at 301 W. Railroad St. last year when the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council relocated there from McAllen, and have been in temporary spaces since then. The new facility will now house both entities and serve as a visitors’ center.
The development corporation took out a $1.3 million loan to renovate the 12,000 square feet of shell space, according to Gonzalez.
The final tab included $109,902 paid for construction project management, $68,931 for doors and windows, $245,179 for finishes including tiling and the suspended acoustical ceiling, and $355,813 for mechanical, plumbing and electrical updates.
The corporation also spent $41,960 for audio and video installations in the building, $50,000 for landscaping and $5,100 for new signage.
Some $9,711 went to purchasing and installing seven new flags to fly in front of the building between the City Hall and Visitors’ Center entrances. The flags represent entities that have had sovereignty over the region at various points: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Republic of the Rio Grande, the Confederate States and the United States.
Some corporation board members initially questioned the wisdom of flying a Confederate flag in front of City Hall, but after some debate members unanimously approved its inclusion.
Inside, the building has a wall of pamphlets and visitor information, life-sized bronze sculptures of children playing, large conference and board rooms, historic photos of Weslaco on the walls and other artistic features.
“It’s kind of a one-stop shop,” Gonzalez said of having the corporation, the chamber and city services all under one roof.
Still, the eventual plan is not for the corporation to make a permanent home in the building, but to move east—as it has from its previous locations—and let the facility likely become an event center.
“I think we’ll move east again within three to five years,” Gonzalez said. “Every time we’ve done this, it spurs development.”