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Laredo: U.S. and Mexico Spearhead Laredo-Nuevo Laredo Binational Park

Feature Illustration: The Able City design for River Vega, a Rio Grande riverfront development that could be incorporated into the proposed Binational Park. The drawing includes a rendering of Nuevo Laredo’s Binational Park along the south bank. Courtesy: City of Laredo.

Posted: 1-4-2021

by Adolfo Pesquera

Laredo (Webb County) — City Manager Robert Eads, working on the fly, issued a Request for Qualifications on Dec. 27, just 14 days after asking City Council’s authorization to assemble an architect/engineer team to formulate what could be a $100 million riverfront project.

The request was made on short notice and at the direction of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar and Deanna Kim, the U.S. consul general in Nuevo Laredo.

The RFQ solicitation represents a U.S. response to Mexico’s plans to construct a park on the south bank of the Rio Grande where it divides the two cities. The ambassadors of both nations are leading an effort to establish a Binational River Park that will highlight the goodwill and collaboration that has existed between the two cities for generations.

Nuevo Laredo’s river park project already has authorization to go.

The Binational Park designed for Nuevo Laredo.

Kim and Salazar assembled a Binational Working Group in the weeks prior to City Council’s action that includes the mayors of Laredo, Nuevo Laredo and San Antonio, as well as municipal, state and federal office holders of both nations. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg was invited because the concept for Binational River Park is that it feature a River Walk style development as part of the environmental restoration of  approximately 6.3 river miles.

The Binational River Park Phase I design of an ecological restoration project will include, but is not limited to, an integrated green belt along the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo vega (grassy plain) between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. The designs should drive an economic revitalization and include public art and culture, attract tourism on both sides and transform the river into a unique international landmark with global reach for this hemisphere.

The selected artists, artist team collaborations or firm shall work directly with the Binational Working Group.

This binational project is occurring alongside a UN-Habitat decision to advocate for and assist the Dos Laredos Region. A recent UN-Habitat forum held here worked on defining a work agenda with public policies for economic and regional development with social impact and benefits on both sides of the border, a benchmark to replicate this model laboratory in other border cities around the world.

Eads told City Council that this initiative began with a briefing given to Ambassador Salazar on what efforts have been made to date on riverfront improvements. Eads and city staff pointed to an unfunded project that City Council has moved along for years–the River Vega project.

The project area being considered in the RFQ for a Binational Park on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.

The River Vega project, which was designed by Able City, envisioned some remediation of the river bank that included erosion control and removal of invasive species, as well as some commercial development. Prior to the Able City effort, earlier city councils commissioned engineering studies and designs for river improvement projects in 2008 and 2013 that did not reach the construction phase; those reports are included in the RFQ.

Salazar used this as a starting point in talks with his Mexican counterpart on their efforts in Nuevo Laredo. What followed was the assembly of the Binational Working Group.

While the City of Laredo is taking direction from a working group that is not of the city’s creation, the land that would be developed is owned by the city and City Council would have to approve a final design.

Eads emphasized at the Dec. 13 meeting that the project envisioned by the working group is at least $100 million, “and even at that, we’re told this morning that might be too small. They want to use Laredo-Nuevo Laredo just like the UN-Habitat, as an example throughout the entire country.”

The U.S. and Mexico ambassadors will return to Laredo in February. By then, the city needs to have a project scaled big enough “to get that attention that is needed,” Eads said.

“This project, in their mind, can be done, has to be done within the next two years, very ambitious,” Eads said.

City Council recognized that the speed with which the federal government wants to move has a political motive. The next administration may be opposed to such a project.

Fortunately, there are environmental studies on the river that have been done and some components of the project could be shovel ready, if tailored to those past efforts, Eads said.  Able City’s work on the River Vega project already has completed hydrology and environmental reports.

However, City Council is considering a development that would continue east of downtown, past the international bridge to Zacate Creek.

Responses to the RFQ are due Jane. 13.

VBX Project ID: 2022-0004