Feature Illustration: Conceptual sketch of the RGV Epicenter Hotel and Convention Center beside a Crystal Lagoon. Courtesy: City of San Benito.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Benito (Cameron County) — The City Commission has agreed work with a private developer to construct a $115 million hotel and convention center on a 38 acre site.
The agreement, announced July 10 by the city, is with Western Spherical Developers LLC and would be called Epicenter Rio Grande Valley, according to Mayor Ben Gomez.
The hotel and convention center would be the first phase of a larger mixed-use commercial development encompassing 65 acres. The project site starts at the northeast corner of Interstate 69 and Highway 509.
Gomez states in the announcement that the project would be financed by the developer, with a minimal financial impact on local taxpayers.
In 2019, Western Spherical had an agreement with League City to develop a 16-acre Epicenter sports complex. But League City leaders lost interest when Western Spherical took too long to front funding and opted instead to build a sports complex at their own expense.
David C. Miles, manager of Western Spherical, said in a prepared statement, “The construction, development and operation of RGV Epicenter will create approximately 319 full time construction jobs and 758 direct and indirect full time local jobs during the construction phase and another 1,013 direct and indirect full time local jobs during the operation of the hotel and convention center.”
Western Spherical is headquartered in Friendswood. VBX will follow this development agreement as Project ID 2020-5418.
The RGV Epicenter facilities will include a 23,000-square foot convention center, a 142 key (minimum) select service hotel supporting large venue conventions, a crystal lagoon, a visitors and special events center utilizing banquet venues, a performance hall or pavilion, interactive education venue, professional office space, restaurants and retail space, green space, and athletic and entertainment-related facilities.
Commitments are already in place from interested tenants, including a medical wellness center, Waypoint 2 Space, Space2 Fly, and Crystal Lagoon. Active discussions are underway with additional significant entertainment and business entities.
With successful projects in multiple states, the wellness medical center, is brokered/sponsored by USI Insurance Services, a solutions-driven and community-focused industry leader in commercial insurance services and risk management. The medical wellness center will offer a menu of medical services including emergency care, wellness care programs,and professional medical offices.
Waypoint 2 Space and Space2 Fly offer education and experiences related to commercial aerospace and flight simulation. Waypoint to Space is a training and education commercial facility dedicated to the preparation of commercial space initiatives and training potential personnel for service and working in commercial space facilities or stations.
Waypoint2 Space is the only FAA safety approved training program in the United States. Space2 Fly is an educational and entertainment venue offering an experiential opportunity simulating what it is like to fly in a weightless environment like the astronauts.
Crystal Lagoons is an international company offering a unique simulation of beach-like lagoons with crystal blue waters set in an aesthetically appealing tropical-style environment. The cutting-edge technology ensures quality of water and good environmental stewardship while offering the enjoyment of a “lagoon”. The multi-acre site offers a family-friendly and clean option for water activities, dining pleasure and special events.
Mayor Gomez gave credit to State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, who each authored and introduced legislation that evolved through mergers with others to become HB 4347 and HB 2199. Legislative consultant Parker McCollough, of Mercury Public Affairs LLC, was also instrumental in directing the measure through the legislative process.
House Bill 2199 is designed to use municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue in certain municipalities, including San Benito, for development of sports and entertainment facilities. Likewise, HB 4347 is a bill that will allow San Benito to also use municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue for hotel and convention center projects and other qualified development.
“The agreement unanimously approved by the City Commission will facilitate financial mechanisms to bring about a variety of retail, sporting, dining, lodging, entertainment and educational facilities to San Benito. This is legislation of historic proportion for San Benito and South Texas,” Commissioner Rene Villafranco said.
Plans for Epicenter incorporate a diverse scope of amenities including affordable family entertainment, retail, restaurants, live entertainment, medical wellness, interactive educational initiatives, and Class A office space.
The concept for RGV Epicenter dates to September 2018, when Miles approached City Manager Manuel De La Rosa to propose construction of a hotel and convention center.
The City Commission in October 2018 agreed to hire Mercury Public Affairs in preparation for the coming legislative session where officials planned to introduce legislation to create bills that would help fund construction of the project which had by then, grown in scope to include entertainment venues.