Legislature to revisit bills aimed at redeveloping Brownsville's downtown riverfront

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Feb. 18—The years-long effort to redevelop Brownsville's downtown riverfront as a commercial and cultural destination took an important step Feb. 14, with the filing of duplicate companion bills in the two chambers of the Texas Legislature.

The bills, S.B. 940 and H.B. 2282, both are named the Lucio-Kristofferson Rio Grande Riverfront Redevelopment Act after their author, retired Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and Kris Kristofferson, the Brownsville-born Grammy winner and Oscar nominee who has agreed to lend his name to a cultural and entertainment district that would make up a portion of the via Americas riverfront project.

The bills request that the state authorize itself to participate in a riverfront Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) created by Cameron County last July. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, the state would reinvest the state's share of future tax generated by the riverfront project's proposed hotel.

The money would be used to facilitate financing of the extensive improvements to public infrastructure necessary for the project, improvements that would be paid for by the developer, California-based LandGrant Development.

The state offers TIRZ's as a way for developers to be reimbursed for up-front improvements to infrastructure improvements via the incremental growth in property tax once a project is complete. The program makes is possible for local governmental entities, Cameron County in this case, to accomplish very expensive project that likely wouldn't happen otherwise.

Creation of a TIRZ along the riverfront was necessary for via Americas to move forward. LandGrant tried without success to convince the city of Brownsville to create a riverfront TIRZ for the project, though the city did approve one in 2019 that included parts of downtown but not the riverfront.

S.B. 940 and H.B. 2282 are essentially identical to two bills filed for the 2021 Legislature, the House version of which did not come to a vote after Democrats left the chamber in order to deprive Gov. Greg Abbott of a House vote on his controversial voting bill. The current session picks up where the 2021 session left off in terms of via Americas, which would feature retail shops, restaurants, office space and an hotel in addition to the Kristofferson Cultural & Entertainment District.

Plans for the project include replacing the current earthen levee with a concrete barrier that would served as the foundation for the redeveloped stretch of riverfront and replace the existing border fence.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said he thinks the riverfront bills would have passed during the 2021 legislative session along with all the other pending, noncontroversial legislation left hanging.

"It was our bad luck along with everybody else that had the same problem," he said.

Trevino predicted via Americas will be a powerful, bi-national driver of economic development downtown, and said the county is focused on getting

S.B. 940 and H.B. 2282 passed this session.

Sam Marasco, LandGrant Development's founder and CEO, said the Rio Grande Valley legislators filing the bills this time around, Sen. Morgan LaMantia and Rep. Erin Gamez, need strong support from the local community, elected officials, agency administrators and anyone else who wants to see the project succeed to ensure passage of the needed legislation.

Marasco said his office intends to help whip votes in the respective committees by coordinating testimony in support of the project, noting that via Americas "is viewed as serious competition by interests in the four big cities" — Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — and that those interests could present formidable obstacles to getting the bills passed.

"Sen. Lucio has pushed back good and hard against these voices to protect the interests of the Valley," he said. "His successor, Sen. LaMantia, and her colleague in the House, Rep. Gamez, will be challenged as they run the traps in Austin for the first time."


To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas' legislative coverage.