By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition December 2016.
Friday, November 18, 2016, was a very special day for McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley. It was the culmination of years of work and planning that started in the 1980’s. The discussion of ideas prompted a referendum to change the City Charter, and ultimately the citizens of McAllen had the opportunity to choose the current convention center location, which is now the address of the newly built McAllen Performing Arts Center.
This year, McAllen city officials celebrated the ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of the breathtaking McAllen Performing Arts Center, a facility that can be considered among the most valued attraction for the city and South Texas. The ceremony was a unique opportunity to experience an exclusive full-house tour of the modern four level state-of-the-art facility.
As per City of McAllen officials, the vision behind the $45 million Performing Arts Center has always been to create a dynamic venue, which rivals any big city facility, to serve the local community.
“Welcome to the McAllen Performing Arts Center, my name is Omar Rodriguez,” said the director of the Convention Facilities Department for the city of McAllen. “Today, we open another part of the history of McAllen, with the opening of the Performing Arts Center.
Omar introduced McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who addressed the multitude of guests attending this once in a lifetime ceremony.
“This is exciting, Mayor Darling said. “I haven’t seen it until this morning. I didn’t get to see everything, but I’ve got to tell you, wow! For everybody who hasn’t, you’re in for a treat.” He continued, “Miss Debra. I can’t wait for The Nutcracker, I’m all excited about seeing that for about the fortieth time, and it’s always great, entertaining, and fantastic.”
Reminiscing, the mayor said, “I was also thinking about when we first started talking about a new Performing Arts Center, I was a mere youth.” He continued, “I was with Mayor Brand, and it was a dispute as to whether it was going to stay down in its location or come over here.” He said that Mayor Jack Whetsel (McAllen Mayor 1969-1977) was much involved in it, the concern was about whether that location anchored downtown or didn’t anchor downtown.
“I think the right decision was to make a move out here. This is a special place, and just becomes more unique all the time.”
The McAllen Performing Arts Center location is part of a tract of 168 acres. The area has given a new face to west McAllen. Aside from the performing arts facility, restaurants, and new hotels have opened shop. The adjacent properties are also beginning to flourish with large businesses attracting more people to the area.
“You know, the city commission was very involved in this, and Commissioner Aida Ramirez and I were talking when she first got in the commission, the debate was still going on as to whether to build in the old location or not.”
Mayor Darling said, “We decided to go forward, and the voters voted for a new location. We sent out the late commissioner Scott Crane, and commissioners John Ingram, and Trey Pebley all over the country looking at different venues.”
According to the mayor, all efforts led to the design and construction of a state-of-the-art facility that will host many cultural events from this region and even from northern Mexico. “It is now a landmark for many decades to come,” Mayor Darling said.
He also thanked all the commissioners for their time but above all the families of elected officials because without their support they would not have been able to do it.
He said, “Your family is the one that suffers at home waiting for them to come back, so Sasha, thank you very much for all that Scott’s done, and the sacrifices you made when Scott was a member of the City Commission and for all the great things that he did.”
The mayor also said that commissioners Aida Ramirez, Hilda Salinas, and Veronica Whitacre, were the ‘aesthetic’ people. He continued, “Because of the rest of the guys, we’re not good at colors as you can tell. They did all the tile colors, seating, carpet, everything, so if you love the colors, thank the women commissioners, because they’re the ones that did that.”
The mayor took the opportunity to say that he doesn’t like for people to call this facility the PAC. “I don’t like that.” He continued, “I think this institution and this building needs to be called the McAllen Performing Arts Center.”
He even went further and said, “So if you ever call it the PAC to me I’m going to tell you and correct you, because it’s the McAllen Performing Arts Center, it’s not the PAC. Besides, PAC means political action committee. They got the name first, and I don’t want us to be referred to as the political action committee, so everybody, when you call it, it’s the McAllen Performing Arts Center.”
The mayor also acknowledged that the region has SpaceX on one end of the Valley and the medical school on the other end. “So ladies and gentlemen, with this venue, and all the great things, I’m going to tell you, we have arrived.
So, enjoy it, and I know the first word out of anybody’s mouth, that goes in there, you’re going to go ‘wow!’. So if you say something else, come and see me, because it is a ‘wow!’ Thank you very much for being here, we’re honored to have you here today.”
Omar Rodriguez, who acted as the master of ceremonies said, “A lot of the inspiration that you’ll see in the architecture and the interiors were taken right out of our landscape. From the palms, the thorn thicket that we live in, the Rio Grande River, and the sunsets that we get to enjoy here in South Texas.”
Next came Roel “Roy” Rodriguez, McAllen city manager, he is a key person who oversaw the entire project from beginning to end.
“What a beautiful day, right?”. He said, “I want to start with the fact that it takes a lot of people to get this project done.” Roy stated that they had challenging days in the last two years because they were seeking perfection and that is hard to do.
“The culture in this city is so amazing, that the citizens demand it, and we’ve got to deliver it, and so for that, I want to thank the hundreds of people that worked on this incredible project.” He continued, “But there are also a lot of other individuals in the background, our staff.”
Also, he said, “As the mayor says, this region deserves to be recognized for what it is. It is an incredible place to live, which I love with all my heart, and a fantastic place to work.”
“Welcome to this incredible facility that’s yours. God bless you, and God bless McAllen,” he finalized.
The different promoters for the venue were also recognized.
They will play an important part in the future success of the place that will hold 1,828 people.
Saturday, November 20, 2016, was also a special day, as the unveiling of The Vaquero of Nuevo Santander took place, highlighting a special art piece designed for the venue.
Sheriff Eddie Guerra; former City Commissioner Marcus Barrera, Dr. Carlos Cardenas, and Dr. Cayetano Barrera were also present.
Former Mayor Richard Cortez said, “This is a special day for all of us here, not only in the city of McAllen but the whole Rio Grande Valley. We’re going to have an opportunity to unveil something that’s paramount to us, and that’s our heritage. If you want to know where you’re going in the future, you need to know where your past is, and so much of what defines us.”
He also said that it was very appropriate to have these sculptures that are going to show the whole world how it used to be.
He pointed out that without the leadership of Che and Becky Guerra this project wouldn’t have happened.
Becky Guerra stepped to the podium and said, “I want to tell you how humbled we are, and how grateful we are that the city of McAllen recognizes the importance of preserving our heritage.”
She said, “We started this project about ten years ago, and McAllen has been so supportive of this project.”
Che Guerra, Becky’s husband, was also present and said, “Where we’re standing now, if you go back to the 1750’s, this would be the province of Nuevo Santander.
If you draw a line from Monterrey, Mexico, to San Antonio, Texas, and go straight to the Gulf, that rectangle was all of Nuevo Santander. That was the beginning of the evolution of what we see today in the back, the modern cowboy.”
Several key sponsors of this project were recognized: Alice East with Santa Fe Ranches; HEB; Brad Wyatt of Wyatt Ranches; Ruben Bosquez with Frost Bank; Texas Regional Bank and Border Capital Bank.
Immediately after this ceremony, the doors of the McAllen Performing Arts Center were opened to the community for an open house. The citizens explored and experienced the beauty of the McAllen Performing Arts Center.
The City of McAllen programmed several performances featuring local dance and musical groups that graced the new stage for the very first time. Performers like local schools and local dance studios, including the Ballet San Antonio; the McAllen High School Theatre; the Grammy-winning Mariachi de Oro; the Valley Symphony Orchestra and much more.
The unique appearance of the Tony, Grammy, and Olivier Award-winning best hall-of-fame musical about rock and roll, the Jersey Boys straight from New York.
That day, the Jersey Boys performers each received one of the Keys to the City of McAllen.
Former Mayor Richard Cortez, now a City Commissioner; Hilda Salinas Councilwoman; anchorwoman Letty Garza, Channel 5-TV, and McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez, all took charge of the ceremony having as the scenario the grand four level theater and state-of-the-art facility.
On Sunday, November 20, 2016, the first professional performance took place. Tito Puente, Jr. became the first professional performer to use the McAllen Performing Arts Center. Also, during the show, Rene Sandoval, a local Jazz musician was recognized with a proclamation that Senator Lucio brought and presented that day.
This year has been an outstanding year for the City of McAllen; the McAllen Performing Arts Center is here now to stay and be enjoyed by current and future generations to come.