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City has big dreams for Conway

20140207 Conway Streetscape IMG 6171The idea of the beautifying downtown Mission through the Conway Avenue Streetscape seems trite compared to the transformation city leaders hope to see through the more than $2.5 million project.

Yes, 14 blocks along Conway will see benches, palm trees and pavers, making it more pleasing to the eye and welcoming, but at the groundbreaking Friday, organizers of the project shared big dreams on what the project could do for business in Mission.

“When we first started this project, we thought, ‘Landscaping, trees, lighting—What’s the big deal about this?’” City Manager Martin Garza said. “Let me tell you, it’s a big deal for us. … This is something that is going to hit the heart of the community. We’re talking about dozens of businesses that are going to be affected by this change.”

Construction is scheduled to start in the next week. Garza said the city will move block-by-block, meeting with business owners of each area before starting construction. The whole project is expected to take about 10 months.

About a dozen local business owners were in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony, and some took a shovel and picked up some dirt for the symbolic photo.

Sheila Vallés-Pankratz said she and a business partner bought the two-story building at the corner of Conway and Sixth about six years ago. Built in the 1930s, the facility once was a grocery store and meat market. Now it’s divided into three businesses, including a Mexican restaurant.

“We bought it because it was nostalgic to us. My business partner grew up in south Mission,” Vallés-Pankratz said. “His father and mother had a business in downtown Mission, and so for him, it was going back to his childhood.”

She said there’s still more work to be done on the building, and she hopes the Conway Streetscape brings back the charm of downtown Mission.

“Those of us that have invested our own personal money in setting up businesses downtown have wanted this to happen for a long time, so to see it finally come to fruition is awesome,” Vallés-Pankratz said.

It’s important to Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas that the local business owners are taken care of throughout the process. He once owned a store on Conway himself in the ’70s and served on a city board that first started discussion on beautifying the busy street.

However, Salinas’ furniture store went out of business when the Texas Department of Transportation came in to widen Conway Avenue because construction took so long.

“I think this beautification on Conway, we should do it for the old folks that were here a long time ago that really wanted to see something like this happen,” Salinas said. “It’s going to be something that I’m going to be very proud of because Mission has been good to me for many, many years. And, hopefully, the people that are doing business on Conway will benefit from this beautiful project.”

The project should have started six months ago, but it was delayed when the city found out it could qualify for grants from the Federal Transit Authority. The grants took the Conway Streetscape project from a budget of $1 million to more than $2.5 million.

Not only is Conway getting an update, but the Mission Economic Development Corporation is chipping in $100,000 for businesses in the affected area to update their building fronts.

Daniel Silva, chief operating officer of the MEDC, said the first thing companies look at when determining where to build or expand is the quality of life in a community.

Silva said the MEDC wanted to come up with something that complements the street project. It proves, he said, that Mission is forward-thinking.

The corporation is offering up to $10,000 for businesses that can match the funding for storefront renovations. The agency also is offering $3,000 grants for businesses that can’t afford to match. It’s all first-come, first-serve.

“Before, we used to lend them the money, and nobody wanted to borrow the money because times are hard,” Salinas said. “This is going to work.”

Also, the Mission Chamber of Commerce is aiding the cause of bringing customers to downtown with the GoMission discount card.

Between all the efforts, George Myers, chamber president, said the city is creating a “brand-new retail environment that’s not only going to enhance the existing merchants, but also attract new retail merchants.

“The heart of every great city is its downtown. The Mission downtown is getting ready to get real exciting, so stand by.”

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