Alton living up to its motto

Like the little engine that could, the city of Alton is living up to its motto, “The City on the Grow,” as it breaks ground on a full-service bank, prepares for a Stars Drive-in and finishes construction on its fire department.

Monday city officials gathered with Lone Star National Bank representatives to break ground on a facility, starting with an ATM at the corner of Dawes Avenue and State Highway 107, also known as Alton Boulevard.

20150403 ALTON Lone Star groundbreaking“For the longest time the city of Alton was lacking a financial institution within its borders. Its residents needed to drive long distances for their banking transactions. The closest full service banking facilities for Alton were four to five miles away,” said Mayor Salvador Vela.

The first banking institution to come in to Alton was the International Bank of Commerce located in the Juniors Supermarket on the corner of Main Street (Mile 5) and Alton Boulevard. Shortly after, Lone Star National Bank purchased lot 10 in the City Complex subdivision from the City of Alton for $360,000. It closed on the property July 22.

Upon completion of the ATM, the City of Alton Development Corporation will provide a $50,000 reimbursement incentive. Approximately 12 months after the completion of the ATM, Lone Star National Bank will be in the process of constructing a full banking facility at the location. The facility to be constructed is estimated at a $1.4 million property valuation to the city. A second incentive will be provided by the CADC in the form of payment for ad valorem taxes up to five years not to exceed $8,000 per year. Lone Start National Bank expects to create 15 to 20 temporary construction jobs. The banking operations will create four to six part-time jobs and three to four permanent jobs to operate the facility.

Alton’s population has been increasing dramatically since the turn of the century; the 2000 census had the city’s population at 4,384, and it increased to 12,341 in 2010. The most current estimate has the number at 14,950. This population growth will continue with the city’s recent approval of more than 588 multi-family units that will begin construction this year. The bulk of that number is from three apartment complexes, which have acquired Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs tax credit assistance.

Meanwhile, the City of Alton Development Corporation has been working on getting a Stars Restaurant franchise into its city limits for some time now, and the work has paid off. Final negotiations have been completed with Greg Barrett, CEO for Stars Restaurant, and contracts have been executed. Final closing on the property located on Alton Boulevard, sitting right across from City Hall in the Alton Business Park No. 1, is scheduled for next week. Barrett is planning on breaking ground for construction 90 days after closing in March and the opening has been tentatively scheduled for August. He expects construction costs to run close to $250,000.

Barrett estimates 50 construction jobs will be created during construction and 15 to 20 permanent jobs will be created to facilitate the new restaurant. Total annual wages to be paid will range from $225,000 to $250,000. Projected monthly taxable sales are being estimated at $70,000, according to Greg Barrett. This job creation and the expected increase in the Ccity’s property tax base brought about support from the CADC.

Steve Peña, CEO for the CADC, expects a significant increase in sales tax revenue once in full operation of this new restaurant.

“It just shows that hard work and diligence by the team pays off in the end,” Peña said.         

City services have increased to keep up with this growth, too. The newest addition will be a fire station to house a full-time paid department.

“Alton went from an all volunteer department in 2007 to its current staff of 17,” said Jeff Underwood, assistant city manager.

The station is the latest city facility upgrade. A City Hall was constructed in 2008 and the public works shop came on-line in 2010.

The new Alton Fire Station should be finished this month. The fire station has several features that are unique to this type of facility down here in the Valley. The building was funded with USDA communities facilties program funding. This funding came in at a 50 percent grant and a 50 percent loan totaling $1,000,000 with a $300,000 match from the city.

“This was outstanding to get this type of break down from USDA. It took a while but it was well worth the effort,” said Steve Peña CEO for the CADC.

The city also acquired a grant from Texas A&M University Kingsville under its Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment program to help construct, promote and implement Low Impact Development in the rapidly growing Lower Rio Grande Valley. This $100,000 grant was funded under the Clean Water Act to facilitate a paver’s project with a match of $62,000 from the city to pave the driveways to the new fire station. The selection of a red paver was ideal for this type of facility and makes the building stand out as being unique.    

In the past two years the Fire Department in anticipation of the new station has bulked up its staffing to 17 paid firefighters and 10 volunteers and has implemented policy to increase to three shifts with an increase of two firefighters per shift to five firefighters per shift. The Fire Marshal’s office was created and is certified though the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and has been doing cross training between fire and police departments. Currently Alton has three certified peace officers that are also arson investigators and one police officer that is also a fire fighter. Most recently the fire department was certified as a training center through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection to teach seven disciplines.

With all these new improvements it will warrant a new evaluation on its current Insurance Service Office rating. ISO evaluates fire departments on their capacity to respond to fires.

“This will be very beneficial to Alton residents and business owners where they may qualify through their current insurance for a reduction in their premiums due to the new ISO rating,” said Alton Fire Chief Javier Garcia.

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