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La Joya EDC applies for Coyote Boulevard grants, hopeful for development

La Joya’s economic development corporation voted Tuesday to apply for two grants that could support the extension of Coyote Boulevard and pave the way for a long-expected development in town.

The grants — one from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — could undergird the city extending Coyote all the way to the highway bypass north of La Joya.

The city expects that extension to cost about a million dollars.

Extending that road is a condition for developing 265 acres of agricultural land squared between La Joya ISD, Jara Chinas Road and the bypass into 990 residential lots and commercial development along the highway frontage.

McAllen developer Mike Blum, who was at Tuesday’s EDC meeting, has big plans for that land — and for hundreds of acres north of the bypass that could, one day, be linked with La Joya proper via an overpass.

Blum says those plans go back 21 years, to a conceptual land plan for the area.

That plan has so far resulted in relatively nothing — despite the city telling the Rio Grande Guardian in 2021 that it “was moving fast” and hoped for completion on the development within a year or two.

Blum was at the meeting to prod the city into action, and he came with ammunition.

The city, he said, is at risk of falling behind its neighbors.

He used Peñitas as a case study.

“The super Walmart in Peñitas — not in La Joya — has driven a great deal of activity,” he said. “You’ve got all manner of restaurants on the south side of 83 and school districts on the north side of 83. But the 800-pound gorilla is Peñitas and the Walmart and everything that’s happening to the east of the Walmart.”

Development in Peñitas, Blum said, has had a very real economic impact.

In 2019, his presentation described Peñitas as raking in almost $892,000 in sales taxes to La Joya’s $525,000.

The gap has since increased.

Last year, according to Blum, Peñitas’s total sales taxes were double that of La Joya’s — and Peñitas has even more commercial development in the works right now.

Commercial development, Blum says, is reliant on people.

The Greater McAllen Association of Realtors clocked La Joya as seeing only 56 homes sold in the past three years.

That’s not an especially definitive metric for growth, but it is one that doesn’t make La Joya look especially competitive compared to its neighbors, which saw more homes sold.

“Income’s not the problem, it’s humans,” Blum said. “You’ve got to get more humans living here and doing things here to attract Walmart or something equivalent.”

So what does La Joya need to do to make the development happen? Quite a bit.

Blum said in addition to Coyote’s extension, the project will need sewer line installation and drainage district approval. There’s water work to be done.

The city also faces a novel problem, Blum said: the state taking over La Joya ISD is bad for business.

“It’s a red flag in the development world,” he said. “Why would I want to go there when I could go to the other town that doesn’t have the state of Texas running the school district?”

Hiring a public relations firm may be in order, according to Blum.

Blum laid out the minutiae, pointing out dates in the next couple of months he’s hopeful the city will have work done by.

“This is a very aggressive timeline, but it is a timeline and it’s the reason we’re here,” he said. “We’re trying to emphasize the importance of speed, decision making, commitment to make something happen. God forbid I have to do this another 20 years, I’m not gonna be here 20 years from now, but I’ve been working at it for 20 years, 21 years. I’m ready to make this thing happen, but it can’t happen without you.”

The EDC seemed receptive to the recommendations.

“Unfortunately all this takes time, but at least we’re moving in the right direction also,” Mayor Isidro Casanova said.

There is at least one edge the city has that could help develop the project: county support.

County Judge Richard F. Cortez voiced support for the project in 2021. Blum told the EDC he expects that to continue.

“Also with me is Eric Cortez, who is one of my real estate associates and a good asset to me because he just happens to be Judge Cortez’s grandson,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing to be in this business, particularly in one that’s kind of got some sensitivity issues. And having somebody who has the ear of the judge is not necessarily a bad thing.”

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