Raudel Garza, manager and CEO of Harlingen EDC, was joined on a Zoom call by real estate agents Christian Gutierrez, a senior associate at Southern Commercial Real Estate Group, and Cindy Hopkins, broker at Cindy Hopkins Commercial Real Estate, to discuss real estate growth and development in Harlingen — as well as how the pandemic has impacted the way business is conducted.
“Obviously things have kind of changed the way we do business in the last few months,” said Garza. “A lot of people have been doing things differently.”
“For me, the things that I had in contract when COVID hit I was able to get closed, but it was very difficult. It took longer,” Hopkins said. “Anything I was working on, completely stopped during COVID. No phone calls, no emails, people were unsure of what to do. Now I’m trying to get those deals back, but in real estate, time is of the essence.
Gutierrez experienced similar circumstances.
“Everybody was kind of getting a little worried,” he said. “Sellers were concerned that it wasn’t going to get closed. Buyers were concerned that if they did close, when were they going to open.”
As the industrial real estate market continues to have a strong showing in Harlingen and the Rio Grande Valley, the economic slowdown brought on by the pandemic has started conversations about moving suppliers nearer to manufacturers — offering a possible boost in jobs for properly trained residents.
“We do have some good partnerships with TSTC and Harlingen school districts,” Garza said. “We have spent a lot of time in that arena trying to make sure our workforce is ready.”
Hopkins said she didn’t foresee the real estate market shrinking by much despite much of the workforce working from home.
Because of this, she anticipates companies seeking smaller office spaces. Hopkins has noticed an interest in facilities less than 2,000 square feet that would be ideal for downsizing once leases are up.
“I see a lot of potential for more office development. There’s not a whole lot of Class A office down here in the Valley in general,” Gutierrez said.
He added that he expects more office developers to take a chance in the Valley, especially with SpaceX, Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), University of Texas Rio Grande Valley growth, and other projects in the works.
“UTRGV has already broken ground and is actually under construction for the neuroscience institute — a little over 32,000 square feet of the research facility,” Garza said. “Also, the early college high school is going to be housed within a general education building that UTRGV is going to be building. I can see how institutionally we’re going to see a lot more activity in and around where the current medical school is and the VA hospital.”
Ideally, this kind of development would spur other growth, such as commercial and retail, Garza said. The pandemic took a toll on retail in the RGV and the rest of the country.
“Retail’s been transitioning a long time now. I see a lot of empty boxes,” Hopkins said, citing recent bankruptcy filings from Bealls and Tuesday Morning, two retailers with big box presences in the area. The challenge in finding use for such space is just that — too much space for most buyers.
Gutierrez sees possibilities for those spaces with a little bit of repurposing and innovative thinking.
“You look at what Amazon’s doing — potentially buying JC Penney’s,” he said. “They’ve gone in and converted some of these malls into distribution centers — maybe our mall would be a candidate. I don’t know.”
The Rio Grande Valley remains primed for growth. Harlingen, in particular, is poised for a boost — if companies and individuals realize just what the city has to offer.
Harlingen is positioned to reach all major points of the Valley within 40-minutes and also has the largest regional airport, Garza added. The Valley International Airport has the longest runway in South Texas – with an expansion coming soon – and is ranked in the top 80 cargo airports in the U.S.
“Harlingen is the place to be — it’s located perfectly,” Gutierrez said. “We have a port, we have a rail line, we have direct access to 77/83. We have some work to do, but keep pressing on.”