Event Center decision deferred

A proposal contained in the city of Brownsville’s fiscal year 2021 to allow a private developer to turn the Brownsville Event Center into something besides an event center was met with skepticism on the part of Mayor Trey Mendez and some city commissioners at the Aug. 18 commission meeting.

The proposal, which does not specify whether the event center would be sold or leased to a private concern, was put forward by City Manager Noel Bernal as a way for the city to unburden itself of an historically money-losing venture and reassign the funds and staffing to maintain and operate it into core areas of the city, such as fleet and facilities, that have always lacked adequate personnel and funding.

“There are things that we haven’t been able to do over the years because we haven’t had the resources,” he said. “Even in this budget we don’t have the resources. What we instead proposed is to not just be more efficient but be more effective and be more strategic and disciplined with how we use our resources.”

Bernal also said the idea would be to redevelop the event center into something that would help grow the city’s tax base rather than costing it money.

However, the mayor along with commissioners Rose Gowen, Ben Neece and Jessica Tetreau said they’re opposed to green-lighting the plan until they know what the options are for redeveloping the event center, which has been closed during the pandemic. The proposal would have taken the event center “offline” as of Oct. 1, the start of fiscal year 2021.

“My concern was I didn’t want to make a decision today or through this budget to close it forever if we don’t even know what the potential use is going to be going forward,” Mendez said.

Bernal said further discussion and a final decision could be put off until mid-fiscal year, when modifications to the budget are normally made. Gowen said she’s “not averse to listening to ideas” but made a motion to vote on the first reading of the new budget while committing to revisit the event center issue in March.

“I’m not ready to make a decision because I don’t know what other uses there are, and nobody’s ready to hear those other uses because that due diligence has not been done, so I would rather vote to approve (the budget) and then continue looking at the other pieces of the puzzle, and if we need to make another amendment later on we do it,” she said.

“We could always do it on a contingency and revisit it at the mid-year budget point, which is in March in 2021, and in the interim we’ll do homework and bring options so that there will be more understanding of what it could be,” Bernal said. “So we wouldn’t make any permanent changes until we revisit the budget at the fiscal year mid-point.”

Gowen’s motion passed unanimously and the budget’s first reading was approved. The second reading and vote is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Another proposal in the budget, to let the Children’s Museum of Brownsville lease Ringgold Pavilion from the city rather than continuing its use as an event hall, was not controversial and will allow the popular museum in Dean Porter Park to roughly double its footprint.

Commissioner Nurith Galonsky said she supports the proposal to let a private developer take over the Brownsville Event Center.

“I’m actually in favor of unloading the event center,” she said. “If we could find a buyer for it that would be great. In my opinion the city shouldn’t be in the business of event halls. But that’s my opinion.”