BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Nathan Burkhart, director of small business development at the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, says exciting things are happening to his city’s downtown.
“Our big 2.0 grant just wrapped up its third round of funding. We have had about $18 million in private capital roll into downtown just from that grant. It was created with a generous donation from the Elon Musk Foundation,” said Burkhart, pictured above.
“With that $2 million we have been able to attract, as I said, over $18 million into downtown. We are revitalizing a number of buildings along Washington Street and Elizabeth. We hope that this can be a catalyst for more improvement and growth going into downtown. I can assure you that in the next three years downtown Brownsville is going to look completely different.”
Burkhart made his comments in an exclusive podcast with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service. He said it is most fortunate the Elon Musk Foundation wanted to see the same things happening to downtown Brownsville as BCIC.
“Which is more density into downtown, our historic buildings refurbished,” Burkhart said. Asked why Musk wants to see this, Burkhart said SpaceX plans to bring in an additional 1,500 workers, to go with the 2,000 currently preparing for rocket launches at Boca Chica.
Burkhart said it is likely that most of the SpaceX workers will live in Brownsville.
“Millennials, Gen. Z, they want a walkable, livable downtown area. The cities they are coming from, they want the same facilities they have been used to, in Brownsville,” Burkhart explained.
“For their people to be happy they need the same quality of life aspects they have received in other cities, down here in Brownsville.”
Burkhart said he was not at liberty to say where the next phase of funding might go. “We are looking at revitalizing a number of historical buildings, we are looking at a brewery coming in.. new housing, the density is starting to build,” he said.
Burkhart acknowledged that some local residents have “rightful concerns” about gentrification in downtown Brownsville.
“That is absolutely a possibility. But, the only way to prevent that is to create, or rather bake in from the beginning, affordable housing, transient housing.”
Burkhart noted that the The City of Brownsville’s housing authority is fixing up the El Jardin Hotel to create affordable housing units. “We’ve got Come Dream, Come Build creating housing for the houseless. We are baking in, in the beginning, early on, the issues that can combat that rising sense of gentrification in our area.”
Looking ahead, Burkhart said he envisions downtown Brownsville “being its own entire entity” within the next three to five years. “Much like if you were to go to Austin or Nashville, they have their downtown alliance. It is a city within a city. That is exactly what we are going to have here in Brownsville.”
In the podcast, Burkhart also spoke about the eagerly anticipated eBridge Center for Business and Commercialization that BCIC is developing on East Adams Street.
“(For South Texas), it will be the largest entrepreneurial resource and incubator outside of San Antonio. It is going to be two floors. The second is going to have a make-a-space with some offices for our start-ups. The first floor is going to have your typical co-sharing space but with some offices for venture capitalists, permitting offices. And, of course, our No. 1 partner in all of this, the UTRGV Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center. They have a great incubator program themselves. We want to scale that up.”
Burkhart pointed out the eBridge Center now has a new roof.
“We have literally raised the roof about another eight feet. The building is set to be completed sometime in about March or April of this coming year. We are really excited about that. All the services are still out there but this will be the first time where we will have a physical location for all those services that we have been talking about for a while.”