The smell of freshly poured concrete still lingers in the air. The world’s largest Mexican flag blankets the Gran Plaza with its shadows. The construction seems to go unabated. All this stems from a $110 million dollar infusion the border city of Piedras Negras received and is putting into the development of its infrastructure, as well as key tourism sites throughout the area. For a long time, this city which shares its border with Eagle Pass, Texas remained under the radar for many. This will not remain the case for much longer as the Director of Economic Development, Jorge Carranza states, “our city had areas of blight and neglect which necessitated our attention”.
As part of a multi-collaborative effort among the state of Coahuila, CANACO & CANACINTRA (federal entities), a private initiative sector and the city of Piedras Negras, this project was begun in early 2010 and is expected to continue for a few years. It will eventually bring to fruition several projects which are aimed at drawing tourism, attracting much-needed investment and overall, improving the quality of life of Nigropetenses (term for residents of the city).
Of the multiple projects taken on to date, the chief ones include a new river walk, a cultural center, a children’s museum, an amphitheatre and restoration of the central plaza and surrounding buildings, to name a few.
For visitors coming from the Texas side, the most visible and largest in scope is the Paseo del Rio or “river walk” which extends for one mile between the two international bridges linking Mexico and Texas. It runs along the banks of the Rio Grande River which used to be overrun with river reeds with a backdrop of dilapidated housing but is now a broad concrete walkway with a decorative retaining wall, some shaded benches and colorful railing providing a place for joggers, cyclists and casual walkers alike. According to Mr. Carranza, there are plans in the works to provide retail and restaurant space for added attractions to the area.
Another prized and seemingly proud project centers around the old zócalo, called La Gran Plaza. Here the makeover was extensive and now includes, as its anchor, a central amphitheatre with surrounding public art and the Museo del Niño. Easily recognizable by the giant metallic sculpture of a grasshopper on top, the museum features growth-oriented, hands-on exhibits offering children the opportunity to enhance their learning of science and technology through innovative displays. The museum also includes an outdoor play space, a store and large space which provides for both temporary and permanent exhibits.
Just to the north of the Gran Plaza, is the Museo de la Frontera Norte, or “Museum of the Northern Border”. It will eventually house (currently under construction as of this writing) an extensive and integrative cultural history blending both Mexican and Texan milestones of significance such as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the missionary movement. A peek into the early settlers of the area as well as a snapshot of the mining origins surrounding Piedras Negras will also be on display. All this will be showcased on three levels including space reserved for administrative offices and a store.
Continuing around to the southwest corner of the central plaza area is the newly refurbished Casa de las Artes which will be the premier spot for cultural enrichment. This gorgeous building which used to be a private residence and housed a notary public is now the epicenter for all cultural exchange in the city. Space is provided for visiting artists, permanent exhibits, music appreciation, lectures, debates and literary discussions.
Less than seventy five meters away from the Casa de las Artes, is El Auditorio, or “the auditorium”. This art-deco structure now occupies the space where the old movie house, “Cinelandia” used to sit. It has gone through an extensive multi-million dollar renovation which now features seating capacity for over 450 people and will function as a gathering place for musical concerts, book launchings and graduations.
Adding to all these thorough and well-laid out urban improvements around La Gran Plaza, the city of Piedras Negras can also boast of displaying the largest Bandera Mexicana, or “Mexican flag”, in the world, as previously mentioned. It’s easy to spot this prized symbol from miles away with its dimensions stretching to 60 x 34 meters square. One can find it securely fixed in a base that weighs over 160 tons and can withstand hurricane force winds in excess of 110 miles per hour.
Many projects have unfolded and come to fruition, but many more are still slated and pending construction. Some are less touristy sights and focus more on the municipality’s needs. Here is a rundown of those the city anticipates breaking ground for in the near future.
Also located at the Gran Plaza, at the site of the old Hotel Fronterizo, this educational center will house multimedia space, areas for expositions, a technology area equipped with a library and information modules for students and administrative offices.
A complete overhaul and redistribution of current city offices offering expanded space to better serve the public needs.
TEATRO DE LA CIUDAD
Known as the “City Theatre”, this facility, designed by the renowned architect, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez will feature a seating capacity for 850 theatre patrons and will include dressing and production areas as well.
EDIFICIO DE SEGURIDAD PUBLICA
This facility will serve as the Public Security Office housing the public ministry, administrative offices, a general waiting area and an information kiosk.
A 75-bed general hospital providing areas for general hospitalization, burn victim treatment, therapy and operating room facilities.
This will be a $1.5 million dollar modification to an existing multimedia building which will include plumbing and utility upgrades plus façade work and new fencing.
Known as “Centennial Boulevard”, this mile-long stretch of roadway has recently broken ground and will connect the city neighborhoods of Presidentes and Ramón Bravo with Boulevard Carranza and the new, planned hospital.
This list, combined with all the urban improvements targeted at boosting tourism, is long and might be the most ambitious public works project currently undertaken along the U.S./Mexican border. Given this, one could easily argue that it serves as a model for others to follow in terms of how a once-neglected area can rise up and demonstrate how effective agency partnering and civic pride can restore the energy of a place and springboard more opportunities to come. With all the buzz and rediscovered sense of ownership, this may just reinforce what Mr. Carranza says, about Piedras Negras: that it’s, “la mejor frontera de Mexico”, or simply, the best border entry for Mexico!
Other Points of Interest
Plaza de las Culturas
Plaza de Toros
Iglesia de Guadalupe
Casa de la Cultura
**A special thanks goes out to Economic Development Director Jorge Carranza and Mayor Oscar Lopez for their time and contributions to this article.