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Piedras Negras: A Border City on the Move

by planetnomad on February 23, 2011

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.

Public sculpture named El Vuelo, or "the flight"

Public art in the Gran Plaza

El Chapulin atop the children's museum

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.

The Church of Guadalupe

Facade work around the Gran Plaza

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.

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.

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
Mercado Zaragoza

Useful Websites

City of Piedras Negras
Piedras Negras Tourism Office
State of Coahuila Tourism Office

**A special thanks goes out to Economic Development Director Jorge Carranza and Mayor Oscar Lopez for their time and contributions to this article.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa @chickybus February 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Nice job on this article! Looks like a lot is going on in Piedras Negras and it’s really positive. Glad to see this type of change happening…should be really good for Mexico!

planetnomad February 28, 2011 at 10:45 am

Thanks for your comments Lisa! Yes, it’s really refreshing to see such great things happening in Piedras Negras. I was there for the inauguration of their plaza recently and felt the local vibe to be one of pride and anticipation for the future. It was something special for me to be a part of and witness first-hand. Because this is a gateway city to the entire country, it deserves special mention and certainly a visit!

Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures March 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm

This is exciting stuff! Also refreshing to see a border town that isn’t sketchy (like Tiajuana…)!

Jeremy B March 4, 2011 at 1:01 am

Wow, that is incredibly impressive! I can actually seeing that being a draw for people from Texas to visit. From the photos you have posted so far, it looks incredible! I love the River Walk and the buildings, museum, auditorium are going to make this place look classy.

There was some discussion tonight about building a downtown arena here in Sacramento even if the Kings leave. I say that because I wish Sacramento would do something like this and infuse some energy and some pedestrian areas like this to attract people. We need to shake things up a bit here and I admire the changes Piedras Negras are making! However, after walking around these great facilies, not sure the city will live up to its name now! 🙂

planetnomad March 5, 2011 at 11:01 am

Aaron: I couldn’t agree more with you that Piedras Negras has some very exciting things happening! I love encountering communities that are making positive strides and yet, still fall under the radar. Unfortunately, the media only provide scant coverage of the positive along the border. This was one of the driving factors for me to create this website and share with people what they may not know about certain places in Mexico. About Tijuana, sure there are some “sketchy” areas, as you put it, but those are present everywhere, including here in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Actually, Tijuana has quite a few attractions that we don’t read about often , and this, prompted me to write a brief piece on it as well. You can check it out here on this site. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts!

planetnomad March 5, 2011 at 11:28 am

Jeremy: I actually lived across the border in Eagle Pass for about a year when I was kid, so I have an added personal connection to Piedras Negras and was really excited for the city and its people for all the great changes. I really admire the city and state officials for prompting the changes necessary to make things happen. I would love to see this positive energy extended to other border areas and hopefully spawn off some really good things and help combat the ongoing issues. You bring up some good points about Sacramento and how it could benefit from some changes similar to these. I especially agree with the idea of pedestrian areas. Mexico City, just last year redeveloped one of its main streets “Avenida Madero” and converted it into a pedestrian mall to great success. IMO, these type of urban improvements go far in the enhancement of an area and foster a great vibe among the locals. Here’s to hoping the progress spreads all along the US/Mexican Border and to Sacramento as well! 🙂

Thomas Garrett May 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I was recently in the Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras area and all I can say is “WOW” . The city of Piedras Negras is really going all the way in improving their city. This particular border city has always been known as one of the safest and cleanest.,compared to other border areas. Another great attraction is the Plaza de las Culturas coming in from bridge 2. Cannot wait to go back and visit once they have finished the entire project.

planetnomad May 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm

I totally agree with the “WOW” part Thomas! I think the city government and the state of Coahuila have really joined together to catapult Piedras Negras onto another level unseen with border cities as of late. Hopefully Piedras Negras’ dynamic improvements and buzzing energy can serve as a model and spawn off investment projects in other border areas…that would be one sure way to combat several of the ongoing issues. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts!

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