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RUNNERS FROM ZACATECAS, MEXICO, ON SATURDAY BRAVED COLD WINDS AND RAIN TO DOMINATE THE 31ST ANNUAL LONGEST CAUSEWAY RUN.

JOSEPH AMENYA OF ZACATECAS, WITH A WINNING TIME OF 32:37.2, TOOK THE $500 FIRST-PLACE PRIZE AT THE END OF THE 10K RUN THAT FEATURED A CHILLING SPRINT ACROSS THE 2.37-MILE QUEEN ISABELLA MEMORIAL CAUSEWAY. LILIAN MARIITA, ANOTHER ZACATECAS RUNNER WHO TOOK HOME A $500 CASH PRIZE, WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO CROSS THE FINISH LINE, CLOCKING IN AT 36:25.7.

RAIN AND TEMPERATURES THAT DIPPED INTO THE MID 30S SLASHED THE NUMBER OF ENTRIES TO ABOUT 3,400 FROM ABOUT 4,800 LAST YEAR, SAID ORGANIZER BETTY WELLS, PRESIDENT OF THE PORT ISABEL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. “IT’S DOWN, DIRECTLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE WEATHER,” WELLS SAID AFTER THE RACE. “WE’VE BEEN GROWING EVERY YEAR. THIS YEAR WE WOULD HAVE BEEN CLOSE TO 5,000 IF IT WASN’T FOR THE WEATHER.”

THE RUN BEGAN AT THE PORT ISABEL COMMUNITY CENTER AND ENDED AT LOUIE’S BACKYARD RESTAURANT ON THE ISLAND. THE RUNNERS BRAVED TEMPERATURES THAT AT ONE POINT REGISTERED 36 DEGREES. A STRONG WIND DROVE A HARD RAIN INTO THE RUNNERS AS THEY MADE THEIR WAY OVER THE CAUSEWAY AND ONTO THE ISLAND. MOST WERE DRESSED AGAINST THE COLD AND RAIN, WITH HEAVY JACKETS, CAPS AND GLOVES, AND RAIN GEAR. BUT SEVERAL RUNNERS CHOSE TO RUN ONLY IN RUNNING SHORTS AND SHORT-SLEEVED SHIRTS.

THEY WERE ALL HAPPY TO MAKE IT TO THE FINISH LINE.

LIKE OTHER BUSINESS PEOPLE HERE, DENNIS FRANKE IS COUNTING ON A NEW CAUSEWAY AND AN ECONOMIC UPTURN TO HELP REVIVE DEVELOPMENT OF HIS UPSCALE COMMUNITY AT THE EDGE OF SOUTH PADRE ISLAND’S PROMISING NORTHERN STRETCH. FOR 30 YEARS, FRANKE AND HIS TWIN BROTHER RICHARD HAVE WORKED TO DEVELOP THE SHORES, THE ISLAND’S FIRST GRAND NEIGHBORHOOD THAT EXTENDS FROM A STATELY BEACHFRONT VILLAGE TO SEVEN ISLES THEY CARVED OUT OF THE LAGUNA MADRE.
“WE’RE TRYING TO CREATE SOMETHING VERY UNIQUE AND SPECIAL,” FRANKE SAID.
A PLANNED 8-MILE CAUSEWAY THAT WOULD CONNECT NEAR HOLLY BEACH ABOUT 1 1/2 MILES FROM THE DEVELOPMENT WOULD HELP TRANSFORM THE ISLAND’S NORTHERN TRACT, SAID FRANKE, WHOSE FAMILY HELPED DEVELOP SOUTH PADRE ISLAND. “WE WILL PROBABLY DRIVE THAT BRIDGE IN FIVE OR SIX YEARS,” HE SAID. “THAT WILL BE A HUGE BENEFIT. IT WILL GET PEOPLE EXCITED ABOUT BUILDING FARTHER NORTH AND EXPAND THE ISLAND.”
FRANKE SAID THE NATION’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY WOULD HELP HIM COMPLETE THE PROJECT. IN 1982, HE AND HIS BROTHER’S VISION LED THEM TO BUY ABOUT 250 ACRES THAT STRETCH FROM THE BEACH TO THE BAY TO PLAN “THE ONLY UPSCALE DEVELOPMENT ON THE ISLAND,” HE SAID.
BETWEEN 1984 AND 1995, THEY DREDGED THE LAGUNA MADRE, MOVING ABOUT 1 MILLION YARDS OF EARTH TO CREATE SEVEN ISLETS THAT THEY PLANNED TO TURN INTO POSH VILLAGES, FRANKE SAID.
FRANKE SAID THEY OUTLINED PLANS FOR A PROJECT OF 400 TO 450 SINGLE-FAMILY HOMES, TOWNHOUSES AND CONDOMINIUMS AS PART OF A DEVELOPMENT TO FEATURE A DOWNTOWN AREA MADE UP OF A RESTAURANT AND CAFÉ ALONG WITH A BOUTIQUE HOTEL AND A MAJOR HOTEL.
IN 2000, FRANKE SAID, HE AND HIS BROTHER LAUNCHED THE DEVELOPMENT WITH CONSTRUCTION OF TALL, STATELY BEACHFRONT HOMES WHOSE ARCHITECTURE IS A BLEND OF SOUTHERN AND CARIBBEAN STYLES. “THE MARKET WAS SUCH THAT THERE WAS AN INTEREST IN BEACHFRONT PROPERTY,” HE SAID. NOW, HE SAID, THE PROJECT THAT FEATURES THREE CONDOMINIUM TOWERS IS ABOUT 60-PERCENT COMPLETE. ALONG THE BAY, FRANKE SAID HE AND HIS BROTHER SOLD 120 LOTS FROM 2004 TO 2006.
BUT AFTER THE RECESSION HIT THE NATION IN 2008, FRANKE SAID, PROPERTY OWNERS HELD OFF ON PLANS TO BUILD HOMES WITH PRICE TAGS OF ABOUT $800,000. TODAY, THE PROJECT’S TWO-ACRE PARK FEATURES TENNIS COURTS, POOLS, BASKETBALL COURTS AND AN AMPHITHEATER NEAR A 2,000-FOOT MARINA.

FERNANDO DEL VALLE

TODAY’S COLD TEMPERATURES MADE THIS YEAR’S 17TH ANNUAL POLAR BEAR DIP AT SOUTH PADRE ISLAND MORE THAN IDEAL FOR THE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE READY TO KICK OFF THE NEW YEAR BY BRAVING THE COLD WATERS. “NOW THIS IS NUMBER 17, STARTED AS AN OLD PARTY AND NOW LOOK AT IT.. IT HAS GOTTEN BIGGER,” SAYS POLAR BEAR DIP CO-FOUNDER GREG MORRISON. “EVERYONE IS RUNNING INTO THE WATER SMILING, TO PUT A SMILE ON SOMEONE’S FACE AT THE BEGINNING OF A YEAR, IS A GOOD THING,” ADDED CO-FOUNDER BLAINE MCCULLOUGH.

THE REACTIONS? “IT WAS FREEZING, I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS! ARE YOU COMING BACK NEXT YEAR? OH YEAH!” SAID PARTICIPANT FROM RICHMOND, TEXAS, BRIANNA GONZALEZ. ANOTHER TWO FEELING THE FREEZING COLD BUT STILL READY TO COME BACK NEXT YEAR WERE FATHER AND DAUGHTER FROM THE VALLEY, ALEXANDRA AND LEO. FOR THE MOST PART, PEOPLE HAVE REASON TO DO IT AGAIN. AND THAT INCUDES NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGIST BARRY GOLDSMITH.

“IT’S MY 3RD YEAR IN A ROW, I REALLY WANTED TO CHALLENGE MYSELF. LAST YEAR WAS 55 THIS YEAR IS 45, MAYBE THIS IS THE COLDEST ONE EVER. WE HAVE TO CHECK THE DATA,” SAID GOLDSMITH. WHILE OTHERS. “BECAUSE IT’S CRAZY! WE WERE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING MORE CRAZY BUT WE COULDN’T FIND IT SO WE DECIDED FOR THIS. IT WAS AWESOME! I WAS FREEZING COLD!” ADDS A JOINT GROUP OF PARTICIPANTS FROM SOUTH CAROLINA.

BUT IF YOU ARE NOT CONVINCED, YOU MAY WANT TO LISTEN TO WHAT THESE HOUSTONIANS HAVE TO SAY. “DO IT DO IT, IT’S FUN! IT’S A GOOD WAY TO BRING THE NEW YEAR. IT’S NOT AS BAD AS YOU THINK. WHAT’S LIFE WITHOUT A LITTLE ADVENTURE. YEAH, JUST DO IT! ONCE YOU GET OUT, YOU DON’T FEEL THE COLD ANYMORE.”

ACCORDING TO THE ORGANIZERS THERE WERE ABOUT 600 PEOPLE TODAY TO BRAVE THOSE COLD WATERS AND THAT EVEN INCLUDED SOME ANIMALS. THIS YEAR’S POLAR BEAR DIP WATER TEMPERATURE WAS 59 DEGREES WHILE OUTSIDE TEMPERATURE WAS 45. BUT ACCORDING TO METEOROLOGIST BARRY GOLDSMITH, THE WINDS MADE IT FEEL LIKE 38 DEGREES.