Laguna Vista is setting its sights on not just new businesses, but a new type of business.

The Laguna Vista Town Council has authorized City Manager Rolando Vela to seek requests from developers to bring the right kind of retail into the town’s 13-acre portion of the South Texas Eco-Tourism Center.

In partnership with the county, the $8 million center along FM 100 consists of 23 acres, and the town is seeking to bring in what it calls “experiential businesses” on its portion of the project.

“ We envision on these 23 acres, the 10 acres where the center will be built and the 13 acres which we’re going to offer for proposals, is that whatever is built on those 13 acres needs to complement the center and the center needs to complement these businesses,” Vela said. “So when you drive by, we hope that you will stop and partake in this experience.

“ We see the eco-tourism center as a major catalyst to jump-start retail development on this highway 100 corridor,” he added.

Laguna Vista and its 3,000 inhabitants have very little retail operating within town limits now. Town leaders believe the eco-tourism center will kick-start a much broader development phase.


Experiential retail


Just what defines the “experiential retail” concept the town is pursuing for its 13 acres on the eco-tourism center site is a bit vague.

Proponents of the concept say it is often tech-driven and interactive, and is seen as a fight-back against e-commerce or online shopping.

“ You and I can go online and purchase from wherever but you don’t get an experience shopping on Amazon,” Vela said. “You simply place the order and they send it to you.

“ In an experiential retail business, you walk in and they may have some activities, so you’re going into this experience, and that’s the future of retail business,” he added.

Some have called it buying a memory.


‘ A certain style’


Vela said town leaders in Laguna Vista are emphatic in wanting the right kind of development in the community on the shores of the Laguna Madre.

To ensure development takes the right direction, Vela said he is preparing an ordinance which will mandate certain features in any potential site anywhere in the town, not just around the eco-tourism center.

“ I will be bringing to the council next month or the following month a scenic overlay district ordinance,” Vela said. “What that means is 300 feet from one side of the city limits to the other end, 300 feet from the right-of-way on each side, we’re going to require certain standards, certain landscaping, certain types of signage and certain types of lighting.

“ We’re not going to allow you to put this fluorescent signage that everybody else puts up,” he added. “So that when you drive into Laguna Vista, you’re driving into an experience, a certain style.”

Having a certain style may be a component, but drawing tourists off the highway is at the core of the effort.

“ We are literally trying to bring the future to the present,” Vela said. “To the point where you’re driving by toward the Island and you’re saying, wait a minute, let’s either stop now or let’s stop on the way back.

“ We want it to be such that if you stop even to say hi, you spend hours,” Vela added. “And when you spend hours, you spend money.”

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer