Nogales, Sonora's first master-planned community has residents flocking to the affordable-housing development, creating a critical mass that is now attracting retail and industrial investment.
Five years into the 20-year residential, commercial and industrial project, Puerta de Anza recently signed a lease for its first grocery store and is in talks with a manufacturer to open a plant inside the development, where it will be close to the 15,000 current residents and potential employees.
Eleven siblings from Hermosillo, Sonora, make up the development company, Grupo Garcia de Leon, and future plans call for a new port of entry from the United States into the community.
"They are creating the future of Nogales," said Mike Hammond, president and CEO of Picor Commercial Real Estate Services in Tucson, who has signed on to recruit industry into the development.
"I've been going to meetings for 20 years about how to develop Nogales and find ways to bypass downtown," he said. "It was largely a waste of my time.
"Now these guys come along. They've got the land, the money and the vision," Hammond said. "I'm putting my eggs in that basket."
Some believe the project has the potential to lure more Fortune 500 companies to the city, which currently boasts eight.
"With Puerta de Anza, Nogales will become a city that attracts foreign investment because a big motivation for manufacturers is to have a labor force close by," said Manuel Hopkins Ruiz, the city's economic development director. "Nogales will be considered a major player in the 'Sun Corridor.' "
Flat Area Noticed
A flight over the swath of land bordering the United States more than a decade ago sparked the idea for the development.
Raymundo Garcia de Leon was intrigued by the location and flatness of the land, said his brother Fernando Garcia de Leon.
Because of the way the rail line was constructed, when a train rolls through, Nogales, Sonora, is literally split in half until the locomotive moves on.
With support from the federal, state and municipal governments, Grupo Garcia de Leon obtained land on the city's east side to connect the highway and rail from the main lines into Puerta de Anza.
Along with investment partners, the family is building residential properties at the rate of 1,000 to 2,000 a year. The development already has five convenience stores. Now the Mexican grocery store chain Santa Fe Supermarket has its first store under construction.
Negotiations are almost complete for the announcement of a manufacturing plant that will open in the development, Garcia de Leon said.
The ambitious siblings envision there will be demand for a port of entry for U.S. tourists to enter Puerta de Anza to visit the planned medical tourism hubs, shopping centers and restaurants.
In its entirety, the development is 2,550 acres and shares 3 1/2 miles of border with the United States.
To date, 173 acres have been developed with an investment of about $65 million from Grupo Garcia de Leon, its partners and government grants.
Puerta de Anza is operated by the company Dixus Inmobiliaria, which is one of 13 companies owned by Grupo Garcia de Leon in Sonora and Baja California. Seven of those are residential projects. The rest are service-related.
Beyond affordable housing and a concentrated workforce, developers wanted to create community bonds.
A clubhouse for students to do homework after school or dance, paint or play sports has a full-sized gymnasium and soccer field. Study labs are outfitted with sleek computers, and kids get limited access to the Internet for research.
There is a neighborhood watch program and a homeowners' association, which is teaching residents about keeping their property clean. Hanging laundry over front balconies, for example, is frowned upon.
The development is solar-powered, has underground utilities and is storing reclaimed water for future use in lakes and waterfalls.
More than 90 percent of the residents work in the manufacturing industry.
The average resident earns about $500 a month, and the mortgages on the 3,800 existing homes range from $70 to $80 a month. The affordable prices are possible because of federal funding.
When fully built out, the development will have 22,000 homes clustered around retail centers, industrial parks and open space.
Puerta de Anza is one of only eight developments in the country to receive DUIS certification - a federal designation for integrated, sustainable urban developments.
"These are humble people who have never lived in homes such as these," Garcia de Leon said. "Many moved here from shacks in the hills.
"We began with the residents, then retail followed and now industry is interested because of the workforce," he said. "We like the social-impact aspect."
On StarNet: View more photos of Puerta de Anza at azstarnet.com/gallery
Did you know?
The Puerta de Anza development is named after Juan Bautista de Anza, who was captain of the small presidio of Tubac, Sonora (now Arizona). In 1774, he became the first European to establish an overland route from Mexico through the Sonoran Desert to the Pacific coast of California.
Source: University of Oregon
For more information on the Puerta de Anza project, email Fernando Garcia de Leon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office in Hermosillo, Sonora. From the U.S., dial 011-52-662-217-5160.
Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at email@example.com or 573-4232.