By Nydia Tapia Gonzalez
Photos By Leonel Munoz
Defining Mike Rhodes with any of his titles is a futile task, for none can describe his tremendous drive and determination. He is the Founder and President of Bentsen Palm Development, owner of Esperanza Home Builders, Chairman of the IDEA Public Schools board, avid fisherman, hunter, pilot, philanthropist and visionary.
Rhodes, a native of Palestine, Texas, saw great potential in the Valley after reading an article about NAFTA twelve years ago. After the meat packing business he co-owned sold to Iowa Beef Processors Inc., Rhodes and his wife Lori decided to invest in real estate in the State of Texas. Mike knew NAFTA would influence growth near trading areas such as the valley. Lori, a master gardener and nature lover, wanted a property dedicated to wildlife preservation. They purchased 10,000 acres in Hidalgo County. At first, they thought the land would lease to farmers as they enjoyed retirement in the hill country, “but boredom set in,” said Rhodes. After taking a second look at their valley properties, they dreamed of creating a habitat where people and nature grew together among 2,600 acres in Mission, Texas. That was the birth of the Bentsen Palm Master Planned Community ten years ago. Rhodes believes that fostering a love for nature will reap generational and long lasting benefits. But it did not come easy, for there are many obstacles associated with a dream of this magnitude. There were schools to build, nature parks to be secured, technology to bring and so much more.
Rhodes approach included the donation of a 2.4 million dollar property for the creation of the World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, and a 1.4 million dollar property to the North American Butterfly Association, featuring the largest outdoor Butterfly Park in North America, both in exchange for exempting Bentsen Palm residents from admission fees. Several projects resulted from a partnership with the City of Mission: Ten miles of paved Hike & Bike Trails (soon to be twenty miles), the largest sports complex in the RGV- Bentsen Palm Park, now hosting little league tournaments and other sports activities, and the Veteran’s Cemetery. When it came to education, Rhodes envisioned the best for his community. One day, after reading an article about IDEA public schools, he donated land to bring one to Bentsen Palm. An IDEA Charter School is now a reality. Rhodes also serves as Chairman of the Board for IDEA Public Schools. “Because of the development’s design, children are able to walk to school via nature trails from any of our communities,” said Rhodes. No development can thrive without phone, high speed internet and cable TV, so when local providers offered limited services, Rhodes promptly created his own provider company, SolStar Network, now offering the best communications in the RGV. Problem solved.
Bentsen Palm encompasses 11 individual mostly gated communities. Once complete, the development will consist of 5,000 homes, retail, and commercial properties. Quality builders are key and Bentsen Palm welcomes the finest. Rhodes is the owner of Esperanza Homes, 2011 RGV Builder of the Year, offering quality homes at all price points. Nestled among luscious wildlife are several open communities. Tanglewood offers floor plans consisting of private courtyards and a community center with swimming pools. Retama Village offers the latest trend in the active adult market featuring a luxurious clubhouse, Courtyard homes, RV Supersites and Port homes. Bentsen Palm RV (just awarded the top in Texas), also offers overnight casita rentals adjacent to the state park. Bentsen Palm is the perfect place for raising families or enjoying retirement in a resort setting. Rhodes employs 20 people strictly dedicated to maintaining the grounds. Retirees are also a part of his staff. “There’s a wealth of great people here,” Rhodes said.
Responding to a question about border security because of the proximity to the Rio Grande River, Rhodes said it has never been a problem. Our residents kayak, fish, and party in the palapas he built right on the banks of the river. While touring the property, it was obvious the area is well lit and patrolled. There are cameras supervised by Mission’s police department. Rhodes said the Mission PD will soon have a gun range on the property.
With everything going so well, one wonders if there are any challenges that keep Rhodes awake at night. “Getting people to come here; that’s my biggest challenge,” he stated. He also said ideas wake him up early each day motivating him to continue building his dream. He is proud to own the best community around with the best schools and award-winning homes. Rhodes is known to strive for perfection, something that is not always profitable he says. “But if you can’t dream it, you’ll never get it done,” Rhodes said, as he rushed to another meeting.