Zoho Take Over, Part One: The McAllen Creative Incubator

Words by Josue Ramirez and Avi
Edited by Abigail Vela

Note from the editor: Due to the lack of communication regarding the ongoing building changes, artists who have contributed quotes preferred to remain anonymous, feeling hesitant to voice their concerns as they feared the possibility of eviction and/or retaliation, leading to a sense of insecurity.

At the state and regional level, the City of McAllen is pointed to as the exemplary metro of the Rio Grande Valley. The reason, perhaps, is that local officials prioritize growth and economic development as a guiding principle that often trumps its citizen’s happiness and well-being. This has been evident in the way the City of McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce have rolled out the red carpet over its residents to welcome and push the agenda of a new software company.   

 

Earlier this year, Trucha and other creatives experienced this firsthand as the McAllen Creative Incubator was rented out to Zoho, an India-based online company, and tenants were pushed out. Many artists have expressed their concerns about the insecurity, instability, and future of the arts within the city, as the Incubator transformed into a shell of what it used to be.

“The goal of what the Incubator was meant to represent has been lost throughout the years. If you ask artists or community members about the Incubator, they'll recall when it used to be at the school, or when it was the public library, or when Art Walk used to be something special. Now, things seem forced and the genuineness for the arts and for creating unique experiences has been gone for some time.”

The McAllen Creative Incubator
The McAllen Creative Incubator

A Reminder of What It Once Was

The McAllen Creative Incubator, commonly referred to as, “the Inky,” is meant to be the creative hub of McAllen. It is where artists all over the RGV can congregate, create, and form connections with each other. It was a place that housed creatives on all of its three floors. According to their website, it is to “support the continued professional growth of artists in order to enhance the cultural and economic vitality of our local community.” 

An anonymous artist stated, “The Incubator used to be a cool spot, artists wanted studios there or they wanted to work with a tenant so that they could work together to build a community event, there were lots of conversations about the ‘potential of what the Incubator could be’ but most ideas were either shut down or the community lost motivation.”


The Incubator has seen its fair share of concerns amongst its current and previous tenants. In a letter drafted in 2021, paying tenants at the time shared a lengthy
list of concerns, addressing their need for safety, cleanliness, and use of the space. The concerns have been ongoing (some since 2017), constantly ignored by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, who instead placed their focus on new developments instead. 

The appointment of Josh Mejia, as the (now previous) CEO of McAllen’s Chamber of Commerce in June 2022 was the beginning of tumultuous and negative changes for tenant artists. As of December 2022, some artists personally felt the effects of the changes that the Chamber took. After an introductory meeting with Mejia, tenants felt left in the dark, learning about the Chamber’s motives through whispers and rumors.  

An empty studio on the first floor of the McAllen Incubator

New Software Company, Zoho Comes to the Inky

“We didn't hear anything about Zoho. We saw some tenants leave, later we heard that they were asked to leave. We saw tenants moved around, who later left. We saw construction happening. All we know is that the second and third floors belong to one tenant.”

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce held a closed session to discuss “McAllen Creative Incubator Tenants” in November 2022. The McAllen Chamber later revealed their plans to rent out its third and second floors to Zoho.

 

Another anonymous source shared, “We heard that a telemarketing agency was moving into the Incubator which was disappointing because there are a lot of artists on Main Street who were willing to come together and help the building become the community arts center we thought it wanted to be.”

 

In conversation with the Incubator’s previous Director, she noted that the company was staying temporarily— meaning 2 to 5 years. She assured us in her final goodbye luncheon with the tenants that we were going to be left with a beautifully renovated building. “Keep fighting for the arts,” she said. 

 

That ushered rapid changes as the Chamber approved Zoho to renovate its second and third floors, displacing some tenants, most in the creative arts and local startup tech companies.

 

Trucha used to be one of those tenants. After Trucha settled into an office on the third floor, swift changes began happening at the Incubator. Trucha received a notice to vacate in a phone call. We voiced our concerns against the displacement and then were offered a small studio space on the second story. This led us to question our overall stability, future, and connection with the Incubator.

 

Seeing the writing on the wall, Trucha left the Incubator. Shortly after, most of the second-floor tenants went. Although some first-floor tenants remain, worries have been expressed about their future in the building.

Carpet stains found alongside the floor of the McAllen Creative Incubator

The Unfortunate State of the Incubator

On August 14, 2023, it was announced that Josh Mejia stepped down from his position, after only working a year as the president and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. While the news may have been a shock to many, it didn’t surprise tenants of the Incubator, with a tenant noting in a Facebook post, “Stunned but not surprised. He leaves behind a wake of destruction.”

Facebook Post

“Since its inception, the McAllen Creative Incubator has been a vibrant gathering place for classes of all sorts, community meetings and gatherings, and attractive studios and exhibitions. Now at least half of the building has been given to Zoho, renovated, and conspicuously surrounded by warning signs to keep out. (Pretty much what they'll be doing to our beloved Green Jay Park.) Many of the tenants have left - either forced out or dispirited by the greatly diminished community of tenants and patrons. Those of us that are left are on pins and needles to see who’ll be kicked out next. Our onsite director was let go at the beginning of the year, the WI-FI network is now almost non-existent, and needed repairs are overlooked. By all appearances the Chamber is letting the Creative Incubator dry up and die so they can repurpose it in the same way the City of McAllen did with Lake Conception, another sacrificial offering to Zoho. It's been a really, really sad time at the Incubator since Josh Mejia and Zoho came. They say they are going to be an asset to the community but all I see is the collateral damage.”

Aimee had asked about the Wi-Fi back in January 2023 and has not heard back to this day.

The McAllen Creative Incubator used to thrive with ideas and creativity. Today, it feels more like a skeleton of what it used to be. The brave tenants that remain are still fostering creativity, but why should they be expected to “keep fighting for the arts”? 

Creativity is an integral part of the economy in the Valley. More importantly, the arts are part of our landscape and enhance our livelihood.  It is clear that these outside companies and those in power at the city, however, prioritize the bottom line and pay little mind to the community whose livelihoods are directly impacted.

If you walk into the Incubator now, you will find a few creatives left who continue to push for the arts on the first floor. The second and third floors have been (nearly) renovated for Zoho offices, while the first floor remains nearly desolate as studios empty out one by one, with a carpet full of stains, and lights that don’t shine as bright anymore. It’s a shame really, knowing that the McAllen Creative Incubator took many years and hard work from creatives in McAllen to make it thrive, and now stands as a bleak representation: a reminder that the McAllen Chamber does not care about its artists.


Trucha reached out to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce for more clarity on the changes to the incubator in early 2023. The McAllen Chamber did not respond back. 

 

Now, Zoho seeks to build a permanent space at the expense of the natural and recreational spaces of the city, too. Zoho Take Over: Part Two will take a closer look at Zoho’s plans to take over McAllen’s green spaces.

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