The Donna City Commission joined an international business owner Tuesday evening for a groundbreaking ceremony marking the construction of a duty-free store near the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.

Simon Falic, the owner of UETA, which operates stores at “every major port of entry” in the U.S. said the company is “proud to be a part of the economic development at the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.”

Travelers leaving the country who purchase products — such as liquor, tobacco, perfumes, colognes and jewelry — at duty-free stores located at ports of entry do not have to pay certain taxes on the products, making it more affordable for those departing the U.S. for Mexico.

UETA will be the second business operating at the bridge when construction on the 2,840-square-foot building is completed by the end of this year. Currently, a money exchange is the sole business near Donna’s bridge, where most of the nearby land remains undeveloped.

Attracting business to the area has been in the works for city administration, commissioners and the mayor, who await commercial traffic to eventually cross north and southbound at the bridge. Construction on the commercial southbound lanes has been delayed until about April.

“We’re ready to start (construction),” said Donna Commissioner Oscar Gonzales.

“I think we’ve got many, many, many more groundbreaking ceremonies that we plan to have,” said Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena, adding: “With the start of commercial activity, we’ll have many more groundbreakings. This is not a small project.”

To develop land surrounding the bridge, the city in August purchased the land where UETA will be built from Donna Irrigation District No. 1, according to bridge director Jesus “Rene” Reyna. It will lease the land to UETA for 20 years at $48,000 a year.

“We’re here for the long term,” Falic, UETA’s owner, said. “We see that it’s at the very beginning stages of development here (at the bridge).”

UETA operates duty-free stores at bridges throughout the country, including in Hidalgo, Pharr, Progreso and Brownsville.

“When you have a company like UETA that’s going to invest over a million (dollars) here in Donna, that sends messages to other companies (by) saying, ‘People are making an investment in Donna along the bridge,’” said Mayor Rick Morales. “We’re hoping that this will be the start of more businesses, more companies that want to invest in the area here.”

In December, the passenger vehicles crossed 56,000 times through the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge, a record high, according to Reyna.

Mayor Morales said other business developments along the bridge are also expected to be finalized his year.