The Island Moon Newspaper
December 3 at 3:02pm ·
In the sixteen years I have called The Island home, with some breaks here and there, there has never been a time I can recall when there is as much going on as there is right now.
Change is coming fast and hard these days as we have the massive earth-moving project going on around Lake Padre and early work on a new marina there, a Water Exchange Bridge that looks like it is finally going to happen, ongoing work at two major Island intersections, a potential new owner to revive the Tortuga Dunes project on the north side of the Packery, and a potential development yet to be announced south of the Kleberg line. Any one of them would be a game changer for us but collectively they have the potential to transform us. For years we have known that growth was headed our way and fortunately, we got out in front of it and began planning which is now paying dividends. In no particular order here are some of the projects and a big challenge currently on our Island plate.
Park Road 22/SPID Water Exchange Bridge
As things now stand this $10.5-$11 million project is set to go to bids in the next two months with bids expected back in February. If the bids come in under the budgeted amount construction will begin next year. That could all change if the bids all come in too high but, as they say, only time will tell.
As of this writing the bulkheads and canal on the east side of the bridge site along SPID are already in place and site work has begun on the sidewalks. On the west, Schlitterbahn, side of the road the canal connecting the bridge site to the existing canal system is still well short of being dug and no bulkheading has begun. Things there are complicated by an ongoing dispute between the owners/developers of Schlitterbahn and the surrounding land but the hope and expectation is that the differences will be worked out sooner rather than later and even before that is done that the final piece of the canal puzzle will be in place.
The bulkheading and excavation work around Lake Padre is almost complete and plans by Developer Paul Schexnailder for the marina, boat storage, hotels, and condominiums around the lake are well defined and nearing completion. We hope to publish them in the next few issues as they become available. After decades of waiting this project is happening.
Planned improvements at Billish Park are now in the hands of the Padre Isles Property Owners Association but there is still no announced date for the work to begin. The project began with approval of $500,000 in 2012 and it is now in the process of its third re-design. The latest news is that the new design will cost an estimated $10,000 bringing the total design costs to about $145,000. With the $200,000 dedicated to the project by the POA and the remainder of the city bond money that leaves $600,000 to get the work done. Out of that a General Contractor/Project Manager must also be paid.
It is worth noting that the other park improvement project approved by voters in the same 2012 election is already under construction. The Billish project is now squarely in the hands of the POA and there is no more money coming in for it so the sooner it is built the more money will be left to pay for park improvements. It’s time to get this done.
I think it is fair to say that this project has been snakebit from the start. When the project was green lighted there wasn’t even an accurate traffic count of vehicles on the JFK Causeway and the project didn’t wait for the results of the traffic study which is now underway.
What began as a $650,000 project with the new traffic light, a newly designed intersection, five retail sites, and a 105-room hotel has now morphed into a $1.2 million project with potentially three retail sites, no retailers currently signed up, and no hotel. The developer put in $426,000 to pay for the light and the intersection design and construction with city taxpayers paying the remainder of the original $650,000 project. But when the cost increased the taxpayers were left holding the bag and the cost is likely to increase even more as signage promised at the outset of the project that was to be paid for by the developer will now be paid for by taxpayers. So far the work crews have cut off water to businesses under the bridge three times and as I write this the power is off because the crew cut the line for the second or third time – I lost count.
We certainly need a better way for Islanders who use Aquarius to access SPID to get out of their neighborhood. But that was not the original impetus for putting in the light. What we are left with is a new traffic light to service a hotel that is not going in at double the original cost with the increase borne by taxpayers. A look around The Island will show that hotels can do just fine without their own light, it is retail developments that need a light; but that is now how this project was pitched.
The developer is putting pressure on the city to activate the light because, according to sources, he says the bank won’t release the rest of the funds for the project until the light is working. It seems to me that for all the good reasons there might be for installing a traffic light there, that isn’t one of them. Taxpayers footing the bill for more signs so the developer can get more money out of the bank.
Maybe snakebit is not a strong enough word.
Lack of Island Marketing
If there is one thing Island hotel operators agree on it is that the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau does very, very, little to help bring visitors to our Island. The CVBs own numbers show that fully 80% of the people who come to this area are here for the Gulf beaches. But if you look at the marketing material that goes to our feeder markets you would think the only reason they come here is to go the Lexington and the State Aquarium downtown. I understand the CVB is under great pressure to push visitors into the 1800 downtown hotel beds to collect the 13.5% Hotel/Motel Tax, (another two cents that was added this year is not included in that number) but at some point you have to feed the goose that laid the golden egg.
Here are some facts: The best estimates are that there are around 2200 overnight stay rooms in Port Aransas – we will have a story on that in the next issue- which raised $1.8 million last year. There are only about 1500 on Padre and Mustang Island inside the Corpus Christi City Limits (as compared to about 4500 in South Padre). Each Saturday during the summer an additional 12,000 vehicles come over the JFK Causeway, they’re not here to go downtown.
The HOT in Corpus Christi raises about $16 million each year with about $4 million of that coming from The Island. Out of the 13.5 cents per $100 two cents goes directly to pay for revenue shortfalls at the downtown Convention Center. But if you follow the money through the system, the golden egg as it goes through the goose as it were, you will find that fully half of the money from the HOT funds finds its way back into the Convention Center to pay for operations. It is understandable that the CVB promotes that area first since that is where their bread is buttered. The question is whether we Islanders get $4 million worth of promotion for our money and I don’t think you will find an Island hotel operator who believes that is the case.
When the race to annex Mustang Island was on in 2000 the entire emphasis was on the City of Corpus Christi collecting the HOT money there, but once it is collected the CVB has organizational amnesia about where they got it. There is also the question of money raised by beach parking stickers of which only a portion comes back for beach maintenance and operations.
We have been trying to get the CVB to address this problem for years and have received nothing but a pat on the head and swift kick in the pants. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result then the time for begging our case is past; it’s time for a new plan. But what to do?
Here’s a possibility, we form a Destination Marketing District to capture the HOT money we generate; it’s done all over the country. In some cases a Visitors Center can be used as a marketing tool for real estate and actually becomes a profit center – generating money that could be used for our charter schools.
As we grow as a tourist destination how we market ourselves will be one of the most important jobs we do. As of now we have no brand specific to The Island, no HOT money dedicated to us, and no reasonable expectation that either of those is going to change if we keep doing what we are doing.
The time for platitudes from our CVB is long past. We need some mechanism to break out the HOT funds we generate to use for marketing The Island. The solution will have to come through City Hall and there are now five new faces down there with five new outlooks.
It is time for the CVB to help us grow or let us go.