Corpus Christi and the Meandering, Tortured, Laborious Rescue of North Beach
Feature Illustration (above): Concept rendering of LaVista Pointe, a TIRZ #4 dependent luxury apartment community proposed for North Beach. Courtesy: Blackard Global.
By Adolfo Pesquera Corpus Christi (Nueces County)–According to the schedule of “Next Steps” recommended by city staff, the City Council will enact an ordinance on Nov. 12 to create a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone for North Beach–this coming 10 years after the North Beach Community Association begged for one.
A lot has happened in 10 years, some very good, but mostly bad. During an Oct. 15 no-action presentation on the proposed TIRZ #4, citizens and council members heard much more of the latter while presenting a unified front in favor of its passage.
The palpable resentment started with the fact that the TIRZ #4 issue was initially posted on the agenda as an action item but was revised after a joint City/County work session was scheduled for Oct. 21; the Nueces County Commissioners Court has been on record since July 10 in support of the TIRZ.
Setting the stage–before we tromp into the weeds–there are five critical elements to consider:
The Texas Department of Transportation is constructing a new harbor bridge that will make access to North Beach more attractive, while at the same time opening up new real estate when the old bridge is dismantled.
As a place to live, North Beach has been in steady decline for over 50 years. It has a third of the population it had in the 1950s. However, it remains a major tourist destination, attracting 800,000 visitors annually.
The island is at sea level and drainage is non-existent. The system in place is always underwater, making it dysfunctional. Flooding from heavy rains and during the fall season high tides can take days, even weeks, to clear. Construction of a navigable channel down the center of the island is being considered.
There is a high-powered developer team trying to construct a new mixed-use community and they’re pressing city and county officials to get the TIRZ done. It bears emphasizing that they’re also extremely impatient with the numerous delays on a vote for the TIRZ.
As the home of the USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier Museum and the Texas State Aquarium–and tourism being a critical economic sector for the city–there is pressure from those institutions to upgrade the surrounding infrastructure and real estate.
A TIRZ is a municipal district whose purpose is to use some percentage of future property tax revenues, based on the increased increment to values beyond the baseline year (2019) within the boundaries of a TIRZ to provide grants to developers to assist them in constructing projects that have the promise of revitalizing depressed neighborhoods within the TIRZ district. The grants are in the form of a reimbursement that goes to the developer after specific predetermined construction goals are met.
View of the south end of North Beach from the old Harbor Bridge. Image: Google Streets.
The latest iteration of a TIRZ for North Beach came April 2018 when the North Beach Infrastructure Task Force was created by City Council. On April 9, 2019, Carolyn Vaughn, Nueces County Commissioner and chair of the North Beach task force, reported to council their recommendation for its creation. City Council agreed at that time to direct City Manager Peter Zanoni to move forward with its creation.
Staff is recommending the city’s participation be 100% of property values for 10 years, followed by 75% participation the next 10 years, with the TIRZ expiring by 2038. Nueces County has indicated it will participate at 100% for the full 20 years. The Del Mar College Board of Regents are to meet in November to consider whether to participate and, if so, at what level.
The city plans to cap its total contribution at $20 million, but if the three taxing entities participate, the total TIRZ contribution could be $34.7 million, according to the estimate of Jim Johnson, a Fort Worth consultant who submitted a feasibility report.
TIRZ funding is intended to provide infrastructure considered necessary to attract residential and retail development; 33 potential capital improvement projects were listed, however, the four projects on the list are already funded through the 2018 Bond Proposition A:
Beach Avenue from East Causeway Boulevard to Gulfbreeze Boulevard
North Beach area primary access (Beach to Timon)
North Beach Gulfspray Avenue Pedestrian/Bike Access
North Beach Coastal Protection (the breakwater barrier)
Projects related to private development that could be TIRZ funded were grouped into eight general categories:
$3 Million for Wayfinding Infrastructure.
$4 Million for Park Improvements (Dolphin Park, Surfside Park, Kiwanis Park, and the construction of a birding park to be known as Eco Park.
$2 Million for Demolition of Blighted Structures
$2.5 Million for Public Safety.
$1,735,556 for Public Spaces Beautification & Revitalization Programs and Services.
$10 Million for a Parking Structure.
$4 Million for a Property Improvement Program. The grants would be used to leverage private investment to upgrade existing structures and facilities.
$2 Million for Administration of the other projects, plus the administration of about $800,000 to be allocated through the 2018 Bond package to reconstruct residential streets.
The drainage problem is not considered a TIRZ project and must be financed separately. However, Mayor Joe McComb insists there’s no point in doing infrastructure if the drainage isn’t addressed in tandem with the works that a TIRZ might bear.
Chip Urban of Urban Engineering in Corpus Christi was hired by the city to study the drainage and he will be submitting his report Oct. 29. A rough early estimate of the channel cost was put at $40 million.
Urban did, however, make a brief presentation on his work at the Oct. 15 hearing. Three options are being evaluated:
A closed conduit system of reinforced underground concrete boxes that would extend the length of North Beach, but this is an expansion of the existing system that already clogs up with sand and water.
An open drainage ditch about 85 feet across at the surface and 25 feet across at bottom, also the length of the island.
A navigable channel, also down the middle of the island, but with a length of 6,387 feet and openings to the Gulf of Mexico–at least three outlets cutting east across North Beach.
The drainage systems under study include plans to dredge the middle berm (purple) where a railroad once existed, and construct either an open ditch or navigable channel. The two remaining berms (in yellow) would stay. Google Map with graphics by Adolfo Pesquera.
Urban said the drainage issue is the result of how the island was formed over the decades. The original dune nearest the coast was the first seawater barrier. In the 1920s, a second berm was constructed parallel to the dune for the construction of a railroad track.
In the 1950s, a third berm was made to support the construction of U.S. Highway 181. Urban said the landfill between the second and third manmade berms act like bathtubs that catch and hold water.
Removal of the landfill that was created for the railroad, which no longer exists, and a dredging operation to put an open ditch or navigable channel in its place, should have the drainage capacity to solve the island’s flooding problem, he said.
In addition, he recommended installing at least three outlets from the channel to the gulf, which he described as “holes in the bathtub,” to ensure the channel doesn’t overflow.
“We’ve done our hydraulic analysis. We’ve seen the numbers. We’ve gone through the estimates and we feel pretty comfortable with them,” Urban said.
A cross-section sketch of how a channel down the center of North Beach would function. Courtesy: Urban Engineering.
Numerous private citizens and public officials expressed the urgency of proceeding, raising over and over again the needs of a development team that is looking to the TIRZ for assistance; North Beach resident and businessman Lynn Frazier has partnered with Jeff Blackard of Blackard Global, a McKinney-based major international firm that specializes in exotic luxury communities.
They have been planning the development of LaVista Pointe, a 4.5-acre seaside community with four-story residences beside a marina. A 164-foot lighthouse would be their signature landmark.
The 150-unit luxury apartment complex is planned for completion in 2022 at a cost of about $24 million. In addition, Frazier is planning a hotel and residential complex near his Fajitaville restaurant.
Corpus Christi has experienced a series of setbacks over the past several decades. It was once the base of H-E-B and Whataburger, two iconic Texas corporations that relocated to San Antonio. And just since the end of the 2008-2009 recession, the city has lost about 2,500 jobs while other Texas cities have boomed.
Several speakers stood up to echo a familiar Corpus Christi predicament–their siblings or children had moved away to more promising cities, but this TIRZ held the promise of opportunity that would keep more natives from leaving.
After weathering all the public comments, most of the council members offered assurances that they favored the TIRZ and several stated they would have preferred to vote that day. Council Member Greg Smith predicted that when the vote is taken it will be 9 to zero in support.
The loudest voice, however, was that of a prominent DFW Metroplex developer who compared his experience in other cities to his ordeal in Nueces County.
Jeff Blackard’s Diatribe (abridged version)
Jeff Blackard of Blackard Global addressing Corpus Christi City Council. Source: City of Corpus Christi video archives.
“I’m an outsider and I’m here. And my experience has just been terrible.
“I’ve seen fraud. I’ve seen people trying to get me to pay them off. I’ve seen everything.
“So, the reason, probably, (Bass Pro Shops owner) Johnny Morris left here, or Tilman Fertita (of Landry’s Inc.), and all these other guys, the experience here is terrible.
“So, you put a Task Force together, and I hear that the mayor told the television today that he
wants to get rid of the Task Force because their job is done. We’re not even remotely done. You don’t even have a traffic study on North Beach. You have a bridge coming and you don’t have a traffic study.
“There is so much on North Beach that’s not done. And praise the Lord, Carolyn Vaughn and everybody else have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours to work on things that you should have led us.”
Directing a comment to the mayor, Blackard said, “I met with you the other day and asked you a question, ‘Do you have any questions about the TIRZ?’ And you said, ‘No.’ And I come today and you want more time to learn about the TIRZ.”
Blackard named six of the council members that had devoted time to sit through TIRZ presentations and meetings, then lamented again what he characterized as the mayor’s hesitance.
“Well, I’ll make this real simple. In 1950 there were 615 houses on North Beach. Today, there’s 162. Now if you don’t think a TIRZ is needed on North Beach … holy cow!
“In cities like Frisco where I do business, the city manager is great and the council’s great. I was on the negotiations on the baseball (stadium), on the underpass, on the Cowboys (The Star in Frisco), all these different things.
“But I’ve got to come and beg. I begged you five nights in a row to come see our presentation at the aquarium and you couldn’t make one. Man, we just, this TIRZ needs to happen.”
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.