Men's Breakfast, July 11, 2015

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, July 11th with Troy Brimage, chairman of the Freeport Economic Development Commission.  Troy was born and raised in Freeport.  His grandfather was Ralph Collins Sr. and his uncle is Ralph Collins Jr., long time Democratic party activists.  Troy worked for several years as a Freeport police officer before going into the real estate business.  He got his first rent house as a marriage gift from his grandfather.  He was appointed to the Economic Development Commission several years ago and elected chairman a couple of years ago. 

The Economic Development Commission is involved in several projects in the development of Freeport.  A long-standing project has been the marina.  A couple of years ago the marina was turned over to Walker Royal and all legal actions settled.  Troy defended this move.  He said that the legal fees were costing the city way too much money.  He also said that the city’s case was not legally strong.  Walker Royal was supposed to pay cost overruns, but should have been given the opportunity to object.  Also, the city was obligated to pay him lease payments for forty years and then turn the marina over to him at that time.  Therefore turning the marina over to Royal removed the city’s liability and allows the city to get tax revenue.  The marina is now being run by a marina management company.  One change is that the company is emphasizing power boats over sail boats.  Troy says that power boaters spend much more money than sail boaters, especially on fuel and supplies.  This is in contrast to a previous manager who emphasized sail boats because he claimed that sail boaters would spend money in stores in Freeport, more than making up the difference. 

Troy said that the old river is a unique feature of Freeport that can help drive development, especially tourism.  Troy is building houses overlooking the river and is selling them as fast as he can construct them.  He said that his original idea was that the owners would use them as vacation or weekend houses, but the owners are actually full time residents.   The development commission is planning on building boardwalks on the south side of the river from the marina to the head of the old river.  One problem with this trail is that it does not have a loop so the walker has to return on the same path he took to get back to his starting point.  Successful walks like the San Antonio Riverwalk have a loop so the entire walk shows new scenes.  Freeport cannot put a path on the North side of Old River because the levy is merely an easement and the adjacent landowner owns the land to the river.  Troy says that the answer to this problem is to develop a water taxi service to take people to various points along the river.  He said this will be tried soon.  John Seward mentioned that Freeport is a coastal city with no access to the beach, which reduces its attractiveness to tourists.  It was suggested that the water taxi could also take tourists from city motels to a Freeport beach. 

The urban redevelopment zone was also discussed.  Citizens originally wanted to have this area developed as single family housing.  Troy said that Mr. Wong’s plan for warehouses and light manufacturing makes more sense because of the railroad track and power lines through the area which reduce the value of the area for high end housing.  This use will also provide jobs in intermediate occupations.  The present jobs in the Brazosport area are in the petrochemical industry and in service such as retail and tourism.  Mr. Wong’s plan may provide jobs in converting output of the plants into actual goods.  Manufacturing jobs would increase pay for nonprofessional workers. 

Housing was also discussed.  Some land at the old Freeport golf course should be developed into upscale housing.  Developers have come to the city proposing low cost housing and apartments.  However, they all want the city to take all the risk by paying for it with city bonds while they get all the profits.  The commission turns all these proposals down, as they should. 

The port is a significant presence in the city.  The new cranes are already having an impact with increased traffic.  The port is both importing and exporting automobiles.  The expectation is that when fully developed there will be 5000 trucks passing through each day.  This will require improvements in the highways and possibly the railroads.  One need is a staging area for the port and a major truck stop.  There is discussion about putting in a facility across the river by the golf course.  Stripes has considered a truck stop, but didn’t want to provide a staging area without compensation.  Discussions are ongoing about this problem. 

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be Saturday, August 8th with Norma Garcia, newly reelected mayor of Freeport.