Men's Breakfast, July 9, 2016

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, July 9th with Jennifer Hawkins, Freeport Economic Development Director.  Jennifer was raised in Brazosport but spent most of her career in Houston.  Among other activities she managed various parts of the music business.  A few years ago she returned to Freeport where she and some colleagues brought successful music activities to Freeport.  She was then hired by the Economic Development Commission to be the Freeport Economic Development Director.  She is the only paid employee of the commission. 

The Economic Development Commission is an appointed commission of the City of Freeport charged with supporting the economic development of the city.  Its members do not have to be residents of the city but have economic interests in the city.  The commission is supported by a one half percent sales tax.  Jennifer said that the commission is now working harmoniously with little internal dissension.  The members are businessmen and developers in the city including Troy Brimmage and Eliot Cundief.  The lack of non-business members means that the commission is united but also means that the opinions of regular citizens in not considered. 

In previous years the Economic Development Commission’s primary concerns were with the Marina and the Urban Renewal zone.  These are no longer a significant part of their activities, freeing up the commission to concentrate on other activities.  The marina is now in private hands and doing well.  The marina is gradually replacing sailboats with motor boats.  Motor boats are more profitable because they spend large amounts on fuel.  Sailboat owners are more likely to spend at local business so this change may not be best for the city in the long run.  The Urban Renewal zone is now owned by Mr. Wong who has indicated that he plans to use the area for warehouses and light manufacturing.  However nothing has been done since he has bought it.  Jennifer has found, through the Governor’s office, some projects that could use the area quite profitably, but they needed an immediate railroad spur, which has not been constructed.  However, Mr. Wong does pay taxes on the land so the city does get some benefit from it. 

The economic development of Freeport is complicated by the fact that it is at the end of the line.  If you are in Freeport it is because you wanted to be here or you are lost.  The retail and entertainment business could be significant and Freeport could become a destination similar to Kemah.  This requires that multiple retail shops be present in the downtown district.  However, the first shops will face problems since there will be no draw from other shops, meaning that they will not be profitable.

Jennifer presented a ten-foot-long Google images map of the Old River area of Freeport with proposed plans for the area.  She said that the Old River is a unique asset for the city.  Changes to the walking trail around Old River was shown.  This modified trail uses present walking trails but also expands to city streets in Velasco.  The levees in Velasco are privately owned so the public does not have access to them.  This reduces the attractiveness of the walkway.  The proposed development of the area includes more marinas west of the present marina, where Western Seafood is located.  The plan includes many more houses and condominiums on the shore.  It also includes hotels.  A feature that may not be popular with citizens is to convert much of the parkland abutting Old River to private housing or hotels.  In particular, a Hotel is proposed at the head of Old River where the pavilion and the Mystery are located.  Other parks would be reduced or eliminated to provide housing.  The claim is that the new sports complex will eliminate the need for the riverside parks. 

One feature that is suggested is a water taxi.  This would connect the hotels with the Downtown area.  John Seward suggested that the water taxi should also connect with surfside and Quintana beaches.  People staying in hotels will want a convenient way to get to the beach and back.  There was no discussion on how the taxi would be paid for. 

Mr. Wong owns an undeveloped section of the old golf course abutting the river which he plans to develop into high end housing.  There was discussion of cutting the levee and constructing canal front houses in this area.  The argument is that with the guillotine gate, the levees on Old River are no longer necessary.  Few citizens of Freeport are willing to trust their houses to perfect operation of the gate. 

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast. The next meeting will be Saturday, August 13th with Darren Griffith from the Mosquito Control District as featured Guest.