Is it a boom? No. But it’s not a bust
BY DAN PARKER
No one is yelling that an economic boom is underway, but city records and interviews with some Port Aransas merchants show that island business and development are holding their own as the summer tourist season begins to heat up.
“It’s actually going very well for us right now,” said Gail Spinn, owner of Silver Sands Realty. “Prices have come down to a more realistic level, and people are out there in droves, looking for a bargain. We’ve actually been seeing an upturn (since March). I’m really encouraged.”
Mark Grosse Real Estate is “way ahead of last year,” Grosse said.
While potential property buyers were waiting and watching in 2008 and also, somewhat, in 2009, they are more likely to be moving ahead and buying this year, Grosse said.
Builder Nick Lorette said his business is moving along at about the same pace as last year, and that’s just fine by him.
“By the end of the year, I will have built 14 or 15 houses, which I’m really pleased with,” Lorette said. “The rental market has been really strong, and I think that’s what kind of springboards my buyers.”
Building permit fee amounts collected by the city over a given period of time show how much construction is going on around town. Two measurements of those fees show recent increases in that kind of activity, but just how big those increases are depend on what periods you compare.
The city took in $100,943 in residential and commercial permit fees from January to May this year, said Darla Honea, the city’s finance director. That’s a good deal more than the $68,914 that flowed into city coffers during the same period last year.
A look at a broader period of time shows a more modest increase. Some $131,908 in building permit fees were collected from October 2008 to May 2009. From October 2009 to May 2010, the total was $142,968.
One building project currently underway is at Island Moorings Marina, where a private boat ramp is being constructed on the south side of the marina. The ramp, valued at about $150,000, is expected to open for business on July 1.
Even though the ramp isn’t open yet, marina Manager Debbie Dean said she is seeing a surge in business.
“During the Memorial holiday period this year, we tripled what we did over last year with fuel, bait, ice and transient dockage,” Dean said.
Also among those taking the plunge and deciding to build lately are Bob and June Petitt and their children. The Pettits own the Port Aransas Brewing Company, and they recently undertook construction of a building for a new eatery to be called Beaches Café and Bakery, at the corner of Beach and Church streets.
June Pettit said she is confident that the Port Aransas economy can accommodate another restaurant.
“Absolutely, it can support it,” Pettit said. “There are a lot of restaurants here, but there are also a lot of people coming here. I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but this (town) is its own paradise.”
Not all of the recent economic numbers have been good. Sales tax revenue has been down most months this year.
It started off good. State payments of sales tax revenue to the city were $53,002 in January this year, as compared to $43,082 in January last year.
Then totals slid, with payments of $52,003 in February 2010, compared to $61,895 in February 2010; $40,310 in March 2010, compared to $54,529 in March 2009; and $46,807 in April this year, as opposed to $63,981 for the same period last year.
Sales tax revenue increased in May this year, with $93,773 coming in. That’s compared to $83,109 in May last year.
But then revenues dropped again this month, with $59,434 flowing in, as opposed to $62,499 in June last year.
Hotel-motel tax revenue is up slightly so far this year. While collections totaled $438,977.78 from January through May last year, they were $441,305.12 during the same period this year, according to city records.
As a group, Port Aransas condominiums managed by the Condominium Consulting Management and Services (CCMS) firm saw business activity during the past six months that was “probably behind” what the condos experienced during the same period in 2009, said Jim Triplett, managing director of CCMS.
“We’re behind last year’s schedule, but that was a banner year,” Triplett said. “We’re hoping for a better summer. Advance deposits, an indicator of future reservations, are quite good.”
Mike Hall, co-owner of the Family Center IGA, said the first three months of this year were “kind of soft, but not terrible.” April was “fairly decent,” but May was “unremarkable,” partly because Texas schools let out for the summer later than last year, he said.
Business has been good since the summer began, Hall said.
“Since Memorial Day weekend kicked in, it looks like they (tourists) are here,” he said. “We’re very optimistic about the rest of summer.”
The Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce Tourist Bureau continues to get inquiries from folks looking to buy property on Mustang Island and possibly establish businesses here, said Ann Bracher Vaughan, executive director of the chamber.
“I think we just continue to be kind of the shining star as far as people wanting to invest and be a part of the community,” Vaughan said. “All in all, despite the uncertain situation with the economy and other factors, I think we are still in that upper echelon of an area that people are very interested in.”
Anglers depart the jetty boat at its dock on San Jose Island just after dawn on Friday, June 11. In addition to fishermen, visitors to San Jose Island commonly include beachcombers, surfers and others. (A photo essay on San Jose Island, also known as St. Joseph Island, appears on Page 1B.)
On top of things
Alan Hinojosa, left, and Rick Thunberg do roof work at a restaurant building under construction at the intersection of Beach and Alister Streets on Friday, June 11. The business is to be called Beaches Cafe and Bakery.
Workers pour concrete while building a new ramp at the Island Moorings Marina on Tuesday, June 15. The ramp work is one of a number of construction projects currently under way in Port Aransas.