Ribbon cut at observation tower



Local officials gathered on Wednesday, March 9, for a ribbon cutting at the new observation tower at Horace Caldwell Pier. From left are State Rep. Todd Hunter; Sharon McKinney, superintendent of Port Aransas ISD; Ed Buskey, acting director at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute; Scott Cross, director of Nueces County Coastal Parks; Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales; Brett Stawar (behind Canales), president and CEO of the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce; Charlie Zahn, chairman of the Port of Corpus Christi Commission; Kim Winton, a member of the Nueces County Board of Coastal Parks; Nueces County Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney; Duncan Neblett, Precinct 4 justice of the peace and judge of Port Aransas Municipal Court; Bob Paulison of the parks board; Port Aransas City Council member Tim Parke; Bryan Gulley, a port commissioner; Jo Ellyn Krueger, a Port Aransas City Council member; Joe A. Gonzalez, commissioner of Nueces County Precinct 2; and Georgia Neblett, assistant director, external relations at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Staff photo by Dan Parker

Local officials gathered on Wednesday, March 9, for a ribbon cutting at the new observation tower at Horace Caldwell Pier. From left are State Rep. Todd Hunter; Sharon McKinney, superintendent of Port Aransas ISD; Ed Buskey, acting director at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute; Scott Cross, director of Nueces County Coastal Parks; Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales; Brett Stawar (behind Canales), president and CEO of the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce; Charlie Zahn, chairman of the Port of Corpus Christi Commission; Kim Winton, a member of the Nueces County Board of Coastal Parks; Nueces County Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney; Duncan Neblett, Precinct 4 justice of the peace and judge of Port Aransas Municipal Court; Bob Paulison of the parks board; Port Aransas City Council member Tim Parke; Bryan Gulley, a port commissioner; Jo Ellyn Krueger, a Port Aransas City Council member; Joe A. Gonzalez, commissioner of Nueces County Precinct 2; and Georgia Neblett, assistant director, external relations at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Staff photo by Dan Parker

A new observation tower at Horace Caldwell Pier reportedly will open during Spring Break, but no specific date had been announced by deadline for this edition of the South Jetty.

While a ribbon cutting took place on Wednesday, March 9 and the building is substantially complete, the tower is empty, for now.

Scott Cross, director of Nueces County Coastal Parks, said efforts are underway to get tables, chairs and displays put in the space.

The displays will explain various aspects of local coastal ecology and cultural history, good for students on school field trips and others, he said.

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales was among officials who attended the ribbon cutting.

“I am so thankful to the vision that 16 different agencies – federal, state, local and academic, at all levels, from our library system to our graduate programs to Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, where I serve as vice chair – all of these great agencies are coming together, and by summer, I think we’ll have a real, sustainable educational curriculum that you won’t need anybody (present) for,” Canales said.

Lined with garage doors, the new observation tower stands on the beach at Horace Caldwell Pier, next to a structure that holds the Keepers shop. Plans are in place to install displays on coastal ecology and cultural history inside. Staff photo by Dan Parker

Lined with garage doors, the new observation tower stands on the beach at Horace Caldwell Pier, next to a structure that holds the Keepers shop. Plans are in place to install displays on coastal ecology and cultural history inside. Staff photo by Dan Parker

“You know, the greatest museums in the world, including the Louvre, you walk in now, and all you need is a phone – a phone and QRS codes,” she said. “… This is going to be a sustainable model for education.”

Canales said she expects a “true grand-opening celebration” this summer. No date has been announced.

Construction of the tower was sparked by a letter that the county in 2017 received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department alleging that the county had violated the terms of a 2010 grant that had been awarded for the observation tower at Bob Hall Pier on North Padre island because of restaurant-related changes involving Mikel Mays, the establishment operating there.

The observation tower was built at Horace Caldwell Pier to satisfy federal authorities.

“This was an opportunity to make something that quite frankly could have been a travesty into a triumph,” Canales said.

The tower stands adjacent to the pier shop called Keepers.

Construction on the $1.1 million structure began in early 2021.

Among those on hand at the ribbon cutting was Brent Chesney, commissioner of Nueces County Precinct 4, which includes Port Aransas.

Chesney said construction of the tower was “a great project” that went “incredibly smoothly, incredibly well, incredibly fast.”

A ramp for those with disabilities remains in the works, Canales said.

The tower’s construction was funded by the county, with $250,000 in assistance from the Port of Corpus Christi.

Port Commission Chairman Charlie Zahn attended the ribbon cutting.

When the county approached the port for funding, Zahn said, the port commission’s response was that “if there is an education component, we’re going to be a part of it.”

The furniture that’s needed for the space is on order, Cross said.

He said he’s working with the City of Port Aransas Parks and Recreation Department and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute to bring in displays.

He said he also hopes to bring in displays from the Port Aransas Museum.

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