Fanny S. Chirinos Reports: Apex Warns It May End Talks with Port of Corpus Christi

For immediate release: Apr 6, 2010

 — A Houston-based company that offered to lease most of Naval Station Ingleside after the Navy leaves is considering suspending negotiations with the Port of Corpus Christi.

Apex Group of Companies proposes to lease the 576 acres that comprise the main base property and 433 neighboring port-owned acres for its shipbuilding subsidiary, SwiftShips. The company plans to create about 500 initial jobs and lure other companies that would contract with SwiftShips.

Apex’s interest in the 1,009 acres began last year but port commissioners stalled negotiations until early March. Three of the seven commissioners strongly contested the delay.

Lutfi Hassan, Apex’s chairman, sent a letter dated April 1 to John LaRue, the port’s executive director, saying he believed unnecessary roadblocks had been put in place and there was a lack of local consensus on how to redevelop the base.

“If the port was interested in creating jobs, then our proposals should have been met with enthusiasm,” Hassan wrote. “Discussion on how to create incentives for job growth should have been at the forefront of all conversations.”

According to the letter, the estimated cost of the land is between $130 million and $150 million. Previous discussions with port officials have indicated Apex would be willing to consider purchasing the property if a $25 million to $30 million down payment wasn’t required.

The port asked that Apex give a 25 percent down payment, which would be $30 million to $40 million. LaRue declined to comment Tuesday other than to say, “As far as we are concerned, we are still in negotiations with Apex.”

Apex is one of six proposals port officials say they have received. Others include companies or agencies that want to establish a rehabilitation hospital, a wind energy institute, a fire fighting training school, a law enforcement intelligence center and a ship maintenance facility for offshore drilling vessels.

Mustafa Tameez, an Apex consultant, said the company has been looking at other locations, including Brownsville, Louisiana and Mississippi. Hassan’s letter mentioned St. Mary’s Parish in Louisiana offering a $10 million incentive package on 1,400 acres.

“We haven’t withdrawn our proposal, but we thought (the deal) would be done by now,” Tameez said Tuesday. “Everyone thinks there are lots of suitors for this land, but they’re just kicking the tires. They’re not willing to commit.”

Some of the companies want the entire acreage while others only want a portion.

Hassan wrote that it wasn’t clear if those other companies were ready to move in and create jobs.

“We are a real company with real jobs who have been trying to close this deal since December,” his letter stated. “Unless we hear from the port leadership with a reasonable offer … and appropriate, comparable incentives to facilitate job growth, we see no point in continuing our negotiations.”