Fanny S. Chirinos Reports: Builder of ships eyes Naval Station Ingleside land

For immediate release: Feb 26, 2010

 — A Houston-based international company has set its eyes on Naval Station Ingleside for the company’s shipbuilding subsidiary.

Apex Group of Companies has submitted a proposal to lease the 576 acres of the base property and the 433 neighboring acres already owned by the port. The proposal has received a counter-offer from the port, but negotiations have stalled.

John LaRue, the port’s executive director, confirmed the proposal after a special meeting Friday of the Port of Corpus Christi commissioners. One of Apex’s companies, SwiftShips Shipbuilders, manufactures vessels and is looking at Ingleside to establish another shipbuilding location.

SwiftShips has been a patrol boat builder since 1969 and has designed and built more than 580 vessels, ranging from 35 feet to 225 feet. Clients include the U.S. military, more than 35 foreign governments and many private companies.

“Apex is out of capacity at its Louisiana facility and needs space to build boats for the Department of Defense,” Commissioner Francis Gandy said after Friday’s meeting. “They have something like $230 million in government contracts.”

An e-mail from Larue to Commissioner Kenneth Berry on Feb. 16 stated that port staff will hold off on discussions with Apex until March 19, when the port expects to receive a proposal from its master developer, the Texas A&M University System.

The university system was hired last year to oversee the development of the 1,009 acres. The port sent a scope-of-work agreement to the university system last week and expects to reach a mutual agreement of terms by mid-March.

Friday’s agenda had three items related to this proposal, but commissioners adjourned the meeting with a 4-3 vote before addressing them.

Chairman Mike Carrell and commissioners Judy Hawley, Richard Borchard and Robert Kostelnik voted to adjourn with commissioners Gandy, Berry and Robert Gonzalez opposing. Berry and Gonzalez had placed the items on the meeting agenda.

Carrell said discussing them in a special meeting was an attempt to rush the process.

“I see an effort by some commissioners to push the proposal we’ve received,” Carrell said. “Why would we quickly act on one proposal without seeing any others? The intent was never to have the property filled by May 1. It would be great if we get good proposals and fill it up soon. But there’s no need to panic.”

Gandy said his only objection is to the lack of follow-through by port staff.

“We need to be more aggressive in pursuing leads,” he said.

Berry said the delay in dealing with Apex might cost the port and the region the deal. He also said he was disappointed that the university system, which is being paid $350,000, hasn’t produced a proposal for any portion of the land