Michael Cary Reports: Ingleside to Port: What’s the deal?

For immediate release: Mar 10, 2010

The Ingleside City Council voted in unison to inform the Corpus Christi Port Commission that it wants to be informed about prospective redevelopment of Naval Station Ingleside.

The council met with several port commissioners during a special called meeting Friday afternoon to convey the message that Ingleside’s best interests should be foremost in the search for a tenant to replace the U.S. Navy, which is scheduled to abandon the base on April 30.

The meeting was prompted over concerns that several port commissioners refused recently to consider an offer from a Houston-based ship building firm, Apex Group of Companies, maker of swift boats for the United States government.

Apex reportedly had sought a 99-year lease on the base and adjoining property, totaling more than 900 acres and wanted to set up shop in April.

Port Commissioner Kenneth Berry wrote a letter dated Feb. 27 to commission chairman Mike Carrell and commissioners Judy Hawley and Richard Borchard regarding the Apex offer, which was tabled by the latter three in their capacity as a committee on redeveloping Naval Station Ingleside.
Berry said three items were placed on the committee’s agenda regarding the Apex offer.

“Each of you chose to adjourn the meeting and completely ignore the Apex offer,” Berry wrote in the letter

“Each of you (Mr. Carrell, Mr. Borchard and Ms. Hawley) has instructed staff to cease negotiations with Apex, an extremely valuable prospect with a proven history of success … you are usurping the authority of the Port Commission as a whole, and compromising or totally eliminating the opportunity for our region to get the best possible deal for Naval Station Ingleside,” Berry wrote.

Berry continued to say that Texas A&M University has a $350,000 real estate arrangement to serve as the master developer of the base.

“A&M has received over $200,000 from the Port without delivering one credible offer after 10 months on the Naval Station Ingleside project. Why do you want to ensure that A&M gets its commissioin on offers Port Staff has created? A more reasonable solution is to allow A&M to return the Port’s money for failure to perform and address the conflict apparent in A&M’s desire to make a bid on the entire 1,000-acre Naval Station Ingleside tract,” Berry wrote.

“You are aware that Apex and its subsidiary companies have to find a site to built their boats for the United States Government. This report was given to you after the Apex site visit two months ago. Apex is an extremely credible tenant for the Naval Station Ingleside site,” Berry added.

Berry urged the port commissioners to reverse their positions and allow staff to resume negotiations with Apex.

“If you continue to instruct Port staff to ignore its offer, the people of this community will soon lose this regional opportunity forever,” Berry wrote.

Mayor Stella Herrmann said she was present at the port committee meeting when the agenda items regarding Apex were ignored and the committee adjourned.

“I was at that meeting, and I was appalled. I took it personally for my city. You didn’t want to discuss the City of Ingleside,” Herrmann said.

She added that Texas A&M is serving as the master developer, but also that the university has expressed an interest in bidding on the property.

Commission Chairman Carrell said A&M has indicated interest in bidding on the base, and said the commission was scheduled to consider the base at a Tuesday meeting of the commission.

“We are going to discuss that issue, they cannot wear both hats,” Carrell said.

He departed the meeting after he spoke.

Berry told the council that Apex has toured base property and has expressed interest. He also said that A&M has not brought any solid proposals forward.

He said Apex made an offer and port staff made a counter offer. Then the commissioners apparently told the staff to stop negotiations with the company.

“I’ve been in three separate meetings with Hawley, Borchard and Carrell where the Apex offer was raised. From my vantage point it’s a good offer. If you’ve got a deal, bring it on the table and let us take a look at it,” Berry said.

“Now A&M wants to be a bidder and we know what needs to happen,” he said.

Hawley stepped up to the podium and told council that a process involving Texas A&M was in place, and that she saw aspects of the Apex offer that she didn’t feel comfortable with.

“I have concerns about Apex. One thing that concerned me was that they had total freedom to do what they want with the facility, and we wanted a process to screen them,” Hawley said.

“I added my vote to let’s stop negotiation until we get all of the A&M proposals,” she said.

“When should Ingleside be involved? You have my word, my assurance that you will be at the table. Let’s not let the communication breakdown ever get this bad. We’re not going to let this happen again,” Hawley said.

Hawley said that when A&M does bring proposals to the Port Commission later this month, it should cease to be the base’s master developer.

“I definitely believe you cannot wear both hats,” Hawley said.

“We want to see as much as they have put together. Let’s look at each of these pieces, and we should not sign anything without comparing all of those pieces,” she said.

“We’ve seen various PowerPoints from A&M but no specific deal. This is the first legitimate proposal,” Berry told the city council.

“I don’t know how you will represent us when you don’t know what we need,” Councilman Steve Diehl said.

He made a motion to write a letter from the city to the commission informing them that the mayor and City Manager Jim Gray should be allowed to sit in on future discussions, incuding executive sessions, regarding redevelopment of Naval Station Ingleside.

“We’re not letting this happen again. We will not sit around just on blind faith and trust someone to do what’s best for our city,” Herrmann said.