Jaime Powell Reports: Interest in Ingleside base heats up

For immediate release: Mar 5, 2010


 — Texas A&M University System has expressed an interest in acquiring Naval Station Ingleside from the Port of Corpus Christi, port chairman Mike Carrell confirmed Friday.

The port also has an offer from a Houston firm that proposes a shipbuilding operation. The company says it needs to move into the property by April 1 to meet requirements associated with a military contract, said U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

Apex Group of Companies wants a 99-year lease and proposes a maritime fire and security training role for A&M and research and development for military branches, according to a memo circulating among local government officials.

The university system has an agreement to be the port’s master developer for the base property and adjacent port-owned acreage. The university system’s relationship with the port will be on the commission’s agenda March 9, Carrell said.

Apex, with a subsidiary shipbuilder, recently submitted its proposal directly to port officials rather than to A&M system officials, port and area elected officials have said. Apex has talked with A&M as recently as January. The port commission has directed port staff not to negotiate yet with Apex, a decision that a minority of commissioners disputes.

Apex has a Department of Defense contract to build Swift Boats, a class of Navy vessels used since the Vietnam era, Ortiz said. The company is in line to get bigger contracts that would be associated with additional space and infrastructure that Apex is trying to acquire at Ingleside.

Former U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, who sat on the House Armed Services Committee with Ortiz, brought men associated with Apex to meet Ortiz. He took Weldon and the owner of the company and men associated with Apex on a tour of the Ingleside facilities several months ago, Ortiz said.

During a special called meeting Friday of the Ingleside City Council, council members criticized port commissioners for not keeping them in the loop related to base redevelopment. And council members and Port Commissioner Kenneth Berry asserted that the process is tainted by the A&M system’s inside information about Apex’s proposal.

Berry said he supports Apex’s proposal because it is the only one on the table.

Attempts Friday to reach A&M system officials were unsuccessful.

Carrell, who attended the Ingleside meeting, said there have been talks about an A&M system offer for the property. He declined to elaborate, except to add that he’s not certain that the A&M system will make an offer.

Port of Corpus Christi executive director John LaRue, who also attended the Ingleside meeting, declined to comment.

Some aspects of the Apex proposal are contained in a memo delivered by Weldon earlier this week to some Nueces and San Patricio county and Port of Corpus Christi officials.

According to the memo, obtained by Caller-Times, Apex wants to lease 1,064 acres, a mix of the main Naval Station Ingleside property and adjacent port acreage, and seeks local, state and federal financial incentives. Apex is seeking site modifications, training subsidies, tax abatements and business incentive packages for its sub-tenants. Apex also wants funding for the project to be requested in the fiscal 2010-11 Department of Defense budget.

In exchange, Apex wants to create and operate a maritime center with a focus on ship manufacturing and construction, research and development, maritime risk management and fire/rescue and security training including fire boat operational training, according to the memo. The memo doesn’t go into detail about these proposals.

Ortiz estimated that in the long run, the company could mean a $1 billion investment in San Patricio County.

“This is the beginning of what could be a plum, plum prize,” Ortiz said. “When other communities are trying their best to get jobs, here they are. And they won’t be knocking long.”

Ingleside city officials said they had heard Apex proposed initial payments of $3 million a year to the Port of Corpus Christi in exchange for a 99-year lock on the property.

Carrell told Ingleside council members that the port still is seeking an appraisal before signing anything.

He added that a majority of port commissioners are striving to bring several proposals to the table so there is an opportunity to decide which is best.

“How else do we know if we are getting the best deal?” Carrell asked.

Weldon is the CEO of Jenkins Hill International, an international and domestic governmental consulting firm with offices in Washington and Pennsylvania. Attempts to reach him Friday were unsuccessful.

Commercial real estate agent Tim Clower brought Weldon to meet Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal on Wednesday, Neal confirmed. He told Neal he was a good friend of Ortiz, and said he was in town to talk to elected officials and port commissioners about the value of having the ship building company take over Naval Station Ingleside, Neal said.

“I said, ‘that’s fine,’ ” Neal said. “I told him I don’t know a lot about the proposal and that I hadn’t seen it. And as far as I know the port intends to honor their commitment to Texas A&M.”

The Ingleside council Friday urged the Apex proposal be considered. The council doesn’t have authority in the matter but unanimously asked port officials to keep them abreast. The council also is likely to send Mayor Stella Herrmann and City Manager Jim Gray to sit as observers during closed-session meetings at the port related to Ingleside, Carrell and the council agreed.

San Patricio County Judge Terry Simpson also met with Weldon and Clower and heard a similar presentation seeking support for Apex, he confirmed.

Like Neal, Simpson said he hoped the port would follow protocol calling for A&M to vet any potential developers