As islands go, Bayland Island isn’t the most impressive you’ll come across. Nestled at the point where Goose Creek enters into Tabbs Bay, only a narrow strip of water separates it from Bayland Park, just south of the Fred Hartman Bridge.
However, its proximity to the water is also the basis of its hope for the future, as the City of Baytown is working to develop a conference center and hotel on the island to take advantage of the stunning waterfront views on three sides.
There has also been talk of late of trying to lure the Battleship Texas to Baytown and park it at Bayland Island after repairs. That effort is in its infancy stage today.
Now there’s a new timeline for a groundbreaking of a hotel and conference center on Bayland Island — about three months, the city said this week.
It is just the latest timeline of a project has been marked by many timelines that have always been pushed back.
There should be an announcement of the new hotel chain taking over the project before the groundbreaking. Until all the T’s are crossed and I’s dotted, the city won’t say which hotel chain.
Since its inception, the project has also undergone a couple of brand name changes. In 2016, the city was partnering with Hilton. Then, an agreement with Marriott International was made. But the agreement with the hotel chain ended, paving the way for a third brand.
To date, the City of Baytown has spent over $3.9 million of sales and hotel occupancy taxes on the Bayland Island hotel-conference center.
However, city officials are quick to say that is not all coming out of the pockets of Baytonians.
“The planned funding from the city for the hotel/conference center is intended to come from (Municipal Development District) funds and Hotel Occupancy Tax funds, so it should not have an impact on the general fund or property taxes,” Mark Miller, City of Baytown spokesman, said. “However, depending on the final structure of the agreements, there may be backstops in place where the city’s general fund will back the issued debt.”
Miller explained the debt could come through the issuance of bonds and the projected amount planned is $17 million.
“However, those bonds have not been issued yet,” Miller stressed. “Again, the plan is to service that debt 100 percent through MDD and HOT funds.”
The deal with Marriott called for the city to contribute $21.1 million toward the project while the private side was $35 million.
“It is no secret that we are working with a different national brand than we were originally,” Miller said. “The agreements for the hotel/conference center are still pending approval. Therefore, the confidentiality agreement remains in effect. Once the agreements are approved, the brand we are working with will issue a joint announcement in cooperation with the city.”
City Manager Rick Davis said the city chose to let the new company make the announcement because of competitive reasons.
Miller was asked if he could provide a ballpark date on the announcement.
“This all depends on the time the re-design takes in addition to the process of approval through the state comptroller’s office,” Miller said. “While a rough estimate on a ground-breaking is 12 weeks coming from the Economic Development Office, it’s difficult to speculate. The company is not waiting on the city, but rather for the completion of the re-design.”
Davis said the re-design is occurring on the hotel to accommodate the new brand. “The hotel we are bringing in is quite a bit fancier and swankier than the previous hotel. It is an upscale hotel,” Davis said. “So, there was some re-design that needed to be done to the inside and outside.”
Davis added a market study through HVS, a company that focuses on hotel’s practicability, indicated the hotel would actually lease at a higher rate.
“It will generate more business than the first brand we were dealing with,” he said. “The financials got better as we transition to the hotel.”
Miller went over a list of preparations the city needs to build the hotel/conference center.
“The Parks and Recreation department is already dredging in the area, and that process continues,” he said. “As with any new construction where no building currently exists, the items needed include drainage and utility lines such as electric, telecom, water, and sewage.”
The city remains upbeat despite some apparent setbacks, and say the project will happen just like the long-awaited re-opening of the Brunson Theater as a tourist center/business incubator.
“I think we’ll have good news soon and then we can move forward on the agreement,” Davis said.
In July 2017, council green-lighted the first steps toward having a hotel/conference center at Bayland Island.
At the time, the project remains as it is today: a well-known hotel brand to build on the island as well as a conference center for meetings and events.
Council voted to transfer $2 million in Unforeseen/New Initiatives from the 2016-17 budget toward the hotel/conference center as seed money.
In 2003, the city unsuccessfully tried to unload the property.
The first option included purchasing the restaurant facility and the 40-year ground lease for the property the restaurant sits on for a minimum bid of $100,000. There were no bids.
Under the second option, the city would sell Bayland Island in its entirety, plus the marina for a minimum of $3.7 million. Again, no bidders.
The city purchased Bayland Island’s 31 acres for parkland in 1970. In 1991, voters approved $4.7 million in bonds for the development of the marina.
In 1995, the city obtained a $1.8 million loan to construct the restaurant, ship store and infrastructure.