The Port Arthur News
PORT NECHES —
A lot has happened in the six months since a group of investors approached the City of Port Neches with an idea for a waterfront restaurant called The Neches River Wheelhouse.
Bert Lamson, president of the group and a local business person, described the past six months of planning and negotiating as a roller coaster ride.
Now, the group of investors as well as city leaders are looking forward to the seafood and Cajun restaurant and what it could mean to the community.
“We all know it’s been a roller coaster ride, one day it’s not going to happen and the next day it’s on,” Lamson said during the groundbreaking ceremony for the restaurant on Monday. The restaurant has a tentative opening date in mid-March.
Port Neches Mayor Glenn Johnson gave his signature greeting — “it’s a beautiful day in the City of Port Neches,” adding that with new business comes property and sales tax.
Johnson reviewed some of positives that have occurred in the city such as Tugboat Island, dubbed the third largest such playgrounds in the nation according to the city, a popular Splash Park, downtown revitalization and work along the riverfront.
“Hopefully this will encourage others to develop in the city and along the riverfront,” Johnson said.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick was also in attendance at the groundbreaking. He believes the restaurant is a plus for the city and the county.
“We have very few restaurants in Port Neches right now, most are opening along major thoroughfares in other cities,” Branick said after the celebratory groundbreaking. “Port Neches is a bedroom community and this gives us an opportunity to not have to travel so far from home; every new business is an opportunity to expand the tax base.”
The Neches River Wheelhouse will be located at 720 Lee St. adjacent to Port Neches Riverfront Park. The facility will have an occupancy of 260 people and feature a 12-foot porch as well as another 12-foot porch on top.
Lamson addressed some rumors regarding the restaurant in a bid to get the correct information out. One rumor — that the open air restaurant will not have air conditioning, is false. The restaurant will feature glass doors that can be opened on pleasant days and will feature air conditioning.
Not everyone has been receptive to the addition of a riverfront restaurant. A group of six residents who live or own property in close proximity formed a group opposed to the project and alleged conflict of interest between some of the parties involved and the city.
Lamson alluded to the issue during his time at the podium on Monday.
“We all want to work with the neighborhood and if anybody has an idea they can talk to the owners,” he said. “We want to be a community restaurant.”
The idea of a waterfront restaurant was brought to the Riverfront Development Authority in May by Lamson. From there the issue went to city council, the planning and zoning commission and the city’s economic development corporation.
In August, the city conveyed the property to the Port Neches Economic Development Corporation as per government code then sold the 2.5 acres of land for $1 to the investment group. The land is appraised at about $550,000.
The price tag comes with a set of terms and conditions, some of which include: LLC’s (investors) construction costs will be in excess of $600,000 in improvements with furniture, fixtures and equipment being estimated at $200,000 to develop the property, the city/EDC receives either first or second lien on the property depending on the type of financing obtained by LLC. The property will revert back to the city free and clear if all terms and conditions are not met.
The city has the right of first refusal on the 1.25 acres adjacent and contiguous to the property for five years and the city/edc will maintain ownership of the waterfront while the LLC shall have the 30-foot setback, or easement. The property comes with zoning and deed restrictions which shall limit the usage of the property to a restaurant while the zoning restrictions will be amended or changed to business medium.
The group must also operate the restaurant for five years, plus any tolling periods and afterward the LLC will be free to sell the property. If the business shuts down or sells or does not met the requirements the city has the right to first refusal to purchase the property for $1 with the city also receiving personal guarantees from each shareholder for any or all bank loans.
If the LLC sells the property less than five years after opening plus any tolling periods, the city shall receive $500,000 of the sales proceeds for compensation for the land minus property and sales taxes paid.