The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
The Port Arthur Renaissance Group’s long-rumored acquisition of Belle Oaks Golf Club became reality Thursday, with the short term promise of an upgraded facility and the long-term possibility of exciting change that could include a boost in property values in and around Taylor Landing.
Renaissance, which is rolling the dice on casino gambling on Pleasure Island with a costly restoration of The Palms at Pleasure Island Golf Course, entered into a five-year lease agreement with Belle Oaks owners Jerry Braxton and Bryan Phelps. Included in the deal is an option to buy within a year. No figures were released but sources said the sale price would be close to $1 million.
Belle Oaks officially goes under the Renaissance umbrella on Monday.
Braxton and Phelps purchased what was the old Port Arthur Country Club for a reported $525,000 in December of 2002, but were the victims of two costly hurricanes and a surrounding real estate venture that up to this point has mostly been a bust. All that’s involved in their deal with Renaissance is the golf course.
Biggest winner in the transaction could be Belle Oaks’ cancer-stricken superintendent/head pro Bryan Jackson. Renaissance, well aware of Jackson’s glowing reputation with golf course maintenance in general and putting greens in particular, intends to make him superintendent over both Belle Oaks and The Palms at Pleasure Island.
“You can’t imagine how excited I am,” Jackson said. “This is going to have tremendous impact on Belle Oaks because we’re going to have increased manpower and access to equipment that we’ve never had while I’ve been here. And I would never have believed I’d be in a position to help put The Palms back together again.
“The Palms was special before and it’s going to be special again. I’m really looking forward to getting involved with it. My dream is to be a course superintendent, not a guy who works in the pro shop. This is going to give me that opportunity and I won’t have to be cutting corners.”
Kevin Johnson, vice president and managing partner of Renaissance, said he thinks there will be winners all around over the next few years.
“This is going to be a positive for the golfing community, we think the changes planned at Belle Oaks should make the property around the course more enticing and overall it’s something that could ultimately pay major dividends for Port Arthur.
“There’s some beautiful property along Hwy. 73 and, in time, we envision taking on projects out there to complement what will be happening on Pleasure Island.”
In the works are an aggressive marketing plan that will include billboards on Interstate 10 and joint memberships to The Palms and Belle Oaks. Johnson is also hopeful of getting something done about Belle Oaks’ eyesore of a clubhouse within a year, and creating some sort of food-service option as soon as possible.
Among the possibilities being considered are a modest clubhouse on property near the fifth tee, which would lead to a re-routing of the golf course. No. 5 would become No. 1 and Belle Oaks’ dramatic finishing hole — the water-fronted 18th — would become No. 14. That had long been part of the Braxton-Phelps master plan.
“A top priority is to do something about being able to serve food,” Johnson said. “We absolutely have to be able to increase concessions. Even if we have to bring in a temporary building, we need to be able to serve coffee and breakfast tacos in the morning and hamburgers and other sandwiches later in the day.
“What we need to do is create a place where golfers can sit down, play dominoes, drink a little beer and watch sporting events on TV when they finish.”
As for upgrading a Belle Oaks course already in good shape, and bringing credibility to Renaissance’s vision for The Palms, Johnson said he knows he has the best man available in Jackson.
“Bryan’s done an amazing job at Belle Oaks with what he’s had to work with,” Johnson said. “He’s told us he can make it even better with the help of equipment that hasn’t been available to him. We can provide that. And he knows exactly what it’s going to take to get The Palms up and running. It’s something he is truly exciting about doing.”
Finalizing things with Braxton and Phelps, meanwhile, was the start of an eventful week for Renaissance. On Friday, Johnson hopes to sign off on a final agreement with a company called Team Hospitality to be the operating partner in the resort they expect to finance, design, develop and build on Pleasure Island.
The CEO of Team Hospitality is a man named Bob Sturges who, among other things, is a minority owner of the Miami Heat. Sturges is a former CEO of Nevada Gold & Casino, Inc., is a former president of the Carnival Cruise Lines Gaming Division and was once Director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“Bob’s resume is eye-opening,” said Johnson. “He knows every side of casino gaming. He’s well-versed on this project in Port Arthur and with the gambling situation in Texas. The fact he’s taken so much interest in what we are doing, and wants to be a part of it, should send a strong signal about where we are headed.”