The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest column was written by Kevin Johnson to address issues and questions pertaining to the Port Arthur Renaissance Group’s Palms at Pleasure Island project and operation of Belle Oaks Golf Club. Johnson is the managing general manager of PARG.
The Port Arthur Renaissance Group (PARG) is many years into a project designed to bring several thousand jobs to the greater Port Arthur area. Countless weeks, months and years have been spent positioning the community to receive a major destination casino once gaming is approved.
It’s a well-known fact that the vast majority of voters in the state of Texas are in support of such bill, which would bring billions of dollars in revenue to the state. The inclusion of The Palms at Pleasure Island has been a relatively recent addition to the overall plan, with renovation activity beginning several months prior to the Belle Oaks acquisition.
PARG is funded by a select group of investors. Our investors understand the opportunity being presented to the Port Arthur area and the important role that IT continues to play in the political progress being made in Austin to make big time casinos a reality.
Over the past few weeks we brought in experts on golf course renovation to submit bids to complete certain aspects of the project. In addition to outside expertise, we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and labor as they’ve removed more than 100 truckloads of overgrowth at The Palms.
Additionally, OUR employees and contractors spent an enormous amount of time cleaning and renovating the clubhouse. While the structure of the building held up very well through the series of hurricanes that shut the course down, vandalism and neglect were clearly evident inside.
Flash forward to the present. Many events including wedding receptions, reunions, anniversary parties and much more have been hosted by PARG at the course. Much of this was accomplished prior to the inclusion of Belle Oaks and any of it’s employees in the equation.
The addition of Belle Oaks in late July brought what we believed to be the final piece of the puzzle to get The Palms back to its former glory. That goal was and still is a major objective for the company. With the physical assets involved in the Belle Oaks deal, it was a relative no brainer to negotiate when we were approached by Belle Oaks ownership.
Unfortunately, not everything was as it seemed and in the ensuing months, while accomplishing many positive objectives, our upper management experienced countless incidents of insubordination, misallocation of resources and unauthorized expenditures by certain employees.
On a number of occasions, employees were informed that purchases above a certain level must be approved by management. After repeated violations of corporate policies, we made the decision to utilize a period of bad weather to temporarily shut down all operations on The Palms, freeze all out going expenditures and address the issues.
Leading up to this temporary shutdown we made a number of personnel moves designed to improve the overall operation. These changes culminated with the hiring of James You to manage operations at Belle Oaks and to offer his expertise in the final renovation steps at The Palms. James brings the experience, expertise and work ethic that were missing.
We needed someone in place that had both the golf and business background to make Belle Oaks a viable business operation. We have a number of exciting changes planned for 2014. It’s going to be a great year at The Palms and Belle Oaks!
While we don’t normally respond to the actions and words of disgruntled former employees we do feel it necessary to respond to the public and uninformed rants published recently in Bob West’s column. We, at Port Arthur Renaissance Group, are taking a very serious look at the manner in which seemingly private business matters (many of which are greatly unfounded) were taken public through social and (more disappointingly) printed media. We have an enormous opportunity to bring jobs to the community and we take a lot of pride in it.
We have taken some time to address some of the claims in the article. We are funded by a small, select group of investors with an eye towards the bigger picture. Being well funded doesn’t mean we’re going to continue to spend money without responsibility and purpose. We will make intelligent decisions and we will stay within a very calculated and well thought out budget.
We would also like to address the article’s claim that Belle Oaks is going downhill and that play has fallen off as a result. We had one of the worst stretches of weather in the area in the last six years. As a result, changing cup locations and routine course maintenance were not necessarily viable or even realistic. Besides, those items would have been the responsibility of the previous course superintendent (the very individual making the potentially slanderous accusations). Since his hiring only a few short weeks ago, James You has addressed a number of the issues and play at the course has greatly increased.
We allowed some things to get away from us and we have paid a price for it. We’re in the process of correcting those issues and are making great headway. Additionally, we’ve uncovered a number of issues created by former employees that directly affected our daily balance sheet. We feel these items have been resolved and we have the utmost confidence and trust in our current staff.
The staff at the course now shares a common goal without any underlying personal agendas. In addition to the issues we faced with our own staff, there was the feral hog problem on the island that at least appears to be under control.
We’ve maintained a much more realistic operation in the last month. Objectives are being met more consistently and with a better financial approach. Belle Oaks is not showing any decline in play with the exception of the extensive run of foul weather experienced in late December and early January.
It’s refreshing to have daily conversations about positive developments at the course. It seemed that prior to the personnel changes, we’d uncover and address one issue only to have four more surface. While we still are digging out of some of the problems, it’s returned to a project we enjoy waking up to.
We’ve received a lot of positive support in the last few weeks and have returned our focus to getting The Palms open by late spring.
We would like to thank all of the support we are receiving from the golf community and local businesses. Their support and encouragement is what makes this project so exciting.