STEPHEN HEMELT — It’s time for airport land development to begin

Published 12:17 am Saturday, November 20, 2021

The time for talking about retail development at Jack Brooks Regional Airport is over.

For the better part of a year, developer Henry LaBrie has made presentations before the Jefferson County Commissioners, Nederland City Council and Nederland Economic Development Corporation.

That’s a lot of public comments for a man, who is not a self-promoter.

Following a vote Wednesday by Nederland EDC Board members, public support and a significant commitment in incentives have been promised, something LaBrie said was necessary to proceed.

According to the information presented to the Nederland Economic Development Corporation, LaBrie intends to build a 60,000-square-feet retail center, which would include five buildings totaling 12,000 square feet each.

This effort is projected to cost $35.6 million and create 70 direct jobs and 15.5 part-time jobs.

Should LaBrie meet the benchmarks listed above within a two-and-a-half-year timeline, he would receive $300,000 in incentives from the Nederland Economic Development Corporation.

The $300K total would match the highest amount ever awarded by the EDC.

LaBrie, who is not keen on media interviews, has joked on several occasions that he likes to work with buildings more than people because there is less fuss and more action.

LaBrie, an accomplished builder with a growing portfolio, now has a fresh canvas for action. He is tasked with developing county-owned land at the airport that sits within City of Nederland municipal limits.

The many acres of largely undeveloped grass land fronting U.S. 69 offer curb appeal to a major thoroughfare and unique access to the airport.

Following an August meeting with the Nederland City Council, LaBrie reiterated to Port Arthur Newsmedia that city council support was crucial in his development plans.

“Why would you want to develop anything in the city if the city council is not behind you?” he said. “That’s my point and that’s what I need.”

He received that and then, in a prudent move, took the momentum to the Nederland EDC to revive efforts to secure economic development incentives.

In late October, outgoing EDC Board President Brian Swindel made LaBrie a promise.

“We need to go through our normal path to success, which is going to be our way,” Swindel said. “We’re not trying to create paperwork, but we need to do a CBA (cost benefit analysis) so we can figure out what funds can be provided. We agree to provide something. We don’t know what it is.”

That number is now known, and was voted on in unanimous approval.

LaBrie won’t receive the funding upfront, however.

“As soon as he gets all of those buildings built, the jobs in place and the places leased out and he can prove he spent the $35.6 million, that is his first thing, then he can get his funding,” EDC Executive Director Kay DeCuir told Port Arthur Newsmedia Thursday. “Those businesses have to be open. They have to be viable businesses.”

DeCuir stressed that the EDC does not pay for business shells, noting previous developers have created shopping center frames without tenants and incorrectly expected incentive funds.

Project leaders, every quarter, file a sales tax report with the state of Texas. That information will also be sent to the Nederland EDC.

“Then we work off that,” DeCuir said. “That report will tell us how many people were employed that quarter, how much they grossed in sales tax that quarter, then we can break it down to what we actually got in the city.”

Hopefully, what the city gets is action.

This project (and previous failed attempts at the airport) have been talked about for years. The time for talk is over.

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes panews.com and The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.