Fate of Port Arthur Yacht Club in the balance; developers eye potential

Published 7:14 am Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Port Arthur leaders are going to re-advertise for the leasing of two buildings inside the Pleasure Island Marina after recently rejecting all bids.

Once the issue goes through the city’s legal department, the next step is to solicit Requests for Proposals, according to information from the city.

The discussion during a recent city council meeting led six people — five of which were associated with the Port Arthur Yacht Club and one with a nonprofit to address council.

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Susie Chirfras has lived on Pleasure Island for 30 years, has a boat stored at the marina and is a former member of the Yacht Club. She told of how the Port Arthur Yacht Club leases the property and how its members built the buildings inside the gated marina.

She said there was a longtime lease between the Yacht Club and City then, for about a two-year period recently, the club did not receive a bill from the city for boat slip fees. Her and her husband, however, continued to pay their bill, she said.

By the spring the billing began again and fees increased, she said, as the non-billed years were added to the current bills. For some that was a 75 percent increase, hers was 150 percent increase all of a sudden.

A number of boats left the marina and as of June there were 44 boat slips occupied, she said.

The problem, she said, is the Yacht Club wasn’t notified about the RFPs.

“It wasn’t posted anywhere. I didn’t see it in the newspaper. I didn’t see it anywhere else and I’m just here as a resident… I was actually a member of the Yacht Club in the past,” she said.

The Port Arthur Yacht Club is more than a place to store a boat, several of the attendees said. Crystal Meadowcroft of Nederland said the group tries to build youth programs, works with children through the Port Arthur Public Library and develops connections with local businesses.

Paul Vera of Groves said he was born and raised in Port Arthur and served a commodore of the club in the past. He and Donald Hearn of Beaumont worked with the Junior Sailors of Thomas Jefferson Middle School and other programs with youth.

Vera said it is disheartening to see the club survive events such as Hurricane Ike but end up losing their home like this, but business is business.

Drake Thibodeaux of Port Arthur stood at the podium to addressed council with his concerns and paused for a second before noting the sailboat that is part of the city’s logo, which hangs on the wall behind councilmembers.

Hearn said the club does have a positive economic impact from taxes paid to buying lumber locally when needed for repairs, fuel and more.

Club members said when they go to events; they go as the Port Arthur Yacht Club, carrying with them the name of the city.

But the term “yacht club” may give the impression the members are very well off financially.

“We are a working class yacht club,” Hearn said. “Everybody think here’s the yacht club and we’re multi-millionaires and we’re a Lakewood Yacht Club over in Clear Lake but we’re not,” Hearn said. “We’re out here to serve Port Arthur and have a good time with each other.”

As the banter continued there came a question on why the property was bid out in the first place. Attorney Valecia Tizeno said she could only speak on the law and no reason was given.

RFPs were sent out by the city Aug. 23 with a deadline of Sept. 13. An addendum was added to the solicitation Aug. 29.

The original RFP said the buildings must be used as a Yacht Club and provide specific activities such as working with Port Arthur residents to encourage boating, yachting and water safety, host junior sailing programs, host summer programs with the Port Arthur Recreation Center and more.

The addendum, however, stated bidders can use the property for another purpose “but must state what community outreach program they will provide to underprivileged at-risk youth.”

The three entities that bid submitted the RFPs included Port Arthur Yacht Club Inc. GraceHub Inc. and Selim Kiralp.

Simeon Queen, CEO of GraceHub, said he first requested to lease the buildings Oct. 16, 2002, and the venture would be Port Arthur Yacht Club powered by GraceHub but he did not receive a reply.

A Port Arthur native, Queen returned to his hometown and said his is the first large black family to live on Pleasure Island.

He recently drove his parents, who are in their 70s, to the marina for the first time six months ago.

“Ninety-nine percent of people who live in Port Arthur have never been to the Yacht Club or marina. It’s time for a change. It’s in your hands and it’s overdue,” Queen said.

Selim Kiralp, whose business scored the highest, originally brought his idea for a water park to city council in January. It is not known if the marina and Yacht Club area are part of his vision for the waterpark.