Pleasure Island plans: Revive golf course, build hotel, in LaGrone plans

A Houston developer told the Port Arthur City Council on Tuesday that he wants to secure some 300-plus acres on Pleasure Island, part of a plan to revive the dormant golf course there, build a hotel and sell condominiums, as well as develop restaurants and shopping areas.

Councilmembers and city officials said the developer, Port Arthur native Kerry LaGrone, has been involved in numerous successful development projects in this city as well as in Houston, and that his ideas are promising.

LaGrone, of LaGrone Services LTD, has developed property in Port Arthur that includes Walmart, Lowe’s, Saltgrass, Cheddars, the Regional Professional Building and more, Mayor Derrick Freeman said. Elsewhere, he has built bank buildings, commercial offices and grocery stores, as well as other successful business buildings in Houston.

LaGrone has met with Interim City Manager Harvey Robinson and Assistant City Managers Ron Burton and Becky Underhill about the project as well as with Floyd Batiste, CEO of Port Arthur Economic Development Corp., about plans to “bring the island back.” He said he wanted to develop a “world-class” facility there, and has started a master plan for development and secured some financing.

“We want a midway, a carousel, dining,” he told the City Councilmembers in abbreviated remarks. He also said the plan may include a concert venue, rentals for water interests and shopping that might attract cruise lines to visit. He suggested there would be enough development that a fire station would be necessary.

Outside the City Council chambers, LaGrone spoke with members of the Pleasure Island Commission would only say that the project would reflect a multi-million dollar investment and that lenders were involved. He suggested that there was a market for high-rise condos on the island.

While LaGrone talked about purchasing the property — several councilmembers agreed that would be possible — City Attorney Val Tezeno cautioned that a sale of property would have to follow state and municipal law. Freeman later said because the old golf course remains city park property, a sale may require voter approval.

The Palms at Pleasure Island was a 6,900-yard, 18-hole layout that closed in 2008 following Hurricane Ike. An effort to reopen the course was made about five years ago, but the course closed and has been overgrown.

District 2 City Councilman Cal Jones said he supports development on the island but is hesitant about selling land rather than leasing it. LaGrone suggested that a lease — even a long-term lease — may not work.

District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet was more enthusiastic about selling property and getting it onto the tax rolls.

“We know the work that you do,” Doucet said, adding that LaGrone’s work reflects “top-notch development.” He said he returned to Port Arthur 20 years ago, and efforts to develop the island have been futile.

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