Thursday, January 05, 2006

Re: MIND YOUR OWN

Raise of hands: How many of you remember SPIMA (South Padre Island Merchants Association)? I sure do. It was a friendly little group that met weekly to drink coffee, munch donuts and talk about fun ways to attract more tourists to the island. In fact, SPIMA instigated the event that would someday turn into the 500 ton gorilla that is now Sand Castle Days. I attended the meetings fairly religiously and recall no talk of ousting elected officials or declaring war on a large percentage of the island's inhabitants - but maybe I am seeing those days through rose colored glasses.

It certainly was a simpler time. Non-beachfront property was relatively cheap, so developers felt no compunction to build high or pave every square inch of any given interior lot; and dune destruction was rampant because no one was really paying attention to what those developers were up to. When the SPI Chamber of Commerce formed, SPIMA went the way of the dinosaurs as everyone involved assumed the two groups would merely be duplicating each others' efforts.

So today I read the Breeze's story about the new "Businessmen's Association" forming in the area, the primary purpose of which appears to be to counter the current BOA's alleged "hostility" to business. The article quotes Jess and Clayton - who we already know are not big fans of Alderdude Fred - about the group's desire to dole out "spankings" to certain elected officials. Hmmm. Wonder who they have in mind?

As readers of my old blog well know, I have never been a big fan of SPIRIT - but if this is the only alternative we all have cause for despair.

On one side you have a group of people (sometimes referred to as "retirees") who would love to tell you what colors you can paint your business and maybe even your home. They want to curb short term rentals in certain districts and I suspect many of them would like to do away with spring break altogether.

One the other side you have a group of business people (sometimes referred to as "developers") who think there are already too many laws governing their activities and who scream bloody murder when elected officials dare to suggest that perhaps we should take little baby steps to control growth - just a little! - to maintain a certain quality of life for the people who live here or who hope to live here after they retire.

Then you have those of us in the middle (and I suspect we are in fact the majority) who are business owners or at least benefit in some way from tourism, who accept that short term rentals are just part of living in a resort area but who would be horrified to watch skyscrapers start sprouting up in the middle of our pleasant residential neighborhoods. We want to prosper and we want our neighbors to prosper -- but not at the cost of quality of life. We want more green space; we want to protect the dunes and preserve the native flora and fauna; we want fun activities and events that will draw tourists but also entertain us and our families. Finally, we don't mind the slow seasons between the busy ones because they allow us to sit back, take a breath and enjoy the lovely environment and weather that drew us here in the first place.

That's where I am and I am pretty sure that is where Fred is as well. At the moment he is undecided as to whether he will run for another term. If you think it is a good idea, you might consider telling him so next time you see him.

In some ways our town is a microcosm of the country - fiercely divided with plenty of rhetoric to go around. The extremists on both sides are basically incapable of empathizing with or even hearing those not in their camp. It is the centrist - the person capable of seeing both sides of an issue - who is going to be most effective at leading this community forward to a future that a majority of us can be (mostly) happy with.

Anyone who has managed to piss off both Barbara Church and Clayton Brashear can reasonably be called a centrist, wouldn't you agree? ;-)

18 Comments:

Anonymous other nancy m said...

Yes, we are centrists. But I am also a participant in SPIRIT and I hate to see it mischaracterized. "Members" range from business owners through professional people, real estate agents to retirees and it is anything but unfriendly to business. Also I have never heard anyone in that group even talk about paint on houses or doing away with Spring Break or any of the other sins of which the group is accused. It has provided an on line forum for ALL candidates for alderman; has investigated how to underground power lines; how to improve the boat access on the Laguna Madre side -- lots of ideas on how to make the Island a nicer place for us all to live. Usually the folks who critize this group of Island residents have never regularly attended the meetings.
The new group seems pretty heavy with realtors and developers. I won't characterize them but money talks and oh, well, you know what walks.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There *is* a problem with all business development discussions I've seen take place on the island - there isn't a concensus on the path to be taken to increase visitors. I've considered several types of businesses on the island and the only one that makes sense is real estate development for obvious reasons. BUT...this isn't a real estate issue is it? SPI is looking for people to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands on each trip.

I live in San Antonio and have a house on SPI. San Antonio is driven by tourism dollars. How do we attract visitors? Conventions and years of promotion for the Alamo, Fiesta Texas, Seaworld, etc. People come here because there are events and places to go. Why aren't there more conventions at SPI? What a great site!


Why do people go to SPI? The beach, fishing and lazing about seem to be high on the list. You have to ask why good restaurants fail. Why don't Blackbeards or Sea Ranch have problems? Basic business savvy allows us to compare each of the shops and look at what works as a business model. Sadly (and I have questions about this as well) T-shirts are hot items.

So what can a business association do to be successful beyond not fighting with eachother?

1) Look at demographics, take surveys (in each shop) and find out what people like and dislike about the island. Use that to address the needs - push the positive.

2) Ask questions - How is SPI different from Corpus or Padre Island? What percent of tourist dollars are we capturing? Are the shops different?

3) Where are we drawing our visitors from at each time of year? Premarket in these areas.

4) What happened to projects like the median on Padre Blvd? Why do the power lines still loom over it? Why does Port Isabel look more inviting and commerce-like than SPI?????

5) Does anyone track the results of the advertising dollars?

Businesses should drive development WITH the assistance and support of the city - not the other way around. Decide on the look, feel and clients you want and drive to that path. Simple but not easy.

Brian

10:35 AM  
Anonymous other nancy m said...

Brian: the median will happen starting next Fall (there are reasons for that time); the undergrounding is being discussed with the power people (takes a loooong time);
I agree that the business community could unite to find answers to the questions you posed. What is this "us and them" thing? It isn't useful. It just divides the people on the Island and then nothing gets accomplished. And I was disheartened to see the new business group seeming to encourage that.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Tourist said...

I think what Brian has to say makes sense.

In my opinion, this blog would be a good place to ask visitors what they like about their trips to SPI, what they don't like and what they'd like to see on the Island.

Obviously, SPI's treasure is the natural landscape, itself. Visitors don't come to Padre to shop. We come to look at the sea, fish, and to party, play or relax on the beach.

Talking about the beach, money would be better spent keeping it clean rather than spending it on improving the appearance of street medians. We were visiting last month. In all the years since we've been visiting, I've never seen it so littered.

Attracting more business conventions would bring money into the community. What happened to the Beauty pageants that once held their production on the island?

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely with "tourist". It is all about the beach and nature. We do not care about street medians, etc. A few more highrises and you lose us.

Run, Fred, Run. Sounds like we need you more than ever.

By the way, Sandy, have you considered running for the BOA? I'm sure I'm not the first to wonder.

Longtime Visitor (Island Wannabe)

2:21 PM  
Blogger Lucinda said...

Longtime, I just might do that -- someday. At this point in my career I am doing a lot of traveling and don't feel I have the time - I have seen first hand with Fred how many hours it takes - to do it right.

I understand that Joann Evans is considering a run this spring. I expect to get to know her better before throwing my full support behind her but my initial impression is that she would make a fine alderwoman as well.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Brian Mikiten said...

The perfect place for a survey is not on-line but instead in the businesses. As the vendors to hand out a simple form that can be dropped at any business after it is filled out. Get the answers. Do it for a month or two during high season and let the Chamber pay for it. Makes more sense than Nascar and is much, much less expensive.

My priorities:

1) Clean beaches.
2) A safe community
3) Get the power lines down and underground. There are safety, maintenance and health reasons that support this.
4) Get the business incomes up, up, up.
5) Promote the island family style

Brian

12:07 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Gosh, this is starting to sound like political season on SPI. One thing I noticed ... thankfully ... is that people don't run or vote as being Republican, Democrat, or Independant. I guess you don't need to file that way unless you're in County elections. Thank goodness.

Let me say one thing about what I learned about electrical engineering. Elevated electrical poles are quite efficient at what is called "air insulation." If you bury the lines you have to pay for inert gas insulation such as pure nitrogen - check it out if you doubt me. So burying the lines is quite a tax on not only the power company and the town, but us rate-payers too, since nobody rides for free.

I don't know if you know this, but we pay an exorbitant amount for our power here. Initial costs of burying the main trunk lines (not the feeder lines on low poles, just the big ones) are five million bucks for less than a mile. The electric company, CPL and AEP, is not going to pay that money for free.

I'm not saying it can't be done, burying the electrical lines, but at what cost to us poor consumers? Should be bury the electric lines because it makes a few folks "feel" better about the town's appearance?

It certainly sounds like an unfunded mandate to me, and the Town has absolutely no jurisdiction because it doesn't run its own power company. That said, I'll be 100% behind any plan that doesn't cost me more than one cent per KW-hour. Count me out if it's more.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Brian Mikiten said...

Sam -

I have some significant background in power systems as well and did some of the original studies on high voltage power lines and the effect on certain hormones, etc. I won't dispute your cost estimates but will mention that even at that figure, the cost is pretty low for a power company. Nitrogen infusion isn't too expensive since it is (supposed to be) a closed system. I worry more about the health and safety issues than the look. It isn't pretty but it also isn't safe. Fortunately, they aren't truly high voltage lines!

Brian

7:45 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Brian,

I certainly don't know everything but I can say that after Hurricane Emily, many of the smaller, low-voltage poles started falling down. Many of the poles looked like they were 25 years old, and most cracked or fell down right where the transformer was bolted to the pole. Since the electrical easement is in everyone's backyard and many are enclosed or elevated, the power company had one heck of a time fixing all the "unsafe" poles. That was scary there for a while, but 3 weeks later we seemed OK.

So any plan to bury cable should maybe be comprehensive?

That said, there is one buried cable on the Island. It is a high voltage libe that runs accross the Laguna Madre to the substation near the Convention Center. So it can be done, even underwater!

-Sam

12:29 PM  
Blogger Lucinda said...

I talked about burying the powerlines with Fred some time back and while I cannot recall all of the details I do remember him explaining to me that there are a number of issues that makes this a diffficult and extremely expensive proposition.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Yankee in Texas said...

I moved here from the Northeast with one goal in mind, to put a high rise cond complex on every vacant lot I could find. America is the land of opportunity, and South Padre Island is fair game baby. My investors from Cali, Florida, and New York are going to put this place on the map, and you can't stop US.

-The Donald

8:13 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Hey come on down and get some, since there's only so much left. The permitting system isn't too awful bad, although they do have some ordinance thingies. Then ya go the the Planning and Zoning and then the Board of Aldermen ... and bingo, you got it if all the boses are checked.

The issue isn't about whether to build or not but how the building should fit in with the community. I don't think that concept ever existed on the Island until relatively recently. It's not supposed to be offensive to landsmen and developers, either. I don't know why they're taking it that way.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

other nancy M

Sam: $$$$$$$$$$$

10:20 AM  
Anonymous The Donald said...

On a more serious note, I remember the first time I came to South Padre in the 80's. I wonder how many of these retirees (the ones who are trying to constrict economic growth with this E-Zone nonsense, and show an utter disrespect for the small business owner) were here then.

I was in my teens when I visited here for the first time. Sure, this place had some great views, fishing, and the beaches were incredible, but half of the Island was shut down and boarded up. Weeds grew rampid. Now in the 80's I can only assume you could have bought a house on Circe Cirlce (the E Zone) for $100K, and today it's more like $1,000,000. Now you are going to tell me I can't rent my house? You essentially want to segregate tourists based on how you think they will act? Houses over $500K are wasting away on the market now, and high priced condos too, so what do you think will happen if you start putting restrictions on rentals? First the Ezone and then what?

The majority of the buyers down here NEED rental income to help pay for theses steadily increasing housing prices. Who is this dumb chic Barbara who suggests a sit down with pro and anti short term renters? What do you really think that would accomplish?

Why can't I hang a neon sign in my own business? Do I understand the concept that too many signs, marketing tools, could get out of hand, absolutely, but come on.



Keep trying to hamper business, economic growth and development. You are agitating a very business savy age group.

Keep it up and win, the Island will suffer. No one will buy here, tourist money will decrease, and the already lackluster Padre Blvd. will once again look like a deserted ghost town.

Keep it up and lose, you will expediate the growth process and you'll soon be looking for at land in Beliz. It's Nice and quiet there.

Just go with the flow and throw your hands up when it is realistically necessary, you might be lucky enough to watch SPI beautify moreso than it is today. If you're real lucky, you'll still be able to change you own diapers as it happens. WA WA

The Donald

9:20 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I think I understand what you're saying ... but thw words kept getting in the way. Having a second home on the Island and renting it sometimes to help pay for the mortgage and taxes is not a business. It's called having a secondary residence. You pay taxes here but you can't vote here. You don't pay business taxes or the Motel Tax. In fact, the E-district vote was to remove any intent in the ordinance that renting would be prohibited. So I don't get your point but maybe I missing something.

As to small business, I run a limited liability corporation in consulting services. If anything I am pro-business. I also spent 15 years in construction. I'd love to see more business on the Island, but frankly some people made some really poor business decisions. It reminds me of the fellow who said he made $100,000 in one year in a shop on the Island. So far so good.

"But I invested a million cash and had to sell off everything."

I fail to see how any change in attitude or policy could help folks like these.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who would want to seem to be "the donald"?

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a new islander, I have started going to Spirit meetings and think the characterization of the group to be inaccurate from what I have seen so far. Also, not all retirees want to do away with Spring Break or dictate house colors. True, I have seen a few who don't seem to have anything else to do except to try to build a little kingdom for themselves and control everything but I cannot believe that the majority are like that. Many have extensive business backgrounds and recognize the need for Spring Break and tourism but also want to see some balance with residential concerns. That's what's wrong with both sides and the self-proclaimed center is making the same assumptions--characterizing a group as homogenous. Just because someone is gray doesn't mean you know how they think! The government (BOA)and influential developers look to me to be a bigger problem!

9:32 PM  

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