It’s not unusual for a city to make use of its natural resources, like a riverfront. What is unusual, perhaps, is how exactly the city of Port Neches, Texas went about its riverfront development.
In 2005, two tracts of land on the riverfront were acquired by the city. One was the site of an abandoned oil refinery, and the other was home to a marine company. The property was brought up to residential standards. After coming out of the 2008 recession, the city began talks with various stakeholders about what might be next for the land.
Fast-forward to today and City Manager Andre Wimer is at the helm. The city, which is south of Beaumont, had acquired the property and began the remediation work prior to his arrival; however, Wimer had followed the project previously, as he worked for a neighboring community at the time.
Wimer offers insight into this project’s evolution and future.
“We went through conversations with two or three individuals who were interested in developing the site in its entirety,” he said. “But those conversations ended there. Ultimately, the city decided to attempt to redevelop the property in-house. The first development on that site six or seven years ago was a restaurant. That venture has gone exceedingly well and created the additional interest in the site.”
According to Wimer, the city sold a smaller parcel of the land to become what it now the Neches River Wheelhouse restaurant, a purveyor of American-style fare and seafood. More recently, Port Neches sold the lion’s share of the land to a commercial firm that plans to build a subdivision there, he said. The city is also in talks with other parties about other potential projects.
“This is on the tract that included the abandoned refinery the city had remediated to conform with state requirements,” he said. “And so, there’s a subdivision currently under construction that will consist of 100 to 110 homes along the Neches River. The developer is currently in the process of constructing the streets and related infrastructure for that project.”
Wimer said the timing is right for such a venture, and it represents an opportunity for the community. With the city being landlocked, the availability of space to do any type of large-scale housing development is limited. The Port Neches-Groves Independent School District offers exceptional quality of education. In his words, “There are many people who are interested in living within the boundaries of that district as a means of affording excellent education for their children.”
Beyond the housing piece of the riverfront development project, Wimer said other parties have their eye on joining forces.
“In addition to the Wheelhouse, we currently have a letter of intent agreement with a Mexican restaurant that has locations in the Houston area,” he said. “While they have not yet started construction, due to delays related to COVID-19, the project is still proceeding. We’re also currently in conversation with a couple of other groups that have expressed interest in additional restaurants, and it’s likely that they will be moving forward in the next couple of months.
That said, Wimer is confident all of these plans on the horizon will result in a more comprehensive and attractive package to appeal to residents and visitors alike.
“Adjacent to the development is the city’s largest park, which is heavily utilized and brings more people to the area,” he said. “The eventual addition of other restaurants will create a point of destination and an interest in Port Neches. It’s important to have a draw to bring people to and through the community.”
Facing the Neches River, Riverfront Park is the city’s largest park covering approximately 27 acres. It contains a play structure, splash park, tennis court and other features. As a hub of recreation, especially in the warmer months, the hope is people will then visit the downtown area by way of the riverfront project. According to Wimer, there’s a successful microbrewery that’s in the process of expanding, for instance. This is in addition to a 1950s-themed ice cream/soda shop and antique stores.
“There are a number of places downtown that we think would also benefit from the traffic that will be generated,” he said.