Yes, Hurricane Harvey hurt. Yes, there are the usual squabbles over things that seem urgent at the moment but that are not of lasting importance. But if you take the long view, Galveston is on a roll.
Not convinced? Let’s look at five things that really matter.
• The city’s biggest need is for some kind of system to protect it from catastrophic storms. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that city leaders can’t solve alone. The proposed Ike Dike will cost billions, and if it is built it will take all the political muscle the Houston business community and the Texas congressional delegation can muster. Perhaps the only good thing to emerge from Hurricane Harvey is a sense of renewed urgency that spending the astronomical sums needed to protect the region might be justified compared to the even larger sums needed to rebuild.
• The city’s biggest economic opportunity is at the port. The port has many lines of business, some of which are profitable and some of which are not. If the port cuts its losses on the nonperformers, it would have more money to repair infrastructure and grow lines of business that make sense. Progress seems slow at times — why would anyone fight a plan to audit parking revenue, a major source of funding? But actually the year has been productive. The wharves board will interview candidates for port director next month and should have a person onboard by early 2018. The port also should have a new strategic plan by then.
• The city’s biggest success has been in rebuilding its infrastructure. For decades, Galveston let its infrastructure rot. But the city has embarked on a $60 million project to rebuild its streets and the water and sewer lines beneath them. It’s got another $6 million or so in street improvements riding on the county’s bond issue. Those improvements — 23rd Street, from Broadway to Seawall Boulevard, and Avenue S, from 53rd Street to Seawall Boulevard — will get done, even if the county bond issue fails. For the city, this has been a change of culture. The city has the ability to develop a list of 20 projects in a five-year plan and can, in fact, get them done. That idea was once unthinkable.
• The city is continuing work on the so-called renaissance zone between 25th and 33rd streets north of Broadway. The city has been improving infrastructure in this neighborhood, hoping to inspire investment. Construction crews are at work at the old Falstaff brewery, turning it into to climate-controlled storage units, and a boutique hotel aimed at cruise line customers is in the works. A new fire station is coming. Visionaries can stand at 33rd and Market streets and look toward the University of Texas Medical Branch and see a bigger downtown.
• The most pressing project on the city’s list is the new Pelican Island Bridge. It’s vital to economic growth. The Texas Department of Transportation has committed money for the project, but can’t, with cities across the state clamoring for help, hold the money forever. Galveston County is considering three alternatives and has until the end of the year to make a decision. This project must get done.
There you have it. Five big deals, and progress on all fronts — especially in areas where progress can be made by city officials acting alone.
Where Galveston, as a city and a community, needs help is in the larger question of storm protection. If you have the ear of a powerful member of Congress, talk about the need for storm protection.
• Heber Taylor