About 18 months since Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on Port Aransas and other nearby towns on the Texas Gulf Coast, local businesses say they are hoping a spring break boom helps fuel their town’s continued revival.
Port Aransas, one of the most popular beach communities in the Texas Coastal Bend, has worked hard on rebounding after the destruction wrought by Harvey, which made landfall in nearby Rockport on Aug. 13, 2017.
Nearly all of the businesses that made it through the storm’s aftermath have reopened, along with new businesses that have since moved in, Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau President and CEO Jeffrey Hentz said.
“If the weather cooperates, and that’s a big if, we believe we’re going to have one of our best spring breaks in a long, long time,” Hentz said.
Like much of Texas, Port Aransas shivered through some cold weather this week, with temperatures dropping into the 30s.
“I actually had to put on shoes instead of flip-flops this morning,” said Scott Tanzer, owner of golf cart rental company Port A Beach Buggies, now in its 10th tourist season.
Tanzer and other locals are now hoping that the forecast improves by this weekend, the informal start to a potential two-week spring break uptick in tourism.
Tanzer rents 77 of the golf carts that locals and tourists alike use to cruise around the town of a little more than 4,000 residents. His carts have built-in Bluetooth speakers and coolers and come with beach-themed patterns, such as “sharks, dolphins, and mermaids for the kids and ‘Five O’Clock Somewhere’ for mom and dad.”
Though he had a larger inventory before the storm, Tanzer considers himself “relatively fortunate” for not having to wait too long for an insurance payout. Many of his neighbors have been struggling with insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and construction contractors as they rebuild what was lost.
“Every day you’re hearing another horror story of someone that just didn’t get what they were told what they were going to get,” he said.
Some of Port Aransas’s high-rise condos are still being repaired, a “long, drawn-out process” that until complete will leave less lodging available for tourists, he said.
One property damaged during Harvey that’s been revamped for spring break is Schlitterbahn Resort Corpus Christi, located on Padre Island about half an hour south of Port Aransas.
The storm damaged the roof of the 92-room hotel, plus one of the water park rides and its golf course. The property went through bankruptcy proceedings in 2018 before a subsidiary of IBC Bank, one of its creditors, purchased it last May.
Since the acquisition, the new owners added a gaming room for video and virtual reality games, along with a new upstairs ballroom, renovated the main dining area, and plan to have some of the water park rides open this weekend, spokesperson Lisa Marie Barocas said.
Hentz said that rental bookings in Port Aransas have been strong throughout the winter, when tourists and so-called “Winter Texans” from all over the U.S. come to the island to fish and escape the cold.
In late February, the town had record turnout for its annual Whooping Crane festival, an ecotourism event celebrating the endangered bird that drew around 2,000 people this year, Hentz said.
Shawn Etheridge, who opened Stingrays Taphouse and Grill in Port Aransas in 2013, by contrast called this winter “the worst winter we’ve had in a long time.” He doesn’t expect things to be back to normal by Spring Break but is hoping for a boost in business.
“We’re just hoping to see big crowds,” he said. “I think we will. We’ve had a pretty chilly winter and are looking for it to warm up a bit.”
Forecasters are predicting warmer weather, though not ideal, for the island over the weekend, with chances for fog and storms on Friday and Saturday with highs in the low 70s, according to the National Weather Service. The weather is supposed to clear up by Sunday with a high of 70 degrees.