The Happiest Place in Texas
By Kirby Tello
A once sleepy subject in the minds of Corpus Christians from downtown to south of SPID, the buzz around the anticipated changes due to take over North Beach has gained major circulation throughout local news circuits. If you are not a native to the city, then chances are you may not know the history of North Beach. It was not always an afterthought. In fact, in the 1930s and ’40s, North Beach served as the city’s most desirable place for military men to get some off-duty rest and relaxation, including having fun in the sun with their families.
Over the years, as downtown Corpus began to grow and the development of the south side surged, the magic of North Beach seemed to become a distant memory. So, what happened? And why does it look as though a North Beach revival is on the horizon?
The North Beach Infrastructure Task Force (NBITF) is the group behind the area’s future. Many tales about the development plans have been spun in the rumor mill, while the community is trying to understand exactly just what is to come. The NBITF has been instrumental in gathering historical data of the vast topography, most of which is commercially zoned land that has remained vacant for years. Those vacant lots, which belong to the City of Corpus Christi, are prime real estate for investors and developers, but the city has been reluctant to put those vacant properties up for sale. One can only speculate as to why the city has kept tight reins on the land, but there is no need to continue to rack our brains over the whys or why nots. Since NBITF was formed, the team has been working with the city on the new development plans for North Beach, and while it has been no easy feat, they have finally been able to move the needle on North Beach improvements.
The Pain Points - Drainage
Flooding on North Beach has been a long-standing issue through which residents and business owners alike have had to wade. Out of the handful of major areas of opportunity on North Beach, drainage takes the number one spot. At somewhere between zero to three feet above sea level, it is inevitable that the one-time vacation hot spot faces substantial flooding problems with the onset of even the slightest bit of rain. Actually, now, it does not even need to rain in order for North Beach to be plagued by drainage concerns. In mid-October of this year, the Caller-Times reported that North Beach was flooding, although rain had not been in local weather forecasts. The fact of the matter is that the beach is constantly eroding day by day because the sand is being pushed back by wind and wave action. We are talking normal beach “wear and tear,” if you will. Now add in the impact of high wind speeds and seasonal high tides, and our at-sea-level coastal treasure cove is at risk for irreparable damage.
The root of the problem is the current state of the drainage system. It is not that it is malfunctioning; rather, the system simply cannot handle the surge of seawater and sand that pours into the piping structure and causes clogging. While water can still pass through the pipelines, it travels at a significantly slower rate than a fully functioning draining system that is the proper capacity for an area of North Beach’s magnitude. So, you may be thinking, raise the elevation or expand the current drainage system to solve the issue. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Not only is a drainage system expansion a multi-million-dollar project that the city is unable to fund, but it would also be like putting a band-aid over a fractured bone. The drainage concerns are an issue that needs a long-term solution, and one that makes sense for Corpus Christi’s overall economy.
SOLUTION - The Grand Canal
The NBITF, along with the engineering and design firm Blackard Global, is the creative and logistical force behind the proposed Grand Canal solution to North Beach’s drainage problem. Not only have they independently raised $41M to accommodate the construction of the Grand Canal, but their team has also outlined a three-year plan showing the overall economic impact the canal will have on the North Beach economy during the next 20 years.
The Grand Canal is a Riverwalk-like concept that will create an experience for visitors and residents to have more to do on North Beach. Hopefully, this would result in increased tourism and increased likelihood that guests will continue their exploration of the Coastal Bend by venturing over the bridge into Downtown, The South Side, The Island, and beyond. Jeff Blackard, founder and CEO of Blackard Global, says, “North Beach is the entrance to this great city. It is like the ‘gateway’ to everything Corpus Christi has to offer.”
Blackard went on to explain that North Beach is essentially our “show piece” and with the right attention to not only solving the draining issue but creating a quality, visually appealing and functional space, the city has a chance to revive North Beach and exceed its former glory.
The Grand Canal is designed to be six feet wide and 10 feet deep, which will be more than enough capacity to solve the drainage problem. The creation of the canal will also raise the elevation on North Beach on property that is currently unoccupied, in hopes of opening up the possibility for future investors.
Vacancies - Houses, Buildings, and Lots
As an effect of the drainage issues on North Beach, countless houses, businesses, and lots have gone vacant and remained vacant for many years. It is no secret that taking a trip over the Harbor Bridge is a journey that leads to an area that feels quite desolate. While a few businesses have managed to ride out the storm (pun intended), several others have had to close their doors due to lack of business.
One business that has been thriving on North Beach, despite its challenges, is Fajitaville. Its owner, Lynn Frazier, has been eager to continue investing in his beloved North Beach, but the business opportunities are slim. When the Grand Canal project is underway, however, Frazier sees the potential for his investment dollars to go very far in boosting the greater North Beach economy.
When the numbers are broken down and analyzed on a micro level, it is evident that initial investments to North Beach from local stakeholders have the potential to catapult the area economically within a few short years.
Chad Magill, former City Council member and current NBITF member, thoroughly gathered the necessary data to build a case for the economic impact of the upcoming North Beach projects. “Would you invest $40M to get $100M in return?” asks Magill – a question that feels largely rhetorical. “The obvious answer should be ‘yes,’ and we’ve done the legwork to prove that’s exactly the return we’re looking at on North Beach.” Magill perfectly sums up his viewpoint by saying that the City of Corpus Christi must look at this as a business deal – a business investment – and when looked at from the perspective of the numbers and nothing else, approval of North Beach’s transformation is a no-brainer.
SOLUTION - Raised Elevation on Empty Lots
The poster child of the revival of North Beach and the creation of major economic opportunity is decidedly the Grand Canal. At the root of all proposed solutions, the Grand Canal stands strong. By way of the canal, as mentioned previously, is raised elevation for lots currently vacant. Effectively, the raised elevation allows for local business owners, like Frazier, as well as outside investors to consider North Beach as a sustainable and lucrative location for new business.
Additionally, the Riverwalk design of the canal creates commercial business space, inviting all sorts of new and exciting activities to the area.
All of the headaches with North Beach drainage and flooding have proven rough on all those involved, including the wildlife. With so much of North Beach underwater for extended periods of time, the standing water not only affects the natural habitat of local creatures, but it also creates a breeding ground for bacteria, pollution, and diseases.
And for South Texas to be known for our seafood, one would imagine that we would be home to flourishing oyster beds and prosperous vegetation. While there are certainly areas where this exists, we have been missing a significant opportunity to expand the environmental prospects to include North Beach.
SOLUTION - The Bird Islands
In a completely separate effort from the Grand Canal, the NBITF and City Council have developed what are called the Bird Islands. The Bird Islands are a series of eight landmasses off of the North Beach shore whose purpose is to provide breeding grounds for natural habitat, uninterrupted vegetation, and thriving oyster beds.
Tourists will not be allowed on these islands in efforts to preserve the integrity of the isles; however, the plan is to incorporate boat tours of the islands into the complete Grand Canal experience, whereby guests can charter a family-friendly vessel to explore wildlife in its natural habitat.
If you’re thinking this all sounds like a fantastical experience, then Blackard and the NBITF have successfully translated the majestic vision they foresee for North Beach. The slogan coined for the area’s anticipated major revival is “The Happiest Place in Texas,” a phrase that understandably needs a little explanation given its current state. In response to this skepticism, members of the NBITF enlighten the unconvinced by referring back to the times when North Beach was, in fact, the most desirable destination in the Coastal Bend. When their proposed projects are finally complete come year 2023, they’ve ensured it will have been crafted with a “Disney-like quality,” restoring North Beach in a way that exceeds its former glory, and allows for countless new memories to be made.
The Force Behind the Revival
The engineering, project management, and design aptitude behind the North Beach revival concept that includes driving tourism and overall increased recreation for residents and visitors alike, thus boosting our coastal economy by a projected tens of millions of dollars, is none other than Jeff Blackard, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Blackard Global. With his 40 years of experience and expertise, Blackard is widely considered one of the foremost real estate visionaries of our time.
Blackard Global Notable Projects:
Barisi Village and Country Club: the 42 acres of vacant land near the Pharaoh Valley subdivision complete with Italian-style, mixed use development structure, Corpus Christi, TX.
Adriatica: the $250+ million project that combines small shops, a bell tower, condominiums, flats, and a variety of multi-use spaces, Dallas-Fort Worth, TX.