Captain’s Corner – Communities Capitalize on Port Growth


In a year that began with drooping oil prices and an economic slowdown in China, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that several of our near-port communities have announced development projects underway for 2016. Among the announced plans are a massive mixed-use project in Baytown, a first for the community, on Texas State Highway 146 and Kilgore Parkway. Named Kilgore Crossings, the master-planned project by Huntington Properties will contain a multifamily complex, single-family homes, and retail, hotels, and offices.

2015 Half Horz Odfjell
Just a little further south on SH 146, a $55 million LaPorte Town Center development has been approved by the city’s leaders. Like the development in its sister city on the opposite side of the bridge, the project calls for a mixed-use plan positioning home, office, and retail in closer proximity to afford everyone more family time. Among the various venues, town homes, and restaurants will be the Center’s main attraction, a new Gilley’s.

I am not from here, but thanks to its wide reputation, I am pretty well-versed in Gilley’s lore. I know that country singer Mickey Gilley was the headlining act; it was located in Pasadena, not LaPorte; Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Emmylou Harris, and Roseanne Cash all played at Gilley’s; nightly shows were broadcast weekly on the radio for more than 10 years. I’ve even heard they used to slap Gilley’s bumper stickers on your vehicle while you were inside -- definitely an interesting marketing strategy I’ve not previously encountered. Of course, Gilley’s was made absolutely iconic by the movie, “Urban Cowboy”, giving us non-natives a certain connection to the old honky-tonk hall regardless of where we lived.

As an anchor for the LaPorte Town Center, the new Gilley’s will be a family entertainment venue, offering “Branson-style” stage performances and a dance floor at night doubling as a roller rink during the day – a big change from its earlier heyday that was summed up by the movie’s tagline, “hard hat days and honky-tonk nights”! Perhaps its change is one that mirrors the new growth and goals of our port region as it looks to the future. The diversifying of business for sustainable growth and safe, environmentally-friendly operations are shared objectives in all our endeavors.

The announcements in various media outlets all cited the billions of dollars of investments in petrochemical plants and the expected benefits from the Panama Canal expansion as significant factors for investors undertaking the development of these new-styled projects. The port region is a bit of an unsung hero, in my opinion. The Houston Ship Channel is an economic engine that chugs opportunity throughout the nation, yet it doesn’t often receive the recognition its due. Many a native Houstonian can’t tell you when it was built, what moves on it, or how long it is. It’s exciting to see it getting some media attention while catching the eye of builders and investors wanting to be a part of its progress.

I think new visitors might still be surprised to learn Houstonians are not always dressed for the rodeo and two-stepping our way through the night. Houston has transformed itself dramatically over the last few decades. It is emerging as an international city and home to many cultures and people from all over the world, and the Port of Houston has been a big part of that process.

Perhaps it’s time for an “Urban Cowboy” remake showing off the Houston of the new millennia to the world. If so, I have a few suggestions. Rather than sweeping camera shots of the lead character driving into Houston to the refinery, I’d prefer him sailing up the Ship Channel to show off the world’s second largest petrochemical complex. And, when the beautiful lady approaches him at Gilley’s (perhaps on roller skates) with her hard-to-answer opening question: “You a real cowboy?”, he’ll just pull out his TWIC card. As his credentials get a big screen close-up, the audience will see that Houston cowboys don’t just work on horses, they work on water, too. Best of all, while theater-goers watch the movie, we’ll put maritime bumper stickers on all their cars.


  • Date March 3, 2016
  • Tags March 2016