Hurricane Harvey destroyed the Aransas County Courthouse and the Rockport Center for the Arts (RCA), and heavily damaged Rockport City Hall.
But there is a silver lining.
The storm made possible many things that would not have been possible, at least for a number of years.
One of the gifts of that storm is we now have the opportunity to rebuild the courthouse and city hall in a central location in downtown Rockport, with funds we never would have had access to without the storm.
I say we, because this all belongs to the taxpayers. It’s not the judge’s or the commissioners’, or the mayor’s or the council members’ – it’s ours.
Aransas County and City of Rockport elected officials have the opportunity, and duty to taxpayers, to make the Downtown Anchor Project (DAP) a shining example of what can be accomplished when a gift is received. That gift has come in the form of money, cheap financing for any shortfalls in funding, and timeline compressions.
This is the perfect opportunity to show Aransas County residents, as well as other communities how working together, in harmony, can produce a much bigger asset than when flying solo.
Prior to Harvey the county had accumulated the land for a future courthouse, but didn’t have the funds on hand to build it. In reality, it was still a dream.
The need for a new city hall had been discussed, as well, but there had been no official action working in that direction.
Prior to Harvey, I opined in this space, about how important the decisions would be regarding what was built on the old HEB property and on the Harborfront property.
The county had its property, and the RCA had just recently purchased its property downtown.
The county and RCA both had plans, and visions for the future, but not the funds.
Then Harvey hit.
The storyline changed overnight.
A huge influx of federal, state, and insurance funding sources became available, that weren’t available before Aug. 25, 2017.
Harvey fast-forwarded the county’s, city’s, RCA’s, and even the Aransas County Navigation District’s plans for its marina.
Since Harvey I’ve changed my tune. Now, it’s vitally important plans for the DAP, the new RCA campus, the old HEB property, and the Harborfront property all mesh into a cohesive vision for the betterment of everyone.
What this relatively small multi-block area eventually becomes will have a huge impact on the entire county’s future.
The Town of Fulton is a big part of this picture, as well. Its new convention center (Paw & Taws) will be Fulton’s pride and joy, and the rebuilt Fulton Pier will attract future generations, just as the old one attracted current and past generations.
Anything that is built in the future can be done right, with diligent planning, or it can be a total fiasco witnessed and endured by future generations.
Elected officials today will be judged just as past elected officials are judged on decisions made years ago regarding buildings, or any other matter affecting current Aransas County residents.
The courthouse that was destroyed was roughly 60 years old, and city hall was roughly 30 years old.
I can only assume the DAP will still be standing when my grandchildren are nearing grandparent status.
The old Rockport Police station and Rockport fire substation on Henderson Street, as well as city hall on Market Street all had the same exterior design.
The old police station and old metal fire station were demolished to make room for the Public Safety Center, which to my knowledge, is the only building built, operated, and maintained by the county and city via interlocal agreements.
There have been some rumblings between the two entities regarding the Public Safety Center, and that has effected agreement negotiations for the DAP, but let us not forget that building protected many of the men and women who helped get us back on our feet the moment Harvey passed.
It’s time to move forward, with a razor focus on the future, putting past issues, which choke our future, behind us.
Many opportunities, here and in other locales, have been squandered or otherwise wasted due to selfishness, greed, pride or other common character defects.
Now, more than ever, is the time to look at ourselves in the mirror and return to the mindset we had immediately after the storm.
The hardest thing for anyone to do, including elected officials, is keep from returning to old ways of thinking after an event presents a new and better way of looking at things.
Harvey hit us hard.
We have been and will continue to be the recipient of opportunities that without the storm would not have been possible.
Let us not squander our opportunities.
We must work together, lean in one direction, and make future generations proud of the decisions made today.
I’ve visited with countless people in other communities hit by natural disasters. One of the things that has occurred in almost every case is a period of community and political unrest a couple of years after the life-changing event. In many cases, decisions made during this critical period were not in the best interest of the community as a whole.
My challenge to all elected officials, in every entity, is to be the beacon for others to follow after future disasters.
Your decisions, attitudes, and ability to work together will make others say one of two things:
“Look how Aransas County entities worked together long after their disaster, accomplishing so much for the people they served,” or, “Aransas County really worked together at first, but then ended up being like everyone else after a disaster.”
The choice is ours, and the decision is easy.
The question is, will we make the right decision?
Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills, former Rockport Mayor C.J. Wax, and Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick provided excellent leadership in the months following the storm.
It’s now up to Mills, Rockport Mayor Pat Rios, Kendrick, and other government and community leaders to work together for the betterment of the whole, and be remembered by future generations in a positive light.
We stood out and were held high as an example of how to weather the immediate aftermath of a storm.
How will our long-term recovery read?
Only we can write that chapter of our book.
Until next week, have a good week.
Mike Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.