HOUSTON CHRONICLE - Perspectives - 2003
K. Pica Kahn
Island hotel looks to rival Flagship
...continued from Published News
Nancy Kapner was 15 when she first stayed at Galveston's Flagship Hotel. After a day at the beach, she and her family had dinner on the Seawall and then strolled the water's edge before returning to their room overlooking the ocean.
I remember it was the first time I spent the night on the beach," said Kapner. "I loved it. It was a full moon, and I sat out and watched the reflection on the water and thought 'life just doesn't get any better than this.' I have been back many times, but that is the moment that remains in my memory."
For decades, the Flagship was the only hotel that extended out over the Gulf, a staple of Galveston Island. It was where people celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, spent prom nights, and fished for shark off the pier.
The Flagship Hotel, built in the 1960s on a pier stretching out into Galveston Bay at 25th Street and Seawall, is about to get a new life.
Tilman Fertitta, chairman, president and CEO of Landry's Restaurants, Inc., is turning the hotel and the surrounding area into a hotel of yesteryear with entertainment and a boardwalk. He hopes to turn it into an 1800s-style inn similar to Walt Disney World's Grand Floridian Hotel.
Fertitta submitted a bid for $500,000 to purchase the city-owned hotel. The only bidder, Fertitta is financing the $7.5 million for renovations of the hotel with a pledge of $30 million for the entertainment plaza.
Upon completion, the area will contain the hotel, the Lighthouse Bar & Grill, a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and a merry-go-round.
"Probably we will tear it down to the steel structure and rebuild," Fertitta said. "We aren't sure yet. The lease on the hotel doesn't expire for a while, so we will know more later. Once we start it will be finished in about 18 months."
Timing on the project remains an open question. The lease is held by Daniel Yeh, who has had it since 1990. Because the pier and the hotel are considered a park that infringes on a public beach, the city and the state had to agree to sell the property. Fertitta said he is willing to put plans on hold until decisions about the lease are finalized.
Fertitta said he looks at problems as challenges and, within reason, is willing to go forward for a good deal.
"This is going to work," he said. "This will make a big difference to the East End developments. We have a lot of property in Galveston. It is a good business move. Also, I am from Galveston and I like to invest in my hometown."
The Galveston City Council accepted Fertitta's bid in October. Fertitta also owns the Rainforest Café restaurant, the Hilton Resort, Fish Tales, Joe's Crab Shack, IHOP, Landry's and the San Luis Resort & Conference Center.