This time of year, the island town of Port Aransas is usually full of vacationers holding onto the last bit of summer. But one month after Hurricane Harvey, hotels are still empty, unable to take guests due to extensive damage and in need of repairs that could take months. All those canceled reservations mean Port Aransas’s hospitality industry is losing a lot of money. In the second part of our "Rebuilding After Harvey" series, we look at two lodging companies hoping to get back to business as soon as possible.
If you’re calling hotels in Port Aransas, you’ll likely hear messages - like this one - from the Hampton Inn and Suites:
“I’m sorry we missed your call. Unfortunately the hotel has been closed down until November 2017 due to the damages caused by Hurricane Harvey, the recent disaster that befell the area."
The Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce lists only eight hotels currently operating…at least partially. Port A normally has about 5,000 active hotel rooms, but after the hurricane, only about 50 are available.
On the east side of the island, roofers hammer away at The Beachgate Condo Suites and Hotel...just a few hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico.
The newspaper vending machine in the lobby is frozen in time. The paper is dated Thursday, August 24th, the day Port Aransas issued a mandatory evacuation order.
“Well, here, luckily, all the guests that were here pre-hurricane -- they took their tail and ran,” says Sean McGraff, Beachgate’s property manager.
He says at least 20 of Beachchgate’s 48 rooms need work. He tells me, one might look fine, but “then, literally like the room next door, is the ceiling came down; insulation everywhere. Then you go to the next room and it's not touched, or vice versa. You know, it is insane because ones we thought we're going to have crazy damage didn't. But the ones we thought were going be totally good actually had some damage,” he says.
So far, cancellations stretch into next year and amount to more than $275,000 in losses. And McGraff says it hasn’t been easy contacting everyone.
"Almost three weeks went by before we could actually access our reservation system, and that's you all over town. So then you get yelled at and screamed at by the guests they want their money which I understand does definitely have to be patient. You know, I mean that's one thing. I think I’ve got up to 675 e-mails I still get a check,” he adds.
Beachgate won’t be able to accommodate guests until at least early October. The Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce believes most of the city’s hotel rooms will be operational by Spring Break.
No matter the timeline, though, the economic impact of Harvey will be massive. Last year, visitors spent at least $221 million in Port A.
Near the center of town Flora Buerger and her husband John Scott Buerger are cleaning up their house and six guest cottages. John’s on the roof of one and Flora is gathering debris from the front yard. Their vibrantly-painted cottages sit a few feet off the ground, but, with nearly five feet of flood water from storm surge, “we had 22 inches in our house, and the most of the cottages had 18 to 22 inches, some roof damage on a couple of the cottages,” Flora says.
They often rent their cottages on AirBnB, and one serves as a law office for a local attorney. John says the cottages have been through every hurricane since 1950. “We’ve even thought about naming our cottages on each hurricane that it survived,” says John. “You have the Harvey, the Carla, the Celia, the Allen,” Flora adds.”
John pulls out his phone pulls up a photo of a cottage they had to knock down. He points to a line on the siding, labeled “Carla,” after the 1961 hurricane. “That was that marking right there and Flora went back and that’s Harvey so it’s two feet higher.”
In one cottage, just about everything below the waist has been gutted. “We had to rip out all the floors, and all the counters … You can see the waterline on the tub too,” Flora says.
Since Harvey, 99 of John and Flora’s reservations have been canceled. That’s about $10,000 in reservation losses and $2,700 in lost rent from the law office.
They don’t have a damage estimate yet, but...with no renters there won’t be any income for a while.
“We had a great summer so for us we have a little bit of a cushion but some people aren’t that lucky. For a lot of people everything just stopped. Income, normalcy, completely cut off,” she adds.
The couple – like many other hotel operations -- hope to have their cottages back up for rentals by November, just in time for when many vacationers from Northern states escape their cold homes and become Winter Texans.