Sherry and Richard Fry were relaxing in lawn chairs on a sunny Wednesday morning in the RV park at Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island.
The couple, who hail from Michigan, say they have been visiting for 13 years because the spot just can’t be beaten.
“The truth is, it’s a bargain right now,” Fry said. “There’s nowhere else you can go and be this close to the water.”
The Frys aren’t the only ones who recognize the bargain, either. Cameron County commissioners also are aware.
“When we’re done, you and I are telling everyone we’re going to have the nicest facility on the Gulf Coast,” County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., told Parks Director Joe Vega during a meeting Tuesday.
“So I don’t think it’s a problem to charge the individuals a proper rate since they’ll have the use of state-of-the-art facilities.”
Vega was in front of the Cameron County Commissioners Court, asking commissioners to sign off on RV rental site fee increases and to approve updates to the planned second phase of facility improvements in the park. Those fees are expected to help pay for the second phase.
Plans to upgrade facilities at Isla Blanca Park stretch back two years ago, when Cameron County adopted a master plan for its parks on South Padre Island. Initially, the plans set expansive goals that included proposed tennis and pickle ball courts, and even a dog park. Two years later, Vega described that master plan as more of a wish list than a to-do list.
“It was more like a working document, but not all that’s on the master plan is going to be included with our improvements,” Vega said during an interview.
However, even the toned-down version, in regards to Phase 2 of the Isla Blanca Park improvements, which include improvements to the Gulf-side amenities, has commissioners worried whether the rate increase on RV-site rentals is adequate.
Trevino said during that meeting that the Commissioners Court needs to make sure the rates are sufficient for the market area and what the county will be providing to people who visit Isla Blanca, which already experienced a 50-percent increase on its entry fee last year, from $5 to $10.
“Because, obviously, the individuals that are going to be renting these spaces have RV vehicles. They have the means,” Trevino said. “We’re not talking about the families that go there for a day. We’re talking about individuals that have RVs that are going to stay for weeks at a time and, in the past, that have stayed for months and years at a time.”
Right now, monthly fees at the RV park range from $390 per month to $525 per month, depending on location and whether the sites are partial or full hook-ups, and whether they have cable, according to the county’s website.
The fee schedule that commissioners approved last Monday increases those fees to $600 to $800 per month during the summer peak season. And during winter and spring, those monthly rental rates spread from $500 to $750. These rates take effect Jan. 1, 2018.
Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides, who represents the South Padre Island and Port Isabel areas on the commissioners court, supports the rate increase.
“First of all, we’ve taken the first step to move forward in improving our parks, and second of all, I think we need to bring up our prices also,” she said. “I think now we really need to move forward with this.”
But it’s uncertain whether the increases can actually fund Phase 2 improvements.
“We’re currently looking at $13 million in improvements and finance that we’re going to seek for Isla Blanca Park,” Vega said during that meeting.
Right now, commissioners don’t believe the RV rental increases are substantial enough for the price-tag, and Commissioner David A. Garza said the fee schedule should be revisited on an annual basis.
“Having a very, very substantial increase at one time and not knowing how the public was going to react to that, you know, if we were to double or triple the price it may be that we get less revenue because we have less people coming,” said David Gordon, managing director at Estrada Hinojosa Investment Bankers, during the meeting.
Vega said Phase 2 includes tearing down and rebuilding the DJ Lerma and Sandpiper pavilions, along with adding a boardwalk that connects the two. Phase 2 also includes relocating several dunes in the park, improving roads and creating more parking. The total price tag on the current proposal is just less than $17 million.
However, as commissioners and the parks department figure out how to pay for Phase 2 improvements, Phase 1 construction has yet to even start.
That part of the project, which costs a little less than $6.5 million and is being paid through venue taxes, will bring an amphitheater and multi-purpose building to the area by Dolphin Cove.
“Once we get bids and they come within budget, from there we’ll determine a date to break ground,” Vega said.
The final phase of improvements at Isla Blanca will focus on the RV park, where Vega said his department is looking to upgrade infrastructure and to build additional sites.
Meanwhile, though, the Frys said they feel completely in the dark as to what is happening in the park. That sentiment was echoed by others who didn’t want their names in the newspaper.
And would-be visitors who want to reserve spots in 2018 are unable to, leaving an air of uncertainty. Not only that, some said they know changes are coming to Isla Blanca Park, but what those changes are depends on who is telling the story.
“Stories abound about what’s going to be done,” Sherry Fry said.
Her husband concurred.
“Anyone you talk to, you get a different answer,” he said. “We just want our spot.”
Vega said the parks department is working on updating RV park policies and, after they satisfy the Commissioners Court and are approved, then Vega said he hopes to open the park back up to reservations.
“We are not taking any reservations for the following season. We are still working on the financing for the RV site construction schedule,” Vega said. “We don’t want to take any reservations, and then start the project and give notices that they are not going to be able to come in.”
Those improvements to the RV park will be done in sections.
“Once we put the plan together, then we’re going to open up for reservations,” he said. “We’re hoping that once the court adopts the revisions to the park policies and once we determine a plan, then we’re going to open up for reservations.”
By MARK REAGAN Staff Writer