More than $4.6 million has been spent on repairs to Victoria County buildings after Hurricane Harvey struck, but two key buildings at the Victoria Regional Airport remain unrepaired two years later.
The former University of Houston-Victoria storage and Fisher Stevens buildings at the Victoria Regional Airport sit vacant, damaged and unusable. Both buildings could likely bring in significant income, airport officials say, but they have been left largely untouched.
The value of the two buildings totals about $151,000, according to an insurance adjustment. But rather than go toward repairing the buildings, the money was spent elsewhere – a choice that concerns airport commission chairman Trey Ruschhaupt.
“As we have said before, that was another choice in this process where we were not involved in those repairs or those decisions,” he said. “I can’t answer why or where that money was spent.”
The former University of Houston-Victoria storage building, 442 Foster Field Drive, was leased by the university for a few years before UHV moved to the Town Plaza Mall, according to airport financial assistant Lauren Daniels.
Because the university left before the hurricane, the building was vacant when the hurricane hit, so repairing it was not a priority, she said. The value of the building was $53,842.12, according to the insurance adjustment.
The former Fisher Stevens building, 43 Storehouse Drive, a large warehouse that was home to the oil field supply company, is also vacant and mostly unrepaired. The building was still occupied by Fisher Stevens when Harvey struck, so pressing needs such as a new roof and garage door were addressed, according to airport director Lenny Llerena. But otherwise, the warehouse is in need of “a lot of real work,” he said.
Fisher Stevens left the airport property a few months after the hurricane for unrelated reasons, Llerena said.
The building was valued at $97,485.74, according to the insurance adjustment.
Llerena said airport officials hope to find new tenants for both buildings, at which point the airport will work with the new tenant to set up a payment plan to repair the buildings.
Ruschhaupt said he could not comment about the fact that the buildings were not repaired with the money designated for them because he was not involved. Both airport commissioners and Llerena previously have expressed concern about being told to “stay out” of the decision-making process regarding repairs at the airport after the hurricane.
“It’s just that obviously those buildings were income-producing, and now they’re not,” Ruschhaupt said. “But I don’t have all the information, nor was I in the decision-making process.”
Airport commissioner Dennis Patillo said it would make economic sense to restore the buildings “to a point that would be easily rentable.”
Generally speaking, Patillo said, monthly rental costs for office buildings can be anywhere from 80 cents to more than $1 per square foot, which could bring “the airport a lot of money.”
He said leases for warehouses usually go for slightly less, but because the former Fisher Stevens warehouse is large, it would also bring in a “good amount of money.”
“It’s my hope that we’ll find out if there are any insurance funds available to go out for bids and then get these buildings repaired,” he said.
The Officers’ Club, 333 Bachelor Drive, on the other hand, is renovated but not directly related to airport operations. Previously, airport commissioners questioned why the Officers’ Club was repaired at all, after they recommended to the county it be razed, and questioned why so much money went into repairing it.
County Judge Ben Zeller has defended the commissioners court’s decision to repair the building, citing the club’s historical and community value.
The county spent more than $400,000 to repair the club, even though the insurance adjustment valued it at $136,138.45. Even after that work was done, a vital section of the Officers’ Club remains undone. To the side of the club’s bar area is an unfinished section that was supposed to be made into a kitchenette.
Llerena said the kitchenette area was included in the county’s plans when repairing the club, but “evidently the budget ran out” before it was done.
“This is how it was returned to us. It was left to the airport to figure it out,” he said.
When the Officers’ Club was first turned over to the airport to manage after it was repaired, Ruschhaupt said, airport officials made a list of deficiencies and were then told that the county would take care of them.
Instead, he learned, the burden was left on the airport.
“We were told that after all, the county was not going to do it, and it is up to us,” Ruschhaupt said. “So really, we’re in a catch-22 situation.”
If fully functional, the Officers’ Club could earn about $30,000 to $40,000 annually from rentals as an events venue, Llerena has projected. The club has been used for multiple fundraisers and other events since it reopened and has a current rental price of $1,200 per day. The airport did not have a total for rental revenue collected so far this year at the club.
Without the kitchenette, Ruschhaupt said, the venue will be less appealing. Without access to a refrigerator, stove and other kitchen amenities, he said, it will be “pretty hard to rent it to anyone.”
Llerena said he plans to save money that comes from the rentals to eventually cover the cost of the kitchenette.
“We’ll save toward it, and hopefully we can find room in our budget in the future,” Llerena said.
Ruschhaupt recently sent a memo to county commissioners letting them know the juggling the county has done with airport money could violate Federal Aviation Administration policy and procedures. He highlighted particular sections, including one that explains the policies for spending airport revenue.
“Ordinarily, airport revenue may not be used to finance the costs of public and recreational facilities at the airport, just as airport revenue may not be used to develop other facilities not needed for the airport, even if those facilities will generate revenue for the airport,” the policy reads.
Ruschhaupt said his intent in sending the regulations to county officials was to point out any information that could be valuable for the county to know.
“I’m not making any accusations, but I was not aware of these regulations, and once I was, I wanted to make sure the county is aware of the regulations, too,” Ruschhaupt said.
He said no one from the county has responded.
“To be fair, it could’ve got caught up in their spam folders,” he said.