At the intersection of 13th Street and the Intracoastal Waterway in Port O’Connor, the Fishing Center has been a local institution of sorts for decades.

The business sits on 3.73 acres that harbor a fueling station, bait shop, boat ramps, slips, fish cleaning tables and an RV Park.

In mid-June, the Zaplac Group at Coldwell Banker The Ron Brown Company listed the waterfront property on the market for $4.25 million.

Realtor Jimmy Zaplac said it presents a prime development opportunity for someone with a vision.

“There are endless possibilities,” he said. “It could be a restaurant, hotel or residential development … The location is superb, pretty much in the middle of Port O’Connor, and you’ve got about 600 feet of frontage on the water.”

After 30 years, owners Johnny Hawes and Donald Goldman decided it was time to sell the property. Hawes operated the Fishing Center up until about four years ago, when he and Goldman decided to sublease it to Randy Hudson.

“We’re 75 years old,” Goldman said. “It put six kids through private school and college, so it’s done its deed all these years, and it is time for somebody else to take the reins and see what they can do with it.”

Goldman and Hawes purchased the Fishing Center in 1991, though their history with the location dates back to the early 1960s.

As teenagers, the friends sold live bait there that they would catch with Hawes’ father, Buck Hawes. At the time, the business was Payne’s and then it became Melva’s, a popular waterfront dining spot, Goldman said.

The center had been closed for at least a year prior to their purchase, he said. They installed high-volume fuel pumps, bait tanks and a walk-in cooler, and reopened it. Over the years, they revamped the 28-slot RV park and built 21 slips for larger boats that became the marina.

The high-volume fuel pumps, which they eventually expanded from 10,000-gallon capacity to 18,000-gallon capacity, were installed to quickly service large boats, such as those that participated in the Poco Bueno fishing tournament started by Walter Fondren III in 1969.

The tanks on most of the boats that were in the tournament, which ended in 2019, were filled at the Fishing Center as a result, Goldman said.

The location has always been known as the Fishing Center, and held a bait camp of some sort, Goldman said. About 400 feet of the waterfront bulkhead, however, were previously platted for a 19-lot subdivision.

“We’re not using that property for the highest and best use,” Goldman said. “That is why I think that if somebody buys it for the price we’re asking, they’re probably going to use it for something else, but I can’t say that (for certain).”

As of Tuesday, Zaplac said he had gotten a few calls on the property but none of serious buying interest.

It’s not often that a property along the Intracoastal Waterway becomes available, he said. In recent years, more people have bought property in the area in part because it sits just a few hours from several major cities.

“Land on the water is harder to find. Even residential, you know houses, they’re hard to find,” Zaplac said. “Over the last couple of months, as they come up, they sell fast so the inventory down there is pretty low.”

Regardless of who purchases the property and what they decide to do with it, Goldman said he hopes they find as much success as he and Hawes have with their investment.

“We did our deal and it has been good to us and the community,” Goldman said. “So whoever buys it, hopefully, it will be good to them.”

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Kali Venable is an investigative and environmental reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6558 or at kvenable@vicad.com.

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Investigative & Environmental Reporter

I was born and raised in Houston, but spent many summers and weekends in the Crossroads while growing up. I studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, and feel lucky to cover a region I love dearly.

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