How To Save Galveston, Part One

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This week's cover story (coming online later today) is about the drive to bring legal casino gambling to Galveston.

With the Island's economy in shambles after the one-two punches of Hurricane Ike and the global financial meltdown, a vocal contingent of Galvestonians think the best way to jump-start the economy is to bring on the gambling palaces. Others think that casinos would in the long run be more disastrous than any hurricane.

But casinos are just one of several ideas for Galveston's long-term recovery. The town is ablaze with talk on that very subject, and one of the most prominent of these voices belongs to financial analyst David Stanowski, who moved to Galveston from Chicago in 2002.

A few years ago, Stanowski started publishing his thoughts on the city's economy at his own GalvestonEconomicReport.com and is an occasional guest columnist in the Galveston County Daily News.

As he sees it, there are six distinct models Galveston could employ in its comeback, as follows:


2. Going Green

3. Bedroom Community (Contingent on fast rail link to Houston. Hair Balls has discussed that here.)

4. Resort (This model favors enhancing Galveston's tourist draw, with gambling as the linchpin.)

5. Port

6. Small Business Haven

Of course many of these plans overlap. For example, Harris "Shrub" Kempner, a leading voice in the city's anti-casino movement and a member of the city's Finance Committee, believes that Galveston needs to enhance both UTMB and the port. That's the way Galveston did it in 1900, he says, and that's the way they can do it again.

"Everybody focuses on the jobs lost at UTMB, but are you aware that there are still 7,000 people per day working there?" he asked Hair Balls in early January. "If you are aware of that, you know that it is still a major job source for what is a smaller town."

Kempner adds that city leaders "have to get down to blocking and tackling with UTMB" to ensure that resources are provided, and that the state government is willing to support the re-expansion of the hospital complex.   

"There are no magic quick fixes in any of this. We are going to have to work hard to restore the economic drivers we had," he says, adding that there are one or two new ones coming down the pike. One is that some biotech companies are considering moving (or returning post-Ike) to Galveston. "We had 14 of them before they got flooded out, but as soon as an incubator is built we'll have more," he says. "There are not a lot of jobs per entity for those companies, but it's a whole new part of growth of the island and the jobs are very high-paying and there's a lot of potential for growth."

And then there's the Port of Houston, which is slated to continue its march southeast toward Galveston in the coming years. "Houston is planning in the next five years or so to have full construction of the new container port on Pelican Island," he says, referring to a joint 2007 agreement between the ports of Houston and Galveston. Kempner thinks the container port would create thousands of area jobs, not just on the docks, but also in the offices that would support them.  

Kempner says the hospital complex is much more important to Galveston's economy than tourism, which he believes is tied for second in economic primacy with the port.  "Tourism is all that people in Houston think about when they think of Galveston," he says. "Quite frankly, there's so much more here, not so much for visitors, but in terms of the economy."

Kempner's little-c conservative vision lacks glitz, but hey, like he said, it did work after 1900, to a certain degree. While Galveston never regained its status as the Wall Street of the South, it didn't die out either, and that had been a valid concern.

In later posts this week, we'll get to a few more grand ideas for Galveston's recovery -- including (but not limited to) making Galveston the green capital of Texas and turning it into the Gulf Coast's answer to pre-Red Chinese Hong Kong.

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