13 Undercover

Port of Houston terminal empty years later

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

More than $100 million of your tax dollars maybe down the drain and as you'd expect, 13 Undercover wants to know why.

We are laying off teachers, talking about even laying off cops, but have you been paying attention to how they are spending your money at the Port of Houston? After this week it may get a new nickname -- the Port of Plenty.

Here I am, all ready for my cruise vacation. Don't the palm trees make you yearn for that tropical paradise?

This is my first chance to see the 96,000-square foot Bayport Cruise Terminal. You know, the one that opened two and a half years ago.

Such a big deal, the port even made a song and video to promote the cruise terminal. They first claimed they didn't pay for it, but we found out it cost you about $9,000.

"The Bayport Cruise Terminal will offer a one-of-a kind experience, where your passengers may also enjoy VIP services," a woman said in the promotional video.

We're VIP but ... "Wonder where that ship is," Wayne Dolcefino asked himself. "Looks kinda empty to me."

Maybe that's it. Nah, I think it's time I ask what's going on at the ticket counter.

"Hello? Anybody home?" we asked.

From movie Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come."

"I think it's a pretty well known fact that we don't have a cruise line service in our cruise terminal," said Alec Dreyer with the Port of Houston.

You may be looking at the single biggest waste of taxpayer money in Harris County history.

"When the port does something, it does it big," former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said.

A whopping $106 million of your money.

"When they have a cruise terminal that's $100 million and if no one uses it, it's a $100 million boat anchor," Bettencourt said.

From movie Field of Dreams: "I have just created something totally illogical."

Turns out, the cruise companies don't want to pay for the fuel for the extra three hour trip to the Gulf of Mexico.

"What were we thinking?" we asked Bettencourt.

"When you have other people's money, you don't have to think," he replied.

Drive down Port Road to the cruise terminal, and you won't see restaurants. But you will see chemical plants on both sides of the road. This one kinda looks like the death star from Star Wars. That really puts you in the mood.

"If it's way out there in the middle of nothing, then there's no point of even going out there," said Veronica Hernandez, a cruise passenger.

Hernandez just got back from her honeymoon cruise, the one that leaves from Galveston. It's a cruise terminal that's bustling.

Charlotte Morris is just back from her Galveston cruise to Cozumel, but she helped pay for Bayport.

"It just sitting there. It costs money to sit there even," Morris said.

She's right. Just look at the bills since January 2009 -- $440,000 for insurance, $283,000 for security. At least the gates are locked and the AC has to be left on. Our parent company, Disney, just announced its cruise was coming to Galveston.

"Did you talk to Disney about their cruise ship?" we asked Dreyer.

"Oh, absolutely," he replied.

"And they said no?" we asked.

"Absolutely," Dreyer said.

So the port wants taxpayers to be patient because the ship has sailed.

"It takes real vision, courage and conviction to make a long-term decision not knowing when, or if ever, you'll have the kind of success that you want out of that facility," Dreyer said.

Of course, we gave the port a chance to put its money where its courage is.

What about five years from now? If the place is still a bust, can Harris County taxpayers get our money back?

"No, I don't think that's a good practice," Dreyer said.

Considering the state of our cruise terminal, we wondered why we spent less money traveling to cruise company headquarters around the country than we did travelling to Libya, of all places.

We first exposed the port's Libyan connection last month, but there's a bigger story there and you will hear about it next.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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