Could Cameron Become The Next Kemah, Texas — The Next Hot Tourist Destination On The Upper Gulf Coast? • Compiled By Karla Wall
A group called Cameron Answers, formed in 2009 as a “think tank” for redevelopment of the Cameron area following Hurricanes Rita and Ike, think it may be a possibility.
The group recently commissioned a study conducted by retired McNeese economics professor Michael Kurth to determine whether there was a market for a marina/hotel/resort complex along the Cameron coast, west of the town of Cameron.
Fishing, Hunting, Beachcombing, Eating And Family Fun
In the report, released in Sept. of 2013, Kurth describes the type of project interested developers have in mind:
“The project would feature four-star condominium-style accommodations with beach access, a pool and recreation complex, conference and meeting facilities, and a first-class restaurant specializing in seafood and wild game dishes. An outdoor sports center with boat and ATV rental, guided tours, a shooting range and instruction in activities such as boating, fishing, photography, bow hunting, and firearms could also be provided, and a marina offering fuel, ice and boating supplies with an open-air seafood market with Cajun-themed kiosks and shops would be nearby.”
The complex, it is hoped, would take advantage of Cameron’s natural beauty and abundant wildlife to attract “middle- to upper-income urban families that include sportspersons and outdoor enthusiasts who would like to get away for three days to a week of hunting, fishing, or wildlife observation and photography while experiencing the unique culture and cooking of Cajun Louisiana.”
Cameron officials, developers and Cameron Answers hope that such a facility would create numerous jobs for the area and be the economic base for infrastructure such as grocery and convenience stores, banks and other businesses that would attract residents back to the area.
Who Would Come?
While most people would consider Cameron an isolated area, particularly the residents who have to drive for an hour into Lake Charles to grocery shop or work, the report points out that “over 8 million people live within a three-hour drive of the area. Within an hour’s drive are Lake Charles, Beaumont and Port Arthur; within two hours’ driving time are Lafayette and “the eastern suburbs of Houston;” and within three hours’ driving are the rest of the Houston area, as well as Baton Rouge and Alexandria, La.
How many outdoor enthusiasts would that entail? The report answers: “many.”
“According the 2012 Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are 1.245 million outdoor sportspersons in Louisiana and 4.516 million in Texas who engage in fishing, hunting or travel to observe and photograph wildlife. If the population in the potential market mirrors the data of their respective states, there are approximately 1.5 million outdoor sportspersons in this market and they spend nearly $3 billion a year on outdoor activities.
More Than Hunting And Fishing
To truly be successful, however, the resort would have to do more than offer access to hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, the report states. It would have to offer attractions for the families of those outdoor enthusiasts who need more of an incentive than duck-filled marshes to get them to consider a vacation to Cameron.
A nice beach would be a good start, and while Cameron’s water and beaches will never be compared to those of Gulf Shores, Ala., or Destin, Fla., a $45.8 million beach restoration project, begun last August, could make it comparable to, say, Biloxi or Galveston.
The project involves pumping sand from the Sabine Shoal, located 20 miles off the Cameron coast, onto the shore. So far, 1.2 million cubic yards of sand has been pumped onto the shore to build the first three miles of new beach.
The report states that a similar project in Galveston in 1995 “significantly improved the quality of the beach there, and resulted in a sustained increase in tourism.”
Nice accommodations would also help. The study envisions a condominium complex of three four-story buildings, with parking and storage on the ground floor and lodging on the top three floors. Two of the buildings would offer two-bedroom units with kitchenettes, and the others would offer 36 standard hotel rooms.
Would it attract visitors? The study’s breakdown of one-, three-and seven-night stays, “adjusted for seasonal usage,” appears at the top right of ther opposing page.
Conference facilities will also be important, and they should be multi-use, the report finds, able to be used for such varied purposes as training sessions, meetings and presentations for offshore oil crews; wedding receptions; and retreats and conferences for businesses.
The buildings of the resort would surround “a pool and recreation complex with a clubhouse and a convention/reception facility capable of accommodating 120 persons. The buildings would be elevated with ground-level parking and gulf-view balconies.”
The report recommends that any such resort offer activities to take advantage of Cameron’s natural attractions. Offerings should include bike, golf cart and ATV rentals; hunting and fishing lessons; shooting range and skeet shooting; bow hunting lessons; swimming and tennis; cooking lessons; photography classes; horseback riding; a fitness facility; guided hunting and fishing trips; birdwatching and eco-tourism trips; and shuttles to Lake Charles casinos.
The report also states the obvious, especially when discussing any vacation destination in South Louisiana: There’s got to be some good food involved.
The report recommends two restaurants — one for moderately-priced Cajun foods; one for fine dining featuring wild game dishes.
A lounge geared to outdoorsmen would provide a place to gather and swap stories, and perhaps listen to live Cajun bands.
A marina, of course, would be a centerpiece of the complex, and would benefit locals as well as tourists.
The report elaborates on the need for such a marina:
“Prior to hurricane Rita, Cameron Parish hosted a fleet of approximately 200 commercial fishing boats (mostly shrimp) and offshore pleasure and charter boats that employed several hundred people. Many of these boats were destroyed by the storm and others relocated to marinas and dockage further north. A major obstacle to the redevelopment of this industry along the coast is a lack of fuel, ice for storing their catch, marine supplies and slippage. Presently the owners of boats large enough to go offshore must get their fuel and ice 35 miles away in Lake Charles, then travel down the Calcasieu Ship Channel to get to gulf waters.
“Presently the closest marina with Gulf access is on Pecan Island, which is a two-hour drive from Lake Charles.”
The report found that the market would support a 50-slip marina offering ice, fuel, boating supplies, wet and dry storage, WiFi, laundry facilities, showers and sewerage pump-out stations.
The marina would attract “pleasure boats, commercial fishing boats, and boats in transit along the Gulf Coast.”
The report looked at a tourist area with a similar Gulf access: Biloxi, Miss., and found that Cameron could offer similar enticement to Louisiana fishermen.
“Biloxi, Mississippi is similar to Cameron in its distance to the 100 fathom current (where large game fish are found), water quality, and distance to population centers. Biloxi has 11 charter companies with multiple boats and approximately 50 individual charter boats operating from its marinas.Approximately two-thirds of their customers come from 50 to 200 miles away. Although Biloxi has become a casino gaming destination, the offshore fishing industry there existed before casino gaming. It is possible a similar offshore fishing industry could develop in Cameron and attract boat owners and fishermen from as far north as Shreveport because Cameron is closer to Shreveport than either Galveston or Biloxi. But it would require a full service marina with fuel and ice, and lodging and restaurants nearby.”
Cost And Revenue
The report states that the cost of building a 50-slip marina with “piers and slippage similar to the Bord Du Lac Marina in Lake Charles would cost approximately $3 million to build. There would be little operating cost as provision of the services could be contracted to a private company that would manage the marina and collect the slippage fees.”
The report goes on to outline the costs and revenues of the similar Bord Du Lac Marina (which does not offer ice or fuel sales):
The cost of (Harbor Master) service is estimated to be $4,000 per year; the cost of electricity is approximately $10,000 per year and the cost of water is $1,730. The marina had revenue of $12,715 in 2011 and an estimated $15,000 in 2012. The slippage fee is $10 a night without utilities, and $20 a night with utilities; charter vessels are charged a fee of $110 a day, or $500 per week.”
What about a marina in Cameron, with two additional piers offering electrical to support commercial fishing boats of 36-60 ft. in length?
Slippage fees would be expected to be $15,000 to $25,000 per year, and the marina would also receive revenue from the leasee selling fuel, ice and supplies. It would be ideal if the marina could generate enough operating profit to cover its cost of construction, but the real payoff to the parish, and the primary purpose of the marina, would be the additional business and activities in the parish generated by the marina.”
And the resort complex?
The cost of staying at such a resort, the report states, would be $1,000 for three days, or $2,500 for a week, “making it competitive with a trip to Galveston Island, Texas; Gulf Shores, Ala.; or a cruise to the Caribbean.”
The report estimates that “If Cameron Parish had an eight-percent sales tax, local governments would receive approximately $1 million from the estimated $12.3 million in new spending the resort would create, and if it had a $5 per night room tax, it would collect an additional $92,000.
What About Jobs?
The report states that “Condominium hotels generally create .79 jobs per room. This includes the desk clerks, security, room cleaning, maintenance and grounds keeping. The two restaurants would employ an estimated 30 people in food preparation, table service, cleaning and management. The marina would require little maintenance, but leasees who sell fuel, ice and operate other services at the marina would employ an estimated 4 full-time equivalent workers. If (a) dock-side fish market included shops and kiosks, it would create jobs for an estimated 12 people. The estimated 156 indirect jobs created by the project would come from associated activities such as nature tours, lessons, horseback riding and boating, as well as the gas stations, stores and shops needed to service an estimated 5,000 family vacations (20,000 people) per year.”