Cameron Co. Residents Upset over Lighthouse Closure
PORT ISABEL – The restoration of the Port Isabel Lighthouse, initially estimated to only take four months to complete, is now at a year.
Business owners that depend on the tourism there said they are struggling to stay afloat.
Local painter Virginia Eggert tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS the lighthouse is the inspiration behind many of her paintings. She said it's a tourist favorite.
"People used to come because this is the only lighthouse you can go up in," Eggert said.
That hasn't been the case for the past year. Port Isabel Marketing Director Valerie Bates said the restoration on the lighthouse started Oct. 31, "and it was scheduled to reopen at the end of February."
Today, the renovation is still not complete. According to merchants that spoke with CHANNEL 5 NEWS, it’s been bad for business.
"When they did go up in the lighthouse, they would notice all the little shops along Maxan Street," Eggert said, "and they would come by and check them out, so we don't have that foot traffic anymore."
Not having a constant flow of customers has almost cost Lucille Cavoly her entire business. She said sales this summer decreased by about 75 percent.
"We're working really hard to get it together but that really, right there, has really been a damper in this whole square," Cavoly said. "All these little places rely on it - we put our stuff out front, it's like a little carnival every weekend."
Bates said part of the holdup is the lighthouse is state property and also a historical landmark. All decisions about its restoration must be approved by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Historical Commission.
"They ran into some issues with the railing around the top, with different designs, different materials, and so they had to work those out," Bates said, "and once a design changed or the materials changed, it had to go back through a certification, because it is a historic building."
These business owners told CHANNEL 5 NEWS they want the renovation to be completed so they can all get back to business.
Bates said the new design of the top railing on the lighthouse will allow for people to step out on it and have an outdoor 360 view, something that hadn't been possible in the past few years.
She said they are hoping to complete the project by the end of November.
- The Port Isabel lighthouse was first built in 1853
- Atop the lighthouse people have up to a 16-mile view of the area
- It was once owned by Lon C. Hill (Harlingen's founding father) and then turned over to the City of Port Isabel
- In 1952 it was deeded to the state and became a state park
- Because of its proximity to the water and exposure to other weather elements, it undergoes renovations every 10 to 12 years