Jean Lafitte Hotel to get a face-lift

By Laura Elder
The Daily News

Jean Lafitte Hotel - ICON Builders

Chain link surrounds the Jean Lafitte Hotel building at 21st and Church streets in Galveston in 2008. The ITEX Group plans to transform the eyesore into an apartment complex with 83 affordable housing units. Photo by Jennifer Reynolds

Lafitte beat: For years, developers have promised to restore the vacant Jean Lafitte Hotel, 2105 Church St. in the island’s downtown, only to delay and disappoint.

The 84-year-old building sat empty for more than two decades and was a vagrant magnet. But Port Aurthur-based The ITEX Group said its plan to transform the eyesore into an apartment complex with 83 affordable housing units is the real deal.

The ITEX Group said it plans an 11 a.m. Dec. 6 groundbreaking of its project. Among those expected at the groundbreaking are Mayor Joe Jaworski, representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and officials from Davis Bank, the financial sponsor.

The ITEX Group in June last year announced it had acquired the hotel, built in 1927, and intended to use federal disaster recovery money to rehabilitate the property.

The development firm said it plans to transform the building into a complex with 83 residential units on the top nine floors and retail space on the ground floor, while preserving the historic characteristics of the building.

The state agreed to give the developer $5 million in federal disaster recovery money after Hurricane Ike struck in September 2008. As part of the agreement to accept federal disaster recovery money, the developer will set aside 46 units — 55 percent — for people earning 80 percent or less of the area median income.

To qualify for the affordable units, a single person could earn no more than $35,750 a year, while a family of four could earn no more than $52,800. There will be no income restrictions on the remaining 37 apartments.

The rent for apartments set aside for affordable housing will be capped at $714 for a one-bedroom and $866 for a two-bedroom, according to state rules.

Before The ITEX Group acquired the property, Houston businessman Tracy Suttles owned the Jean Lafitte Hotel with plans to convert it to luxury condominiums. But Suttles, who purchased the hotel in 1999, for years confounded island officials by taking his time transforming the building.

The ITEX Group owns and manages 26 complexes across the state — most built with affordable housing tax credits. Stay tuned.

Dishing it: It’s a place locals and tuned-in tourists love for breakfast and lunch. Now, island neighborhood eatery Los Compas Taqueria & Mexican Restaurant, 2314 45th St., is serving dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The eatery, known for its huevos rancheros and fish tacos, serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. (Los Compas used to be closed on Mondays, but now is open every day of the week.)

Ana and Rodrigo Rojas are owners. Ram Tovar is the general manager. For information, call 409-762-1140.

The dirt: Can you hear me now? That ground preparation work on the corner 61st Street and Interstate 45 (near English Bayou) on the island is for a Verizon Wireless store.

Anticipation: Owners still aren’t ready to serve up an exact opening date for Beyond-burger, the eatery that earlier this year moved into the building most recently occupied Uncle Chan’s Super Buffet, 10510 Emmett F. Lowry Expressway in Texas City. But the restaurant is getting nearer to opening and is training employees.

The eatery promises to live up to its name by offering signature salads, combo platters — including with chicken or grilled tuna. But it also will offer specialty burgers, including versions made with bison or rib-eye steak, Lisa Liu, a partner in the venture, said. Stay tuned.

Bank notes: In other mid-county news, officials with BBVA Compass say they’re working on answers about activity at the building formerly occupied by Guaranty Bank, 1130 First St. in La Marque. But by press time Monday, they had not done so. The bank, which traced its roots back to 1956 in the mainland city, closed in February last year.

In August 2009, the federal government seized Austin-based Guaranty Bank, selling most of the institution’s operations to BBVA Compass, a subsidiary of a foreign lender. Other Guaranty Banks in the county were changed to BBVA Compass except for the La Marque branch. Stay tuned.

Talking turkey: Want the feast but not all the work? How about free?

San Leon’s famous TopWater Grill, 815 Ave. O, is offering a complimentary Thanksgiving buffet with all the trimmings from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday. Patrons, however, will have to pay for beverages. The cash bar will be open. The restaurant will use the buffet to encourage donations to the Galveston County Food Bank.

For information, call 281-339-1232.

Want to talk about it? Visit Buzz Blog,

Biz Buzz appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.