BEAUMONT, Texas — Jefferson County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to sell Ford Park Entertainment Complex, paving the way for horse racing and hundreds of potential new jobs in the county.
Commissioners voted to sell the entertainment facility to the Port Arthur Renaissance Group, LLC; DBA Renaissance Development Group for $22.2 million. The bid was submitted by the company just last Friday morning.
Phase one of the company's plans include building a hotel on the property.
The company eventually plans on bringing horse racing to the facility.
“The sooner the better," Kevin Johnson, general manager for Renaissance Development Group, said when asked about the company's timeline.
The company has applied for a license to operate a racetrack. The application is currently being reviewed by the Texas Racing Commission.
If approved, the developer estimates 400 new jobs will be created over the next two years.
Johnson said the company has already invested $250,000 in the project. The plan is to have the hotel built within two years.
Johnson hopes that over the next five to 10 years the facility can have an impact on Beaumont and the Jack Brooks Regional Airport.
The sale of Ford Park includes the arena, exhibit hall, fields, midway and the pavilion. The company's offer of $22.2 million is roughly $7 million less than the minimum bid set by the county.
Even though the vote was unanimous, it was a tough decision for some of the commissioners.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said he voted to accept the bid because he thinks it's the best move for tax payers.
"I am happy about the savings the tax payers are going to reap over the next 5 years. I am happy that we are going to eliminate the debt on the facility and I am happy it is going to be on the tax roll and the property taxes on the facility," Branick said.
In 2019, Jefferson County voted to allow horse racing and the betting that goes along with it. It had been long-rumored that Ford Park would be the spot to build a horse racing track.
(Editor's Note: The above video aired in February 2020)
Kevin Johnson with the Renaissance Development Group has been working behind the scenes as a consultant for years to help broker the deal.
He said the company is set to spend $64 million in phase one of the work that's planned for the entertainment complex in the next two years.
"Our bid, you have to look at it from a standpoint that we are going to invest $64 million on phase one into Jefferson County and create a tremendous amount of jobs," Johnson said. "I believe that just following the public opinion pulse and such, this property has been a drain on the county for many years."
With hundreds of new jobs possibly on the way for Jefferson County, Johnson hopes the openings will help keep people living in the area.
"You are talking food, beverage, janitorial. These are all good-paying jobs, and this will allow us to keep some of our people here because this is becoming a retirement community," Johnson said.
Past partnerships between youth sports groups and the YMBL South Texas State Fair will continue. Port Arthur Renaissance Group LLC must abide by all contracts with Ford Park.
"The court did everything they could to make sure that all groups were represented in the conversation," said Michael Sinegal, Jefferson County Commissioner for Precinct 3. "It is going to be good for Jefferson County. I am proud of the court. I really am."
An application for a horse racing track has previously been submitted to the Texas Racing Commission by a company called Beaumont Racing Venture, LLC.