Ted O’Rourke is one of the Port of Galveston’s most faithful servants. A native of the Texas city of Galveston, O’Rourke has been involved with the port for 41 years. Having occupied various roles during his career, he now chairs the port’s board of trustees, and has big plans for advancing the port’s reputation.
“My passion has always been the port,” O’Rourke says. “My wife was the first female port board trustee in Galveston, serving from 1997 to 2003, and she was very instrumental in bringing in the cruise business here. It’s been quite a process over the years of nothing but passion for the Port.”
O’Rourke says that misinformation around the concept of a cruise port of call has hindered Galveston’s progress. In his recently acquired role of port trustee, however, he is determined to turn the tide.
“A few years ago, I had a lot of people asking how we could get a port of call here,” O’Rourke explains. “There was a misconception here that being a port of call would not be very profitable, and would just result in additional work. I did a lot of research, and as long as a vessel touches a foreign port anywhere in its itinerary, it can be a port of call. I did the research, became port trustee last August, and have really looked to push things forward.”
After meeting with cruise executives and looking at the work of Galveston’s neighbours at the Port of New Orleans, O’Rourke was convinced that a significant opportunity was presenting itself.
“We have so much to offer here in Galveston, and not showing it off to the rest of the world would be a waste,” he says. “That’s why I’ve recently appointed a port of call committee comprised of four prominent Galvestonians. We’re going to compile information, look to get the support of the public, and really start to push the port of call movement forward here.”
Situated on an island just off the Texas coast, Galveston boasts a rich history. O’Rourke himself lived in a house in the city that had been hit by a cannonball during the American Civil War.
The city has also been victim to some of the world’s worst natural disasters. The city was severely damaged by the largest hurricane to ever hit the US in 1900, and was flooded by Hurricane Ike nine years ago.
“Since Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, millions of dollars have been pumped into Galveston,” O’Rourke says. “A US$19 million project to revitalise the beach area in the city has just been completed. We have the downtown area with all the merchants located within walking distance of the cruise ships. We also have a new trolley system which can take visitors anywhere on the island.”
As O’Rourke pushes ahead with his plans to attract new visitors to the city, it’s fair to say some famous faces have enjoyed what the island has to offer over the years.
“We have the Hotel Galvez, which was built around the turn of the twentieth century and has been visited by everybody from Bob Hope to Al Capone, and was particularly popular during the gambling era,” he said. “The San Luis Hotel is another top of the line place to stay. We have fantastic restaurants here, and we have Moody Gardens, which is one of the biggest attractions in Texas with its aquarium and rainforest pyramids.”
Moving forward, O’Rourke is aiming to start working more closely with the city’s tourism board and begin to put together itineraries for potential port of call visitors. There are also early plans to build an additional cruise facility.
To begin to make true progress, however, O’Rourke knows that having a unified approach is key.
“I’ve been here all my life and I’m honoured to be the chairman of the board, but I’m tired of the status quo,” he concludes. “I’m ready to get things moving. If we can get ships in here on a port of call, Galveston will take off. It’s a clean and beautiful island. It’s a jewel waiting to be discovered.”