Landmark Galveston Flagship Hotel to be razed

GALVESTON, TX We've known for years about plans to transform that property. But over time, and especially after Hurricane Ike, those plans have changed. The property sits on the pier off of 25th Street and the seawall. The building remains empty and falling apart -- a sad sight for Galveston residents.

This is not the Flagship Hotel Betty Bendewald remembers staying at with her husband over the years.

"It was gorgeous," she recalled. "It was just beautiful. You walked in it was like walking into a ship."

Since being heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike, the hotel has sat empty, slowly falling apart. But this week, the owners of the property, Landry's, announced it will demolish what's left and build a new amusement park. Artist renderings show a carnival type atmosphere with attractions and a ferris wheel. It needs a zoning variance from Galveston City Council to go forward, but that's expected to be merely a formality.

"This location is historically a recreational site, and we're very excited about the proposal to have multiple recreational uses, restaurants, and small retail," said Wendy O'Donohoe with the City of Galveston.

In a way, the new plans are a return to Galveston's history. Back in the 1940s, the pier was also an entertainment complex. Bendewald remembers riding on the ferris wheel then.

She said, "It was an amusement park and it had a huge ferris wheel, and I was nine years old, and every time I rode it I thought I was going into the sea. It was just really, really fun."

Demolition can start at any time. Though Landry's have not given city planners on an exact date on when the complex will open, those who use the Strand say anything would better than the current eyesore.

Galveston resident George Pavelka said, "If they're not going to do anything with it, they need to go ahead knock it down and put in something that everyone can use."

Galveston's City Council is expected to approve the zoning variance at the end of the month.

The Flagship Hotel holds a lot of memories for Galveston residents, and Texans who vacation down on the island. It all began with the so called "Pleasure Pier" built in the 1940's. It was a popular place for outdoor entertainment. In 1961, Hurricane Carla badly damaged an amusement park on the pier. It was replaced by the Flagship Hotel four years later. Decades later, Landry's purchased the hotel from the city for just $500,000 with the intention of renovating the pier, but, in 2008, Hurricane Ike damaged the Flagship beyond repair.

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