BY JENNIFER HILLER
SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
The housing business remains emphatically average across the major cities in Texas, as home builders continue to pull themselves up from the recession’s lows.
But in many small South Texas communities, where oil and gas drilling is booming, housing — of any sort, be it RVs or single-family homes — can’t be added quickly enough.
Then there’s the commercial space — or, more accurately, the lack of space for lease or purchase.
Now more developers and builders from San Antonio and beyond are moving into the sparsely populated Eagle Ford Shale counties to build everything from housing to pipe yards to warehouses.
Rick Montelongo of Montelongo Homes and Remodeling recently organized a seminar for members of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, encouraging local builders to ply their trade in the Eagle Ford Shale counties where boom times are in full swing.
“San Antonio is still not really popping yet,” said Montelongo, a former GSABA president. But South Texas is.
He has been looking at RV parks in the Carrizo Springs area and recently optioned lots in a neighborhood in Pleasanton, where he hopes other San Antonio-area colleagues will come build homes.
“There’s such a huge need for housing down here,” Montelongo said. “It really needs to be done by the San Antonio builders. We’re the biggest city in the area.”
But the idea of expanding from a large market into a small one can be a tough leap for many local builders and developers. Montelongo said he hopes to organize another informational seminar about the housing need and drilling projections for the shale play.
“It’s the unknown,” Montelongo said.
But hotel rooms, apartments, rental homes and boarding houses are full across the constellation of South Texas towns where oil companies have descended to draw gas and oil from the Eagle Ford Shale formation, which sweeps from the border across the state to East Texas. RV parks have sprung up in front yards and amenities are hard to come by.
The Houston-based Remote Logistics International, which offers housing and gourmet dining for oil company workers in far-flung locations across the world, is working to open a site near Carrizo Springs. It already has an oil field camp in Three Rivers.
Hud Gibbins, vice president of sales and operations for the land camps division, said the new camp will be at the Double C Ranch, known for its hunting, and will have 256 beds in its first phase. Ultimately, the company plans to have 1,000 beds and to offer amenities such as skeet shooting tournaments.
“We base our locations off of where our customers need us, and they said Carrizo Springs is where we need you,” Gibbins said. “You can’t get a place to stay in a 40-mile radius. It’s ridiculous.”
For oil and gas companies, having workers within a reasonable drive of the oil field is important, Gibbins said. “There have been some accidents. Safety is a factor for these companies.”
The Houston-based Four D Builders will open a hotel soon in Three Rivers, but also is looking at developing property in Kenedy. Projects could include anything from another hotel to a car wash — necessary to wash off oil field dust. “We are looking for all kinds of opportunities,” partner Rakesh Patel said.
The San Antonio-area Abrego Development Co. LP, which developed Eden Crossing in La Vernia and Abrego Lake in Floresville, is developing 166 acres in Kenedy for 260 home sites and 240 apartment units.
Pleasanton native Garrett Ruple moved back home from Houston about two years ago when he realized how much work was available in the Eagle Ford Shale. “All of my friends from college are now in Houston, and everybody and their dog was trying to figure out a way to do projects in South Texas,” he said. “I was watching from afar.”
So Ruple went into business with his brother and dad brokering oil leases and mineral rights, and later building oil field yards and warehouse buildings with office space off Interstate 37 — some on spec and some build-to-suit for clients. “There’s no infrastructure here so it’s as good as leased or sold as soon as you build it,” Ruple said.
Ruple also has gotten a kick out watching how his hometown has changed.
“I saw an old farmer at a gas station recently. He was filling up his Maserati,” he said. “I had to laugh.”