The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
There was a time students could call Lamar State College-Port Arthur home.
“The college had a dormitory for many years, but in the 1960s, the demand fell off for housing — so the building was razed to make room for another educational building,” said LSC-PA president Sam Monroe. “We’ve been a commuter school ever since.”
However, Monroe said, times are changing again. In 2012, the college partnered with Irving-based management firm Collegiate Companies to conduct a feasibility study. The results confirmed a growing demand for housing on the LSC-PA campus.
“We’re beginning to get more interest in the college outside the immediate area,” Monroe said. “Our nursing program is attracting people, as is our commercial music program. I see the athletic program growing — we get requests all the time for housing information. Of the 50 two-year schools in Texas, I think 40 have student housing. So it’s not an uncommon thing.”
The men’s basketball and women’s softball teams are now housed at off-campus apartments rented by the school. However, Monroe said, this still does not meet the team’s every need.
“This creates some logistical difficulties in getting the students back and forth for classes and for practice,” Monroe said.
Monroe has partnered with Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, and the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation to restart housing on the LSC-PA campus.
Under the current legislation, the EDC lacks the legal authority to assist the college in this project. But Deshotel is working to pass House Bill 2473, which would expand the authority of the EDC.
“In the current law, the EDC may only extend funds on authorized projects, which does not include housing authorities,” Deshotel said in a telephone interview. “What it does is expand the use of EDC tax generated dollars. The bill would allow the housing to be an additional use of the funds.”
The cost of the project would be in the range of $5 million, Monroe said, which would create approximately 100 beds. If the legislation is passed, the EDC still will not be able to fully fund the project, but they can make a significant contribution.
“This bill simply is another tool,” Deshotel said. “(The EDC) can participate a lot or a little. If it passes, they would make that determination in negotiations with the university.”
Floyd Batiste, president of the EDC, said it will likely be a 50/50 effort.
“It would be a public/private partnership,” Batiste said. “What we are proposing is that we can act as a secondary developer to the developer. I don’t think we’re going to be able to get student housing if we do not have some type of public dollar invested into that area. Based upon that amount of investment, it’d probably be a 60/40 or a 50/50 for EDC and a private investor — the private investor may put in 60 percent, or it may be 50/50.”
LSC-PA would likely lease the land to a private developer, making the EDC a sub-developer, Batiste said. Both the private developer and the EDC would be paid back over period of time, based either on cash flow or equity payment. Over a period of about 20, 25 years, when the note is paid off, the building will be converted back to LSC-PA, which would then own it.
“The private sector does not put money into things just to make things happen — they want to make money,” Batiste said. “But I think it would be a real big plus for downtown Port Arthur and the city as a whole, because when you’re bringing new life into that area, hopefully that new life will bring additional private investors. The intent is to bring private sector there.”
The bill is currently pending in committee, as there have been roughly 3,900 bills filed and the committee only began hearing them two weeks ago, Deshotel said. A request for hearing has been made of Urban Affairs, the committee assigned to the bill, but no date has been set.
Batiste said he is anxiously awaiting the committee’s decision.
“If the legislators say that EDC has that option, it gives Lamar a greater opportunity to have student housing,” he said. “But if the legislature says we cannot use our dollars for student housing, then the chances are going to be very slim that a private investor is going to come in and get their money back.”
Whatever the outcome, the bill has Deshotel’s full support.
“If it’s something to help Lamar, I’ll help out,” Deshotel said. “Of course I think it would be a real enhancement to the campus to have a dormitory. It really helped Beaumont significantly when they put the new dorms in — it helped turn their school around, and I think it would do the same for Lamar-Port Arthur.”
Lamar University’s dorms will serve as the model for LSC-PA’s housing, but Monroe said those details will be developed later. He also said that the school would be able to provide the students with everything that the study indicated that they needed.
“We have had experience in managing student housing,” Monroe said. “We would have security, we would have the amenities that the students are interested in — private rooms, Internet connection, wireless technology, detailed things like that. That would be our objective — to take that study and make it reality.”