The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
The Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation is going retro — retrofit, that is.
The local taxing entity has made plans to retrofit the old Port Arthur Savings Building at 501 Procter Street within the next year. By the middle of 2014, the EDC would have moved into its new, rehabilitated digs, said Floyd Batiste, CEO of the EDC.
The move from 39th Street to Procter Street would be in an effort to spur development downtown, as recommended by the Mercer Report. But it would cost the EDC more than $4 million to bring the building up to code and make it inhabitable, Batiste said.
The EDC went to the Port Arthur City Council with three options on how to fund the project. The EDC could use its cash reserves to pay for the project, or it could borrow the money from a bank. The other option was to borrow the money from the EDC itself and pay it back with interest. The EDC and council agreed to use the EDC’s reserves at a joint meeting, Batiste said.
The EDC considered seeking federal funding through the Environmental Protection Agency to aid with the lead and asbestos abatement of the property, but that process would have taken too much time, Batiste said.
This move has been in the works for more than two years now. The EDC purchased the property at 501 Procter Street from Southland Overseas Investment Inc. for $160,000 in 2010.
But the former bank building has three floors and enough space for other occupants, like the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce. The EDC was working with a private entity to occupy the second floor, as well, but Batiste could not disclose the name of that entity since no agreement has been reached yet, he said.
The EDC approached the Chamber of Commerce two years ago about potentially occupying the first floor of the bank building, Batiste said. The two entities have been discussing a lease agreement but had not reached a consensus yet.
Bill McCoy, president of the chamber, said the chamber’s board still had some questions about moving into the bank building, such as security and parking.
The move would give the chamber more space and bring it closer to the EDC, which could strengthen the partnership between the two entities whose focus often overlaps.
“Overall, I think it’s a plus,” McCoy said.
The Port Arthur City Council approved the project plan to retrofit the bank building Dec. 11 and project costs up to half a million dollars for asbestos abatement, preliminary demolition, and architectural and engineering services. Any other contracts would have to be presented to the council before they could be executed.
In 2011, The Mercer Group Inc. conducted a management and performance review of city operations in which it suggested the EDC move downtown to attract other development to that area. The report also recommended that the EDC staff be restructured in a way that all employees had experience and background in economic development.
As part of that recommendation, Batiste said, the EDC was in the process of interviewing candidates who could strengthen its staff, such as a marketing director who could help draw clients and businesses to Port Arthur.