The Port Arthur News
After more than an hour of heated debate, Port Arthur City Council voted 5-3 to grant a sales tax incentive agreement to developers of the old Sutherland’s Lumber building.
Doing so paved the way for Hobby Lobby to come to Port Arthur. The national craft retailer will anchor the 88,000 sq. ft. Sutherland’s building and is expected to help attract others there as well.
The vote did not come quickly, nor did it come easy.
For more than an hour Tuesday Council members engaged in heated exchange, trying to decide whether to grant a $1.2 million sales tax incentive agreement to BK PA Ltd., the Houston firm developing the old Sutherland’s building at the intersection of FM 35 and U.S. 69.
The agreement will allow the developer to be rebated the city’s 1 cent sales tax revenue for 10 years, as long as tenants’ sales do not exceed $1.2 million during that timeframe.
Tuesday’s vote on the matter was not the first. At Council’s Oct. 29 meeting, the measure was defeated by a 4-3 vote.
The measure was put back on the agenda at the request of District 2 Councilwoman Liz Segler, who had previously voted against granting the agreement, but stated she had not meant to.
Tempers flared nearly from the beginning Tuesday when District 5 Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis called a point of order. Lewis asserted only a member of the prevailing side from a previous vote could move to have the agenda item put on the floor this time around.
After a five minute recess City Attorney Val Tizeno agreed, and Segler made the motion.
Lewis, District 1 Councilman Raymond Scott Jr., and District 3 Councilman Morris Albright III voted against extending the agreement at Tuesday’s meeting, just as they had done on Oct. 29.
In addition to Segler, those voting for the measure Tuesday were: Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, Robert E. “Bob” Williamson, District 6 councilman; Derrick Freeman, Position 7 councilman; and Kerry “Twin” Thomas, Position 8 councilman.
Those voting against the measure argued the agreement was excessive, and not needed because the area is already developed.
Hobby Lobby, Lewis said, would come to Port Arthur with or without an agreement.
Lewis charged that Hobby Lobby had previously made plans with LaGrone Services Limited, the developer that brought Sertino’s Cafe, Cheddars, Conn’s etc. Those plans were scrapped, Lewis said, after a member of City Council offered BK PA Ltd. a $1.2 million incentive to develop the Sutherland’s Building instead.
Prince said as far as she knew no one on Council knew about the incentive until the developer’s request was made known in executive session.
Scott said City Council had previously agreed to only offer incentives to areas south of Texas 73, not north where the area is already developed.
“Again, this is a back door deal,” Scott charged.
Freeman argued that national retailers are not interested in setting up shop south of Texas 73.
“I don’t think Burger King wants to move into Hotel Sabine,” Freeman said.
Williamson presented a chart that indicated when the city granted other similar incentives to local retailers Target, Best Buy, and LaGrone Services Limited, property and sales taxes started a healthy climb and have continued to do so.
Liz Tomlinson, a Port Arthur resident who co-administered the Facebook page entitled, “Bring Hobby Lobby Back to Port Arthur,” told Council a Hobby Lobby in Port Arthur would be more convenient for shoppers, and keep shoppers from traveling to Beaumont, where they would frequent other retailers while there.
“The page had 5,239 “Likes,” Tomlinson said.
“I do realize all (those who liked the page) were not from Port Arthur. Some were from Bridge City and Orange, and they are dying to come here to Port Arthur instead of Beaumont,” she said.
Following the vote, developer Kenneth Katz said he was appreciative to all members of City Council for taking the time to consider the matter carefully.
“I am excited to proceed, and the project should hopefully start by the end of the year,” Katz said.
In addition to Hobby Lobby, Katz said the company expects Party Center to move into the Sutherland’s building. Developers are also in negotiations with a number of other major retailers — all of which were contingent on whether Hobby Lobby came to Port Arthur.