, Port Arthur, Texas

November 8, 2013

PA Council to vote again on Hobby Lobby issue

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — At the corner of meant to but didn’t, a new Hobby Lobby may still have a chance to open in Port Arthur.

District 2 City Councilwoman Liz Segler  has asked that City Council revisit efforts to bring the national craft store to the old Sutherland’s building at the intersection of FM 365 and U.S. 69, where it would serve as an anchor tenant.

The item is on the Council’s Tuesday regular meeting agenda.  Depending on the outcome, a previous vote to not grant a sales tax rebate incentive could be reversed.

Segler was among the four Council members who declined to approve an incentive agreement asked for by developer BK PA Ltd. The measure failed by a vote of 4-3.

Though Segler voted against the incentive, she says she did not mean to, and has always been a supporter of Hobby Lobby building in Port Arthur.

“I did not vote like I meant to, and did not realize it until it was all done. I am in favor of it and was in favor of it before, but just pushed the wrong button at the wrong time,” Segler said of her “no” vote.

The agreement would have allowed the developer to be rebated the city’s 1 cent sales tax revenue for 10 years, as long as the Hobby Lobby’s sales do not exceed $1.2 million during that timeframe.   

At the Oct. 29 meeting, developer Kenneth Katz said Hobby Lobby would occupy the largest space, 58,000 square feet of the 88,000 square foot building, and would add about 30 to 40 jobs.

In addition to Hobby Lobby, Katz said, the company is close to finalizing an agreement with Party Center, and is in negotiations with other retailers.

Once full, the Sutherland’s site could bring an estimated 100 jobs, Katz said.

The Sutherland’s building, while spacious, is in need of a face-lift to make it more closely resemble surrounding high-end retailers, Katz said.

Once completed, those upgrades will go far in attracting other retailers, he said.

The building has been vacant for the past five years since Sutherland’s Lumber Company closed.

Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, who voted to approve the incentive agreement, estimated during the time it has been vacant the city lost about $1 million in sales tax revenue.

Prince said she plans to vote to approve the tax incentive agreement Tuesday, and believes if Port Arthur doesn’t do what it can to lure Hobby Lobby, other cities will.

Already, the city of Groves has expressed interest in the retailer.

Groves’ City Manager D. Sosa said the city would love to have Hobby Lobby. So much so, that as soon as he heard Port Arthur voted against the incentive agreement, he contacted the developer and offered the old K-Mart building as a possible site.

Sosa said he had not offered any type of sales tax incentive. Groves, he said, like many other cities, rely on those funds to help meet operational expenses.

District 5 Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis was among the four voting against the sales tax incentive, largely because Port Arthur needs the money for streets and infrastructure improvements.

Granting sales tax rebate agreements is not a new concept for Port Arthur.

The city has three active contracts with local retailers including Target, Best Buy, and LaGrone Services Limited, the developer that brought Sertino’s Cafe, Cheddars, Conn’s, etc.

While the three existing contracts are similar, Port Arthur Finance Director Deborah Echols said the agreement offered BK PA Ltd. is for a 100 percent sales tax rebate for a 10-year period with a $1.2 million cap.

Others may have started out at 100 percent, but the amount reflects a graduated decrease over the contract.

Tuesday’s vote will also take into consideration the opinions of two councilmembers who were not in attendance at last meeting: Derrick Freeman, Position 7; and Robert Troy, District 4.

If Hobby Lobby does build in Port Arthur, it would be the second time.

The retailer was in a much smaller building in Central Mall prior to Hurricane Rita. After the hurricane, Hobby Lobby’s site sustained major damage — enough that it would have taken up to a year before the retailer could get back up and running at the same location, Pat Avery, vice-president with Global Business Development, with CG & Associates, told the Council Tuesday.

Since the Oct. 29 vote, Port Arthur residents have taken to social media to express their views — some for, and others against the measure.

A Facebook page has been started called, “Bring Hobby Lobby Back to Port Arthur.” The site has generated 4,767 “likes” as of press time Friday.


Twitter: skooncePANews