PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 2, 2014

New study for downtown costs $731,000

With the idea of providing a firm foundation for future building, Port Arthur is taking a step back in efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown area by looking at infrastructure needs in the targeted area.

The city has contracted, for $731,000, with engineering and architectureal firm Freese and Nichols to provide not only a clear vision, but also a roadmap, for improving Port Arthur’s downtown area.

Targeted areas include Houston Avenue, the western boundary; the Rev. Ransom Howard/7th Street, on the north; Lake Charles Avenue, on the east, and the Port Arthur Ship Channel, on the south.

That roadmap will be developed in three phases: Data collection, collboration and analysis, and plans and recommendations.

The study will detail what type of business or retail would best suit a downtown area that once was the center of commerce, but is now miles from the city’s new business district along the U.S. 69 corridor.

What Port Arthur’s downtown is close to, however, is water — an untapped asset that could serve as a catalyst to draw people.

“I suspect the study will say the best way to use the downtown is for entertainment with clubs, restaurants, etc., Paul Brown, senior city planner, said.

Port Arthur’s downtown area could link with Pleasure Island, Brown said.

Just imagine a pedestrian ferry, or perhaps gondolas transporting people from the water’s edge along Lakeshore Drive to the shores of Pleasure Island.

Floyd Batiste, Port Arthur Econcomic Development Coporation director, said he envisions a mixture of entertainment and business districts.

“If we had an engineering company or an advertising agency that would bring people downtown, that would be good. If we had something like a microbrewery downtown, that would be good. Anything to draw people,” Batiste said.

Ron Burton, Port Arthur director of development services, said a portion of the recommendations from the study will focus on infrastructure improvements  — those below ground that are not seen but have to be accomplished to support what city leaders hope will one day be a thriving downtown community.

This study won’t be Port Arthur’s first effort to bring its downtown back from a state of disrepair to a thriving area to be proud of.

During the last few years, Port Arthur has been engaged in downtown revitalization efforts — even forming the Downtown Renaissance District Board, which is close to disbanding because the group for months has experienced difficulties getting a quorum.

Though a handful of mostly office buildings have located along Procter Street in refurbished buildings, and Port Arthur’s Economic Development Corporation is restoring the old Savings and Loan Building at 501 Procter, the effort has fallen short of what was envisioned.

LaBiche Architectural Group in Beaumont provided a study for mostly above ground improvements last year, but without money to make the improvements the study has set on the shelf, Burton said.

“The first step will be to look undergorund at the infrastructure — water, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer. It has to support whatever is created by business,” Burton said.

The study is expected to take nine months to complete.

When finished, the Freese and Nichols downtown study will become part of a larger city-wide comprehensive plan, Burton said.

That plan will dovetail with another created in 1989, but will include revised zoning and subdivision ordinances.

Freese and Nichols will also engage a company to help the city recruit retail businesses in the targeted downtown area.

Port Arthur’s EDC will pay the bulk of the downtown study, while Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas will pitch in $200,000.

Focusing on the city’s downtown area first is necessary because Port Arthur’s Economic Development Corporation has $1.5 million in funding made available from the passage of House Bill 1966. The bill allows the EDC to spend monies collected from sales tax revenue for infrastructure upgrades in a targeted area of the city’s downtown.

Provisions of the bill require the funding — $1.5 million over the course of the next three years — to be spent by 2017, Batiste said.

Because of the time constraints, the EDC opted to lead the way in the city’s quest to develop a comprehensive city plan, Batiste said.

As a whole, the comprehensive plan has not yet been approved by City Council, but Council has given the go-ahead for the downtown component.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews

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