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August 28, 2010

DWA buys Sabine Hotel

PORT ARTHUR — For decades the Sabine Hotel has sat vacant in disrepair.

Like the fabled sword in the stone, group after group has expressed interest in the historic building but none thus far has been able to accomplish the feat.

Digital Workforce Academy, a business that trains locals for work inside refineries, has officially accepted the task and entered into a 24-month option contract for the purchase of the Sabine Hotel with the city of Port Arthur.

The idea to renovate the 10-story building isn’t new.

In 2006 the city went out for bids but the deadline came and went without a single bidder. Then in 2008, The Fitch Group in South Carolina expressed interest in purchasing the hotel. Their plan didn’t materialize and the group declined the offer due to economic reasons.

Franklin Atkins, a Spring, Texas, man has recently expressed interest in purchasing the building. The 24-month clause in DWA’s contract with the city allows Atkins to cut in on the deal should he or another investor or developer come forward with an irrevocable letter of credit, cash or bond within the time period. If this occurs, the city will reimburse DWA up to $25,000 of the cost put into the project.

During a council meeting earlier this week, Councilmember Robert “Bob” Williamson explained to Atkins the reason behind the city’s cautious attitude regarding the hotel.

“You are not familiar with Port Arthur but if you were to come to Port Arthur City Council meetings you would see a lot of people come through here with promises and not go forward with them,” he said.

Meanwhile DWA is considered the purchaser.

But before any development of the property can be done the hotel must undergo costly repairs, some of which include: roof issues, missing or broken plumbing fixtures, elevators that don’t work, flooded elevator shafts, electrical issues, asbestos abatement and checks for other contaminants.

Shedrick Evans, general manager of Golden Triangle Empowerment Center, doing business as DWA, said the estimated cost for the required maintenance and to get the building up to city code can be anywhere from $10 to $12 million.

Once renovated, the building would be a mixed use facility, he said, with possible uses ranging from office space, hotel rooms and even a gift shop/high end boutique similar to what someone would see in downtown Houston.

Evans said the project is a multi-parter venture since various funding sources will be necessary.

DWA, located on Procter Street, is housed in the former Aurora building, across from the old Hotel Sabine, and is a sprawling 18,600-square-foot, two-story facility with an “incubator” or new business launch pad on the top floor and three training labs, an auditorium and media center on the ground floor. Also upstairs is room for a restaurant in a 3,700-square-foot space.

Officials with the company recently purchased the adjacent building — the former Port Arthur City Limits, with plans for a mixed use building.

Large picture windows at the workforce academy allow a view of the old hotel. With a glance across the street, DWA employees Caroline Brandon, intake coordinator, and Belinda Brandon, administrative assistant, said they are excited about the purchase and upcoming renovations to the historic hotel.

Caroline Brandon said her mother once worked at The Coffee Shop that was housed in the lower portion of the hotel and Caroline herself has fond memories of the building.

“The downtown is coming back,” she said.

According to the Port Arthur Centennial History Book, the hotel was built with steel-reinforced concrete and brick on 640 steel-laced pilings driven into the ground with the promise that it could withstand the most severe coastal storms.

mmeaux@panews.com

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