Ideas for the future of Port Arthur

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As a life-long resident of the city of Port Arthur, I see a lot of potential for this city. Through all of my travels in the military over the past eight years, I have seen many potential developments that would fit extremely well in my hometown.

Arthur Stilwell had a dream to make Port Arthur a Utopia of sorts to which all cities could look up to. I believe that Port Arthur could still be what Mr. Stillwell envisioned in the time of the pleasure pier.

There are many challenges facing the Southeast Texas area, such as trade craft training, housing, retail, workforce, and hotel shortages. These shortages are amplified due to a little storm called Rita. But, the Southeast Texas region was starting what former Mayor Ortiz has called a “boom” before the storm. Inevitably, even without the storm, the region is still feeling these shortages due to the 10 plus billion dollars of industrial expansion that has already started.

One possible solution for Southeast Texas is the redevelopment and movement of city government from downtown Port Arthur to the naturally forming center in the geographical center connecting North, South, East, and West Port Arthur on the only two limited access highways in Port Arthur. Currently; historic downtown is located on one edge of the city next to the ship channel and is difficult to access for many Port Arthur residents.

Moving downtown Port Arthur opens the door for West Side development including the West Seventh Street project, which gains the much needed shopping for its residents. The historic downtown district can now take full advantage of the Brownsfield Grant to assist in making way for continued Port of Port Arthur expansion, especially with the proposed Port loop slated for Seventh Street construction. Port expansion will continue to add jobs to the region.

The relocation of downtown Port Arthur will make way for the future expansion of Lamar State College Port Arthur (LSCPA), which has grown from 2,630 students in 2000 to more than 3,100 in 2005. LSCPA will continue to grow because of its ability to produce skilled workers toward the 30,000 needed at the peak of the “Boom.” West Side development is important because the students at LSCPA will need dorms, shops, and stores while attending school, which will improve the already good reputation of the school.

Secondly, the museums in the historic area of Port Arthur will have more room to expand, which also adds to the school and community.

The suggested location of the new downtown Port Arthur is at the intersection of Texas 73 and U.S. 69. The reason for the highway location is the same reason Houston, Dallas and Austin have their downtowns off the highway; accessibility. Port Acres and the Central Mall area of Port Arthur continue to grow in population and the old downtown is not very easy to access for these residents of Port Arthur and the region.

The creation of a new, more accessible downtown can create additional shopping, attractions and hotels — much needed additions to the area. Studies have shown that the area is underdeveloped with commercial establishments. The new downtown would attract people for both business and pleasure, as people could shop and entertain, but also have nice restaurants and hotels that would be an ideal and central location for business meetings and conferences. Port Arthur could act as ambassadors and hosts for the region.

The way that downtown Port Arthur can be moved is by working with developers, like the ones that developed the new hospital, to come up with a plan for development success. An example of where a successful downtown development has occurred is the city of Sugarland, which hosts such shops as Sharper Image and restaurants such as PF Changs. Other similar developments are Market Street in the Woodlands of Houston, which includes a centrally located grassy and family-friendly park and a movie theatre; Addison Circle in Addison, with luxury apartments and town homes built into and around the circular complex; the Shops at Legacy in Plano, and downtown Plano, with more of an old town feel, similar to the currently revitalizing downtown Nederland. (Addison and Plano are both suburbs of Dallas).

A development of this caliber would create more tax revenue for the city of Port Arthur and its Economic Development Corporation. In order for a development of this magnitude to happen, you must have a plausible plan. A good plan will take revenue (possibly $200,000), community buy-in, and professional guidance with a proven company throughout the entire process including advisement, marketing and investing. Complete and successful planning can bring additional revenue to assist and augment city budgeting shortfalls.

Any revenue that can be raised for the city and sales tax revenue for the EDC is a good thing. The EDC created 400 new jobs for the region and will continue to create jobs in the future. Also, the city of Port Arthur, which was hardest hit by Rita, is searching for ways to rebuild, which includes an application for $5.2 million from Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The proposed urban development will provide much needed solutions to many challenges that the city and region are currently facing, especially since the developments usually included affordable housing, hotels, shopping, and apartments. These developments have been very successful elsewhere, and can be very successful here. The Beaumont/Port Arthur MSA has seen a growth in retail jobs of 3.75 percent, according to the Partnership of Southeast Texas, which is the highest in the State of Texas. The growth in retail jobs is an example of how Southeast Texas is beginning to “Urbanize.” Residents are looking for more entertainment in the region and the movement of downtown Port Arthur provides the much needed entertainment.

A centrally located downtown Port Arthur would promote collaboration between all local governments of the region and allow the city to get out in front of the Boom. The proposed location is the natural geographic center of the city of Port Arthur and is where the Civic Center and Library are already located. The final point is that the city has developed as a giant circle. The center of the circle is empty and a plausible plan to design how the center of the city can be developed should be pursued so that we don’t end up with developments we don’t want.

Justin Curran of Port Arthur can be contacted at

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