Incentive for shopping area wins approval

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Joe’s Shopping Plaza was denied a $350,000 economic incentive for infrastructure at the regular meeting of the Port Arthur Economic Development Corp. on March 5.

At a special meeting Monday night, however, the board did an about face and approved the economic incentive for the shopping center to be built adjacent to the Babe Zaharias Golf Course on Jimmy Johnson Boulevard.

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Floyd Batiste, executive director of the PAEDC, attributed the first turndown due to some of the newer members on the board not understanding how the incentive for infrastructure functions.

“They see a lot of vacant spaces in the city and they ask themselves, why build more instead of rehabilitating these places,” he said. “But at the same time, you can’t tell investors where to invest money. It was done due to a lack of knowledge.”

He told the board Monday night the plaza will be an 8,000-square-foot pad with two to three different shops housed inside. The infrastructure is based on a certificate of occupancy.

Developer Joe Aref said there will be three or more shops inside the plaza. He said the shops could be retail, restaurants, professional buildings, but he couldn’t specify at the moment. Some clients will wait until the building is up and then sign a lease.

Additionally, there must be a finding of fact for the incentive that means it must create additional business.

In other PAEDC business, the board approved executing a right-of-entry agreement with Johnscorp International Inc., owner of the former Port Arthur News building, at 549 Fourth St.

A letter from John Shaji of Johnscorp to Batiste read they are interested in selling or possibly donating the building to the PAEDC.

“I understand that the PAEDC is only interested in the building if it receives an Economic Development Administration grant to retrofit the building,” it read. “I am willing to allow the PAEDC to proceed with conducting a Phase 2 environmental on the building while it waits to see whether or not it is successful in obtaining the EDA grant.”

Some possibilities are for the city housing an emergency management center there and the Small Business Development Center being housed in the new building and second-year business students from Lamar State College Port Arthur serving as interns with the chance that small businesses may hire them.

An updated Phase 1 and a Phase 2 environmental assessment of the property was also approved. Batiste said Phase 1 was completed in 2010 but it needs to be redone because too much time has passed. It is estimated an assessment will cost $21,800 to complete.

The EDA grant application must be submitted by April 15. Cleaning out the building will gain favor with the EDA, Batiste said.

The board approved a letter of intent for the proposed lease of the second floor space at 501 Procter St. Krystle Villarreal-Muller, employment and training specialist, said the space will be for case management services for those affected by Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey.

Ten case managers and resource output specialists will be hired. She said the company would look to hire locally.

The PAEDC regular meeting for April, on the day after Easter, was canceled. Batiste said the board attended two meetings in March and there wouldn’t be much scheduled on the April agenda.