Port Arthur’s proposed plan headed for approval

Published 1:24 pm Sunday, April 29, 2018

By Ken Stickney


Port Arthur’s comprehensive planning document, in development for more than four years, will likely be accepted in May and will provide the foundation for the city’s progress for the next two decades.

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“We’re going to accept it,” Mayor Derrick Freeman said during an interview this week. “It will come back before us and we will build the ordinances out of that. It’s a roadmap for development of the city and I’m excited about it.”

“Imagine Port Arthur 2018,” the latest and mostly finely honed version of the plan, was presented in a public hearing at City Hall on Tuesday night.

One Port Arthur citizen, Ray Richard, expressed skepticism about the plan and whether the city would actually follow it up with action.

But three other citizens in succession told the City Council they support the plan as developed by the city’s planning department and the firm of Freese & Nichols under the direction of Shad Comeaux, a Port Arthur native.

“It’s a living document,” said George Newsome. “It’s there for you.”

Engaging the public

The public hearing was the most recent effort by city planners to engage the public in developing the document.

Planning director Ron Burton said the plan “did not come out of thin air” but rather was crafted with input from numerous “local entities,” including an appointed committee composed of citizens, the city’s Youth Advisory Council, the Rotary Club, and from comments and suggestions gleaned through four public meetings in February 2017. More than 100 citizens attended those meetings.

City Council members appeared to express support for the plan Tuesday night.

Port Arthur last accepted a comprehensive plan almost three decades ago. The city’s charter requires the city to have a comprehensive plan; such plans generally have a shelf life of about two decades.

The proposed plan places plenty of emphasis on downtown Port Arthur, much of which is vacant or underutilized. In a recent interview, Burton said with development of the Port of Port Arthur and the presence of city and county government facilities and Lamar State College Port Arthur, downtown presents rich possibilities for redevelopment and investment, private and public.

The immediate challenge, though, rests in replacing aging infrastructure — think “pipes” — and addressing drainage needs.

“We have nearly all the building blocks in place,” Burton said. “When prospects came before, they asked about revitalization plans and we didn’t have one. Now we do. Now we can show lots that are available and what we are doing in a phased approach.”

Ongoing inquiries

Burton said there have been numerous inquiries related to residential development downtown, both single and multi-family. He called it an “ongoing thing.”

The downtown plan includes a Central Business District and developments like restaurants and some retail — those would hold and attract downtown residents — but also what are presented as “big ideas”: townhomes and a mixed residential neighborhood center, with ample focus on green space and views of the waterway.

Alam Farias, principal architect at Architect’s Studio, which moved downtown last year, said recently he thinks the city is on the right track with the comprehensive plan. Farias said once approved, the city must stick to its plan. But if they do, he said, they can revive an area that ought to be a local development jewel.

“Someone wore it, lost it and buried it,” he said. “Let’s get it back out.”

Part of luring investment to the city may rest in touting an obvious downtown strength, he said:

“None of this flooded over here. That means something.”