EPA grant might advance downtown sites

Published 7:00 pm Friday, July 13, 2018

By Ken Stickney


The $300,000 federal grant secured by Port Arthur is just for starters.

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Ron Burton, director of development services, said the city of Port Arthur has applied numerous times for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency money to help with brownfields cleanup and downtown revitalization. Recently, EPA looked favorably on the city’s application and has granted Port Arthur a Brownfields Environmental Assessment grant to plan work on three brownfields downtown sites.

“The only site we knew we would look at is Hotel Sabine, which the city has owned for at least 20 years,” Burton said. The city will go through a community education and discussion stage in seeking two additional brownfield sites in an overall plan.

To fit the grant’s criteria, all three sites must require remediation on sites with lead, asbestos or petroleum contamination.

“In an industrial city, finding such sites is not difficult,” Burton said dryly.

After three sites are chosen, and the City Council approves a plan, Port Arthur could seek additional funds to clean up the sites. Burton said Port Arthur would do that after forging a plan with a private partner.

Burton said the hotel, located at 600 Procter St., is an obvious choice for brownfields remediation. Closed since the 1980s, it is 10 stories high, the tallest building in the city.

He said various developers have eyed the hotel, which opened as the Vaughn Hotel in 1929, since it closed. Some have considered refurbishing it as a luxury hotel, others have considered it for redevelopment as apartments or public housing.

Nothing has stuck; as commercial businesses left downtown, the hotel’s appeal for developers has waned. At one point, the building was offered as a site for possible destruction in motion pictures.

But Burton said the hotel retains at least some attraction for private developers. It was “over-engineered” in its initial construction, built with steel-reinforced concrete to withstand severe coastal storms.

“It’s solid. The floors are solid,” Burton said.

He said the building might make attractive office space, especially for energy companies working in the area.

Burton said his department must develop a sound strategy with the EPA money to eventually present to the City Council for approval. He said the impetus would be on seeking private development, with the city positioning itself as the catalyst for a private-public project.

“We are not developers,” he said.

Plans would be made consistent with the city’s 2015 Downtown Revitalization Plan, which calls for private and public initiatives to create a “common image” for downtown.

City planners will issue public notices about grant activities and city staff members will make outreach efforts into the community.