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EDITORIAL: Now, change seems assured, welcome

The first strong hint of new, private business emerged in downtown Port Arthur this week, just weeks after Motiva and the city of Port Arthur announced the energy giant was buying up historic property with the intention to locate an office “campus” there.

It’s a good hint.

Joe Aref, who developed Tia Juanita’s new restaurant on Jimmy Johnson Boulevard, confirmed he is in the early planning stages for a strip shopping area — perhaps a chain restaurant, perhaps a convenience store — in the 400 block of Procter Street, adjacent to the city of Port Arthur’s Health Department and a half-block from the Adams Building, which Motiva plans to refashion into office space.

Aref and his family are well-known investors in commercial and residential property, with strong community ties. Right now, Aref said, he envisions a shopping area of about 12,000 square feet.

Aref said in addition to retail and restaurant possibilities, an attorney is seeking office space. He’s got two buildings on the property, but may demolish them for new growth.

Aref said he secured the property about seven months ago, before Motiva began buying up property. He said the company, which is largely housed on Savannah Avenue, began making its intentions known in recent weeks; Motiva also had sought to purchase Aref’s lot, he said. But he’s an investor and entrepreneur and would rather make his own stamp downtown with “something nice.” We hope that works out.

In fact, downtown is abuzz with the promise of new business, which may follow Motiva in locating in an area that was largely ignored for decades but, now, seems promising. In addition to restaurants and convenience stores, downtown observers suggest a financial institution would be welcome — even an automatic teller. There are no banks left; Capital One was the last to pull out after Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey.

There’s hope for a pharmacy and maybe — someday — a hotel. Motiva is buying the Hotel Sabine downtown, a 10-story behemoth built in 1929, but that may be largely to house its own visitors.

At the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, staff members are fielding calls from possible prospects that seem to be interested by Motiva’s announced moves. Some of Motiva’s suppliers will seek office space near the Saudi-owned company’s new offices.

For its part, the city is taking things one by one. First, close the hotel deal. Next, discuss the possible sale of the Police Department’s parking lot, next to Hotel Sabine. Then, talk about Motiva’s interest in the city of Port Arthur’s Health Department building.

There’s so much to consider. Who saw this coming, scant months ago? We saw old buildings toppling, lots cleared, streets devoid of traffic. A ghost town. Change is assured.

It’s about time.