Museum director outlines active property beautification that spotlights, adds to downtown appeal

Published 12:38 am Friday, April 21, 2023

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Work is underway to make the Museum of the Gulf Coast as interesting on the outside as it is on the inside.

Within a week of receiving a grant from the second annual Port Arthur LNG Environmental Champions Grant Initiative in partnership with The Port Arthur News, officials began grooming the palm trees that have been on the property since it was built in 1961.

Museum Director Tom Neal said it was the first time the trees have seen maintenance since he joined in 2016.

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“Right now the palm trees will start growing and they create kind of a bulb,” Neal said. “And we had that late freeze, and I was afraid. We’ve been fortunate not to lose these.”

The museum was one of 16 nonprofit organizations awarded grants April 11. A total of $65,000 in grants was presented during a reception at Bob Hope Elementary School in Port Arthur.

“That grant and other things we’re doing help give a better message and better perspective,” Neal said. “I’ll be glad at night when people drive by and see this place lit up with big crepe myrtles down the side. And we’re looking for other things we can do to dress it up.”

The crepe myrtles are part of the museum’s beautification plan.

“We had four trees that were near the sidewalk,” Neal said. “One was dead. One was almost dead. One was a little more alive. And there was a live one. They didn’t have a chance with the concrete.”

They’ve since been removed, and landscapers arrive next week to plant the crepe myrtles.

In addition, Neal said they are using a portion of the grant money with other secured funds to fix lighting on the outside and inside of the building.

“Those lights have been there since 1961,” Neal said of the bulbs surrounding the exterior of the building. “I tried to replace the light bulbs and none of them worked. And out of the clear blue, one of them started working one day. But the thing about downtown is you want people to know that things are improving and changing.”

That is the goal for the 36,000-square-foot building that sees visitors from 33-40 states and eight to 20 foreign countries each month.

“People drive by here and realize things are alive and well,” Neal said. “There’s a certain amount of dilapidation that just goes with a downtown. But you don’t have to surrender to that. And that’s one of the things I’ve done to the building here. It’s a 1961 building.

“We’ve cleaned up all the brush. I’ve had all the grout pushed down. And I’ve done all of these things so when people come in, they know we respect what we’re doing and we respect the building.”

Kelly Prasser, Sempra Infrastructure Director of External Affairs, said the Environmental Champions Initiative attracted more projects in its second year.

Prasser said 42 applications were received, and the projects “just keep getting better and better.”

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