Possible business district?: Motiva project promises additional development

 

Motiva’s impending purchase of two downtown buildings may generate revived growth downtown. That’s the hope and has been the plan.

“When you have people, you have commerce,” said Floyd Batiste, executive director of the Port Arthur Economic Development Corp., which has created several programs and incentives intended to foster downtown growth.

Motiva suggests it may locate 500 people — they would be white-collar office workers, not directly involved in the production of Motiva products at the refinery.

But what kind of growth would the influx of new workers bring? And where?

“Engineering firms may come,” said Pat Avery, president and CEO of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, located in the 501 Building next door to one of the two buildings, The Adams Building at 440 Austin St. Motiva is also buying the Federal Building at 500 Austin St.

“Contractors, too. They will want to be close to Motiva,” Avery said.

But Avery and Jeff Hayes of Hayes Realty, a veteran property developer, both suggested that a great unknown is who will follow Motiva downtown.

“We’re feeling our way to new ground,” said Avery, “new possibilities.”

Motiva’s announcement Wednesday followed some four months of the company’s “due diligence” and “structural and environmental assessments of the buildings.” Of the two, the Federal Building, the former Post Office, built in 1912, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Adams Building was completed in 1926, and a Motiva spokesman said the company would probably seek some historical designation for that building, too.

The two buildings are located a block from Procter Street, downtown’s main artery, at an intersection that includes the city of Port Arthur’s Health Department and the former site of A.E. Scott Furniture Store, built about the same time as the Federal Building. City Hall is within eyesight of the corner.

Interiors of both are a shambles, raided by poachers over the years for their treasures such as heavy doors and fashionable doorknobs. Hayes said his father had rented an office in the Adams Building, later called the World Trade Building, when the Port of Port Arthur located offices there in 1971. At one time, he said, Sears had a store on the first floor before moving to Woodworth and the building stayed full through the 1950s.

The Federal Building also had plenty of tenants, he said, generally federal agencies. At one time, he said, the Coast Guard was located there.

Hayes and Avery said it’s likely that at least some restaurants will open in the vicinity. Hayes suggested a financial institution of some sort — it’s a “might be,” he said, may open — Capital One Bank had been located nearby until it closed in 2018 — and Avery said a gas station may follow. The closest gas station is at Procter and Woodworth. And some sort of pharmacy might work — whatever would serve the needs of 500 working people.

Both suggested housing development may follow Motiva downtown. The city has pursued development of new, affordable housing nearby — some single-family homes are under construction now, and several were built and sold in 2018.

Avery pointed toward the Sabine Hotel — forever, it seems, reviving that downtown mainstay has been a fond wish in the city — and Hayes said the foundation and bones of that imposing building, erected in 1929 — remain unshakable. Avery said the Sabine might serve as a great opportunity to provide short-term, executive apartments.

Townhomes, too, might be an attractive buy downtown, especially in what Hayes said would be a “mid-market” price of $175,000-$225,000. But investors and buyers might want to see more development first.

Hayes said of interest might be access to the refinery from the downtown office sites. Would workers travel to the refinery via Savannah or at the XYZ gate? Or might Motiva reopen its former entrance, located at Houston Avenue and now impeded by railroad tracks. That would be a faster trip from downtown.

The downtown sites seem to demand additional parking space for 500 employees; the area offers an abundance of cleared lots now. There’s time to decide that; company spokespeople have suggested that even with an immediate start on the project, workers may not arrive downtown within three years.

Hayes cautioned that while property values will increase, sellers must be reasonable. To make a sale, he said, you must have a “willing seller and a willing buyer.”

Batiste also said the city itself must plan apace of Motiva. He said infrastructure downtown must be top-notch to match Motiva’s investment in the area. Traffic flow must be studied.

For now, he said, public attention is on two buildings. But additional properties will be affected, he said.

“It’s not going to be what it used to be,” he said. “It’s going to be better.

“Now we have a true business district.”

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