Campus housing project launched through collaborative efforts

Government, private sector work together to help Lamar State College-Port Arthur

Three years after passage by Texas legislators of a narrowly focused bill, a Gulf Coast state college is taking advantage of that legislation – and a public-private partnership (P3) – to build campus housing. Lamar State College-Port Arthur (LSCPA) recently announced an agreement with a developer for construction of a $6.6 million campus housing complex for students, faculty and staff. It will be the first campus dorm built since the last dorm was demolished about 50 years ago.

lamar_state2Realizing the importance of college housing and also wanting to stimulate activity in downtown Port Arthur, both Jefferson County and the city approved tax abatements as incentives for the project. Then, an important $2 million boost came as a direct result of HB 2473 from the 83rd Texas Legislature.

While tax abatements are not uncommon for developers of P3s, funding from economic development corporations sometimes is – particularly in this case.

The Port Arthur Economic Development Corp. awarded the developer a $1 million grant as well as a $1 million loan toward the housing project. Prior to passage of HB 2473, those funds could not have been awarded for that purpose.

The Local Government Code allows economic development corporations to use sales and use tax revenues for developing and/or building housing facilities at some institutions of higher education, but until passage of HB 2473, it did not include public state colleges. That changed in 2013 when legislation passed that allowed three Texas colleges – Lamar State College-Port Arthur, Lamar State College-Orange and the Lamar Institute of Technology – to benefit from economic development corporation dollars. In this case, it created a $2 million “carrot” to attract a developer to the housing project.

The dorm project had been on the college’s 10-year master plan for several years. A $25,000 grant from the city of Port Arthur was used to hire a firm to survey student interest in campus housing. Results from the survey and the desire for the facility to locate downtown led to the filing of HB 2473. With support from governmental officials, the economic development corporation and college officials, the bill passed, allowing the local economic development corporation to invest tax revenue in a campus housing project at any of the three Lamar state colleges.

The economic development corporation’s investment was followed by a $17,700 tax abatement for 10 years from the city of Port Arthur and a 100 percent tax abatement of $3.9 million for five years from Jefferson County. The president of the development group said that tax abatements and funding from economic development were essential components of the project.

When completed, the dorm will provide 40,000 square feet and will have the capacity to house more than 100 students in 36 units, which are described as more like off-campus student apartments than traditional dormitories. Construction should be completed as early as next fall.

As a result of this public-private partnership, the developer will build, own and manage the residence hall through a 30-year lease. After that, the facility will become the property of LSCPA.

The overall goal was to provide new housing to college students in the downtown area of Port Arthur and to attract even more students from across the state to LSCPA. The efforts paid off and the goal was reached.  This is yet another example of success through collaboration.

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