PORT ARTHUR, Texas (AP) — For more than two decades, the Sabine Hotel in downtown Port Arthur has sat empty, decaying and, at times, attracting vagrants.
Schemes to renovate and revitalize the circa 1929 building have surfaced during that time, including a proposal to convert it into a private prison for non-violent offenders in 1985. Another plan in 1997 was for 130 apartments with an air of glamorous, vintage opulence. None of the plans have ever materialized.
Now, it appears demolition is one of the options on the table.
Although several investors have expressed interest in renovating the Sabine Hotel more recently, so far none have put their money where their mouths are.
A recent request for proposals on options to develop the property failed to attract any bids, said Port Arthur City Manager Steve Fitzgibbons.
While the hotel has been seen as the centerpiece of a downtown Port Arthur revitalization, Fitzgibbons said it would be better to tear it down then to let it continue "to stand there as an eyesore."
"We're very interested in redeveloping it, but we haven't had much luck in getting anyone willing to partner with us to get it done," he said.
"The idea is that something needs to be done. Either we need to get it revitalized or we need to tear it down."
The Port Arthur Economic Development Corp. this month voted to get cost estimates from the city on asbestos abatement and demolition of the Sabine Hotel. This doesn't mean the EDC is committing to the project, said director Floyd Batiste.
But getting the estimates will help the board determine the feasibility of EDC involvement in the fate of the landmark hotel.
"That is if there are no other options available for redevelopment of the building," Batiste said. "... We would love to see that building retrofitted, if we could get someone in the private sector to come in and do the work."
Batiste said the EDC has been in contact with a group with "some interest in the building."
However, he admitted that the costs associated with bringing the hotel up to code are discouraging for potential investors.
Barring any serious investor interest, the 82-yearold hotel's days appear to be numbered.
Fitzgibbons said bids on building demolition can vary widely. He has heard estimates ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million to tear down the hotel.
The 10-story building opened in July 1929, operating as the Vaughn Hotel until the mid-1930s, when it became the Sabine Hotel, according to Enterprise stories.
In the 1970s the rooms were converted to apartments, which officially were in use until the late 1980s.
Port Arthur acquired the building at that time as part of a package deal, along with two parking lots the city wanted for the police department.
The inside of the hotel is something of a time capsule.
Despite years of decay, peeling paint, crumbling plaster and rusting metal, its former grandeur still shines through in places.
Although dingy and littered with debris, the high-ceiling lobby still shows vestiges of its opulent past in touches like wrought iron railings and blue and red crests bearing the initials VH (presumably for its original name).
Many of the rooms are tiny by today's standards, but upper floor suites are spacious with elegant arched doorways, built-in cabinets and walk-in closets.
Dumb waiters, Murphy beds and iron radiators are just a few details that distinguishes the hotel as a relic of another time — a time when black gold poured into Port Arthur residents' coffers and downtown bustled with commerce and activity.
Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, http://beaumontenterprise.com