Few Southeast Texans probably think of the name Jamie Smith while driving on the streets and through the neighborhoods of South Beaumont and noticing the improvements in the area, but the Ward IV city councilman has worked hard to improve his ward by cleaning up neighborhoods and setting up empowerment zones to attract new businesses among other accomplishments. Now Smith has shown a desire to take his vision of improving and revamping the area even further by announcing his candidacy for Jefferson County district clerk. Smith made the announcement in October 2013.
“I like serving the people,” Smith said, when asked why he decided to run for the position. “I think that is the most noble profession besides maybe a pastor. I really think my qualifications will make me the best candidate.”
These qualifications include improving the lives and environment of thousands of citizens in Ward IV including Carvin Dukes, a 61-year-old resident of Beaumont who has lived in the ward on and off since the late 1970s, residing on both Lavaca Street and West Florida Avenue, two streets in the South Park area and worked side by side with Smith in several clean up efforts. South Park has seen drastic changes economically throughout its long history, with both positive and negative milestones including the founding of the South Park High School in 1922-23 and its demolition in 2010.
Throughout the years, Dukes said he has seen deterioration in the neighborhoods of South Beaumont but vehemently stated that he and many other concerned citizens have done their parts to improve the area through hard work, blood and sweat.
Dukes said during his employment as a code enforcement officer for the city of Beaumont, he witnessed businesses and other individuals taking advantage of neighborhoods and streets in Beaumont’s south end by illegally dumping building materials and trash, resulting not only in the blight in these areas but also forcing the city to haul off the junk on its dime.
Home-based businesses and contractors — some even driving from other cities — have repeatedly and illegally dumped building materials and trash on rental properties in South Park to avoid landfill fees, Dukes said.
“The city had to come by and actually clean these places up,” he said. “You would see the city workers picking up this trash by hand with barrels, brooms and shovels to get this off the streets and that’s not what our city employees are meant to be utilized for.”
Dukes said cleanup programs like Operation Clean Sweep, spearheaded by Beaumont Ward IV City Council member and candidate for Jefferson County District Clerk Jamie Smith helped bring awareness to the problem of illegal dumping.
“Through efforts to do cleanups, we found out that … contractors who were doing repair work on houses were taking their trash and debris and dumping it on the street,” Dukes said. “We exposed the problem.”
The city set up ways for citizens to report illegal dumping through the 311 hotline and saw a significant decrease in the problem following its clean up efforts. These projects encouraged citizens to take pride in their neighborhoods by not only reporting illegal dumping, but also by keeping their own lawns and streets clean, Smith said.
“We had to put that sense of pride back in the people who lived there,” he said. “To make them proud of the place they stayed. Once you get that sense of pride, you get people policing other people who are throwing trash in the area.”
Smith said that while cleaning up his ward was the overall objective, setting an example for the youth in the area was equally important.
“It’s easy to talk the talk,” Smith said. “But when the kids see the councilman out there with a machete going through waist high grass with God knows what … using a lawnmower or whatever. I think it has an effect on the youth. Everything we did involved youth groups.”
Smith said that after several cleanup efforts, youths in the area would eventually call the city asking when the next cleanup would be instead of the city having to recruit them.
Smith also rallied volunteer teams consisting of members of church congregations, civic groups and other organizations in a paint-a-thon to improve the homes of seniors and people with disabilities. M&D, Sutherlands and Home Depot donated paint scrapers, paintbrushes, pressure washers and other supplies for the effort, Smith said.
“We had a lot of people who applied for housing rehab through the city but didn’t quite qualify,” Smith said. “I picked one house in each ward to make sure we were covering all the city and we went through and cleaned up the area surrounding the house, and pressure washed and painted the house in each area. When you spiff up one, it helps out the whole neighborhood.”
But the cleanup effort was only the first step in a plan not only to revamp South Beaumont, but to also draw attention from outside investors.
Smith and other council members helped set up four empowerment zones in Beaumont — one near Cardinal Drive, one near the College and 11th Street intersection, one near Park Street and one near Concord Road.
“Businesses (that build in these zones) get employee tax credits,” explained Dave Mulcahy, director of the Lamar University Small Business Development Center. “Up to about $15,000 per employee. They are trying to get the communities revitalized and trying to get the people that live in those areas jobs.”
The main ideas behind empowerment zones are to use tax incentives to encourage business  investment, improve employment opportunities, and stimulate economic growth in certain geographical areas.
“You sit down and try to figure out, ‘How can I turn this neighborhood around?’ You place an empowerment zone where there is room for development and … on a major thoroughfare,” Smith said. “I arranged a little meeting with (Director of Planning and Community Development for the City of Beaumont) Chris Boone, (Beaumont commercial broker) Charlie Foxworth and a few other individuals. We talked about what we could do to make Beaumont attractive (to businesses).”
Smith said Foxworth recommended sending out packets to recruit new grocery stores and other businesses that would benefit the area.
“We gave them everything they would want — demographics, salaries, median income, median age — everything that needed to be in there, we sent it to them,” Smith said.
The efforts paid off. H-E-B responded to the recruitment efforts and decided to build a new store at the College and 11th Street intersection, part of empowerment zone No. 1.
The San Antonio-based supermarket chain purchased the old Baptist Hospital property on College and in October 2012 announced plans to build a 68,000 square feet supermarket.
Cyndy Garza-Roberts, director of Public Affairs for H-E-B’s Houston Division, said the empowerment zone set up by the city of Beaumont was a factor in H-E-B’s decision to build on College Street.
“We always look for opportunities where there is growth in the population and community,” said Garza-Roberts, adding that the new store will offer new job opportunities for citizens of Beaumont as well. “That is one area that is growing in the Beaumont community.
“This store is much larger (than the Lucas and South 11th Street stores) and we’ll be able to service many more customers,” said Garza-Roberts. “It’s a store that will be convenient for the citizens (of South Beaumont).”
The store is set to open this fall, Garza-Roberts said.
“The good thing about me being involved with the effort to bring in H-E-B is that I was able to bring our union guys in at the initial meeting,” Smith said. “I could not tell (H-E-B) who to use (in the construction of the store), but I wanted to sit down and at least give our local guys a chance (at the contract). I had a meeting with the Sabine Area Central Labor Council and with builders and plumbers so they could get their foot in the door. I gave my political speech and said, ‘If (H-E-B) hires local and these local guys pass by and see that building they helped erect, they’re going to go into that building and they’re going to tell their families to go in that building.”
Boone confirmed the increase of economic growth in Ward IV within the city of Beaumont.
“Over the past few years, it has been fairly active,” Boone said, “with new construction and substantial projects.” Boone said some of those projects include a new church, Grace Lake Estates Townhomes, an Amtrak station, medical facilities, McDonald’s restaurant and retail outlets. There’s also the expansion at M&I Electric (AETI), which will bring 50 additional jobs, on MLK across from Lamar (now under construction)
Smith said that he also heard that Walmart had plans to purchase property on College Street between Whataburger at 3575 College St. and The Outpatient Diagnostic Center at 3405 College St. to build a new location, as well. This could not be confirmed with Walmart media relations as of press time, however.
Smith pointed out residential improvements in Ward IV, as well citing the Jehovah Jireh Village, a more than 50 single-family home neighborhood across from Grace Lake Estates.
Dukes said he hopes there will continue to be concerned civic leaders like Smith who, with the efforts of the city of Beaumont and its citizens, will continue to try to make a difference in their neighborhoods. Duke also said he is confident that conditions for the area he lives in will continue to improve, and that is proud to be a West Florida Avenue resident.
“Through the effort of the citizens of the neighborhood and the effort the city has made to address certain issues, the neighborhood associations are being a little bit more responsible for what goes on,” Dukes said. “They’re taking initiative to maintain their streets and their neighborhoods to promote an atmosphere of cooperation that will hopefully turn these neighborhoods into what they used to be — dwellings and homes that families can enjoy and have confidence and security in living in.”
And Smith said he was optimistic about the future of South Beaumont as well, promising that if elected to district clerk, he would continue to seek improvements not only in Ward IV, but also throughout the entirety of Jefferson County.
“Just because God blesses me and I am able to get elected district clerk does not mean that I am not going to still work with the city for economic development in the areas,” Smith said. “This is just going to give me a larger stage to help people.”
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.