After 18 years in business, Baton Rouge-based Provident Resources Group, a nonprofit development and management company that has been involved in everything from housing for college students to correctional facilities in North Carolina, is changing its focus.

Provident has branched into hotel development, breaking ground this spring on a $115 million Westin Hotel in Irving, Texas. The 350-room hotel, set to open in December 2018, will be next to the city’s convention center. The company is set to close on deals for similar convention center hotels in South Florida and Arizona by the end of the year, and is also working on building lodging to go with an international airport on the East Coast.

Steve Hicks, the chairman and CEO of Provident, said the change is the result of opportunities being presented to the company.

“Having done projects in 17 states and the District of Columbia, we are fairly well known in the development and the investment banking community,” he said. “They’re looking for ways to finance projects at the lowest possible costs.”

Hicks, a high-profile bond attorney, founded Provident in 1999 when he acquired a nursing home in Memphis, Tennessee. The plan was to have a multimission organization that drew upon his 25 years of experience in public finance law.

The law allows special-purpose entities to finance public construction projects, such as student housing at colleges and universities, affordable housing and health care facilities.

The advantage for government agencies is that they get new student housing or a hotel financed by tax-exempt bonds, which are offered at a low interest rate, without the debt showing up on the books. “Governments operate under constitutional limitations for general obligation debt,” Hicks said. “Sometimes, they don’t want to encumber their balance sheets with additional debt.”

By the end of the month, Provident will have accessed $3 billion in public and private funding for its development projects. The company has developed just under 15,000 beds for student housing, senior living and affordable housing. The company has about 150 employees across the U.S., with 32 based out of Baton Rouge.

As of late, Provident has focused on Baton Rouge developments. The company is developing the Nicholson Gateway project on a 28-acre site between West Chimes Street and Skip Bertman Drive that includes land that was once where the old Alex Box Stadium stood.

Nicholson Gateway will include four new buildings to house LSU undergraduate and graduate students. This will add more than 1,500 beds to the available student housing. The complex also will include 38,000 square feet of retail space and 10,000 square feet of recreational space for students. The retail space will cater to students, faculty, staff and campus visitors. The public-private development, which has been pegged at more than $300 million, is set to open in fall 2018.

And last month, Provident announced plans for an $85 million proton radiation cancer treatment center that will be built near the junction of interstates 10 and 12. The Louisiana ProtonCare Center will be a partnership between Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge General Medical Center and Woman's Hospital.

Hicks first started working on a proton treatment center in 2006, when Provident joined with Merrill Lynch on a similar collaborative project in Cleveland. “It was a great idea whose time had not come,” he said. The Cleveland hospitals who would have been clinical partners for the treatment center couldn’t agree on a site for the facility and the project collapsed after more than a year of bickering.

Proton treatment has been effective in treating a range of cancers, such as prostate, brain, pediatric and left breast tumors, Hicks said. A pencil-thin proton beam, generated by a powerful cyclotron, is used to destroy tumors. The advantage is that the beam can be targeted on a tumor while leaving the surrounding tissue alone.

The Baton Rouge proton treatment center is one of three Provident is developing, along with one in Atlanta that’s being done in conjunction with Emory University and the Winship Cancer Institute, and one in Northern California. Unlike the two others, after the local facility is paid off in 20 years, Provident plans to donate it to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation as a way of supporting the local community.

"We're so proud to be bringing together four major health care providers to work collaboratively in operation of the proton center,” he said.

Hicks said he expects Provident will continue to see capital projects for colleges and universities grow, along with senior living facilities. The company has two local senior facilities in the works: one in the Americana development in Zachary, the other in Covington.

“We take pride in the fact that we are an entrepreneurial asset development and asset management firm,” Hicks said. “We’re frequently contacted by people who want to see if our financing platform works for a project. But if it doesn’t fit our charitable mission, we’re not going to do it."

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.