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Longview mayor clarifies events center plans, says facility must be approved by voters

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
Feb. 23, 2012 at 10 p.m.


Longview Mayor Jay Dean wants to make one thing clear: If the city moves ahead with an events center, it will be because the project is approved by voters in a referendum, not because City Council members made the decision.

His statement came Thursday as the council approved increasing the city's hotel occupancy tax from 7 percent to 9 percent to fund improvements at the rodeo arena.

Dean said he's heard speculation and figures bandied about on the events center that are simply not true.

"For the record, there has been no discussion of a $12 million events center," Dean said. "There are no discussions of any kind going on about an events center at this time."

At one time, the city of Longview and Gregg County were looking at a combined city-county events center, he said. The county has bowed out of the project, so if anything is done, it would be a city events center.

Council members unanimously passed the ordinance raising hotel occupancy taxes. Dean estimates an additional $450,000 a year could be raised by the increase.

Hotels will start collecting taxes at the higher rate on June 1.

"This is not a tax on Longview residents," Dean said. "It's a tax on people who spend nights in our hotels and motels."

The main improvements the city is planning at the arena are the additions of concession stands and restrooms, which the facility does not have.

Other improvements already are under way at the arena complex.

After an engineering study found the old grandstands structurally unsound late this past year, the city moved in December to spend about $900,000 to demolish and replace the grandstands, lighting and announcers booth. Earlier this month, Gregg County agreed to pave and improve parking used by the arena and other events at the fairgrounds.

Councilman Richard Manley said he thought the tax increase was a good thing.

"We've got to stop thinking of the Maude Cobb Center as just the main building," Manley said. "Outlying facilities, such as the rodeo arena, are part of that complex."

In other business, the council also approved several resolutions regarding Amberwood Place, a proposed low-income housing development. These included adopting a community revitalization and redevelopment plant and providing a commitment of financial support in an amount not to exceed $156,000.

Councilman Sidney Allen had several questions and objections, mostly concerning the location of the project - if the developers receive the funding they are hoping for, it will be built at the northwest corner of Spur 63 and Hawkins Parkway.

"This is a desirable, high-income area," Allen said. "I think these funds could be better used in other parts of the city."

Assistant City Manager Chuck Ewings, who was presenting the resolutions to the council, said that projects which are outside of normal funding areas receive extra points from the Community Development Block Grant.

"Regardless of where we located it, the city needs more low-income housing," Manley said.

The resolutions passed, with Allen dissenting.

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