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Revive, then thrive: Group seeks to work with area leaders to bring more development to West Longview

By by Peggy Jones pljones@news-journal.com
May 5, 2012 at 11 p.m.


Horace Greeley told Americans in 1865 to "Go west, young man!"

A similar call can be heard today among civic and business leaders in West Longview.

"Go West" is the motto, mission and moniker for a grassroots group aimed at making sure the Pine Tree/Greggton area revives, survives and thrives.

The group's spokesperson, Kimberly Fish, recently stood in front of an aging shopping center on U.S. 80 and looked at the hollow storefronts.

She said she remembers what it once was and pictures what it can be.

"This shopping center has beautiful architecture," Fish said. "These are heritage buildings. If we lose them - if we lose their connection to the past, we have no identity to take into the future."

Losing old buildings such as these is a real possibility, because it's less expensive to bulldoze them than to bring them up to modern building codes.

Most owners choose not to, Fish said.

So the Go West initiative plans to work with city, county and state representatives on ways to make it more affordable and realistic for local business owners to reinvest in the existing structures.

The group's goals are to showcase areas that are prime for entrepreneurs and developers; create an arts and entertainment district; work with the city and county to repair infrastructure; inspire community cleanups of neighborhoods and parks; bring attention to the unique role U.S. 80 has had on that corner of the city; support and expand the marketing of Pine Tree schools; and remind people why shopping locally creates a fertile business market.

Go West members hope their efforts will compel property owners to be creative in marketing their structures.

"We want to be very friendly to entrepreneurs and start up businesses," Fish said. "The guy or girl with a great business dream who can't afford rent in another part of town - we want to welcome them. We want to become a hotbed of new business. We want them to know - we've got room for you, and we're going to make it happen."

Go West has a real focus on "intentional" development around the intersection of Loop 281 and Texas 31.

"It's key," Fish said. "It's a major thoroughfare to the city."

Nearby Lear Park already lures in millions of visitor dollars to the city with its myriad of athletic fields. By mid-summer, the park will also be home to the city's new 10,000-square-foot Jack Mann Splash Pad.

And the Pine Tree school district is building a multi-million dollar athletic complex not far from the intersection.

"We want prospective restaurants and retailers to know - we're a progressive and intentional city," she said. "We have an opportunity now - before it's gone - to be smart about developing that corridor with appropriate businesses that are properly designed."

Starting out as a loosely formed group with a common goal, the members will go back to the people who work and live in West Longview.

They have scheduled their first "kitchen table conversation" meeting for May 21, where they plan to share information and get ideas from residents, because, as Fish says, "a lot of great ideas get born around a kitchen table."

The kitchen table meetings are another part of their strategy for boosting business.

Fish calls it a "cash mob" - going as a group on periodic nights to shop or eat at local businesses where Go West members and residents hold their kitchen table conversations.

"We want to show our local business owners, who have stuck their necks out to stay in business, that we support them," Fish said.

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