Longview City Council members on Thursday continued discussion on a proposed amphitheater, and the next step could be making a decision about the project.
As questions were posed by members of the council, District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy said that if everyone feels their questions were answered, then council should move forward with the project rather than continue to talk about it.
This past month, Jim Leslie, managing principal of Wolverine Interests, and Steve Powers, founder and CEO of Red Cat Projects, made a presentation to the council for a multi-use, 8,500-seat amphitheater proposed to be built on Estes Parkway near Interstate 20.
The proposal comes with a required one-time, $12 million payment from the city after the project is completed. The amphitheater would be publicly owned and privately operated, and the city would have no maintenance and operations expenses.
Powers previously said during an interview that the annual cost to run the venue would be in the $100,000 to $200,000 range plus any property taxes.
At a council meeting earlier this month, members discussed potential funding for the amphitheater. City Manager Rolin McPhee told council the city could utilize surplus in its reserve fund as a potential funding source for the $12 million payment.
The last meeting concluded with Mayor Andy Mack telling council members to make a list of questions and concerns and then reconvene to discuss them. Thursday’s meeting addressed those questions, which Mack said had been collected and answered outside of council. Powers and Leslie were in attendance to clarify any of the answers they provided.
District 1 Councilman Temple “Tem” Carpenter started discussion by asking how the title of the amphitheater would be in the city’s name if funds will be borrow to pay for it. Leslie called that it is a legal issue to discuss with an attorney but that on the lender’s side, they were OK with it either way.
District 4 Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara summarized what she read in the answers to the questions and asked if there is a set amount of years that operators would manage the venue to which Leslie said there would be a minimum of 10 years of operation required but that it could extend up to 30 years.
“Longer is better,” Mack said. “We would have no liabilities, no maintenance, no operations, no fiduciary responsibilities ... . We would own the amphitheater.”
He continued that council needs to decide whether or not it will move forward with the project or the city becomes a “cog in the wheel” by sitting in place and neither accepting nor denying the project.
“Once we make that decision ... let them either move forward or move on,” Mack said.
Pirtle asked how the city is going to make money from the venue. Leslie cited a feasibility study conducted in 2017 by Plano-based Convention Sports & Leisure that says an amphitheater would have an economic impact of more than $212 million to Longview and Gregg County over 30 years. He also said income would be generated in the form of property tax.
Mack said the city would not get any money from ticket sales, parking or any other venue-related expenses.
“We’re not taking any risk ... . We don’t get any of the revenues from this other than the ripple effect that occurs from development around it and then sales tax that we get from taxable income,” Mack said.
Pirtle said his constituents had asked what types of acts would perform at the venue and how much a ticket would cost.
Leslie said they had budgeted for 25-50 acts per year, but they expected to do better than the study.
District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy said if everyone feels their questions had been answered, then council should collectively move forward with the project rather than continue to talk about it.
District 3 Councilman Wray Wade said that while moving forward with the amphitheater is important, it is also necessary to consider other phases of the plan that would be affected by the amphitheater. Wade talked about traffic along Estes Parkway and Interstate 20 and how construction would need to happen in order to prepare the area for a high volume of traffic.
“Dropping an amphitheater and then not thinking about, ‘Hey how are we gonna manage this center’? because right now that’s been a major holdup with us developing that area right now is that traffic flow,” Wade said.