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Gap distribution center in Longview moving forward, not as fast
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A bill before the Texas House of Representatives hasn’t stopped plans for a new Gap Inc. e-commerce and distribution center in Longview.

Wayne Mansfiled, president and CEO of the Longview Economic Development Corp., said this week that Gap is “still moving forward,” although not as fast as originally expected.

In February, LEDCO, city and council officials approved a set of incentives to help lure the company to Longview. The incentives are tied to requirements that Gap invests $140 million to build its 850,000 square foot center in Longview and employ a minimum average of 255 people in 2022 and ramping up to 1,222 by 2026.

House Bill 4072 was filed earlier this year to change how companies pay sales taxes for online sales. Should it become state law, the revenues would go to the city where an item is delivered instead of the city where the item was manufactured and shipped. Some of the incentives Gap would receive locally are tied to sales tax revenues.

Incentives also include LEDCO giving Gap about 142 acres where it will build the facility in the North Business Park at Judson and East George Richey Road. When Gap closes on the property, LEDCO is pledged to pay the company $5.2 million.

“We’re trying right now to finish up some due diligence to get the project closed,” Mansfield said of the land deal.

Gap Inc. officials had originally said construction could have started as early as April, but no building plans have been filed yet with the city of Longview.

Mansfield said the House bill has brought up some concerns with Gap Inc. because of the “uncertainty” it represents, but the project also hasn’t moved forward as fast as anticipated because of supply chain disruptions that are affecting the availability of construction materials.

“They’re still on schedule to be open by August of 2022,” he said.

Mansfield said the LEDCO board of directors heard an update on the project and House bill during a meeting this past week, including hearing from Texas Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, and his efforts to prevent the bill from moving forward.

“My opinion is, I don’t see this gaining much traction,” Mansfield said.

Gap Inc. declined to comment for this story.

Longview man is voice behind epic 'Mortal Kombat' scream
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One of the most famous screams from 1990s pop culture came from the pipes of a man who grew up in Longview — and you’ve probably never heard of him.

Kyle Wyatt was 4 when he and his family moved to Longview from the Dallas area in 1972. Roughly two decades later, he would show up at one of his first acting gigs in New York City and scream “Mortal Kombat!” to birth the franchise’s signature sound.

Wyatt, speaking via Zoom recently as the new “Mortal Kombat” movie began playing in theaters, said it was maybe his fourth gig in NYC after abruptly packing up and moving out of East Texas with few plans except to act. He said at the time, he had no idea what was going on.

“I remember we were being placed into groups,” Wyatt said. “We were part of the background shot. That’s what we were told — the extras.”

He said the actor-hopefuls were told to run around the buildings in the Wall Street area of New York, “just mob-like,” doing a chaotic scene.

“And I remember a director saying, ‘Hey, come here. You. Come here for a second.’ ”

Wyatt said he hated being called out. He thought he did something wrong.

The director told Wyatt that when he hit his mark, he needed to say “Mortal Kombat.”

“Well, I came out with a lot of energy, showing my body, showing my face,” he said. “And I hit my mark, and I said, ‘Mortal Kombat.’ ”

The director didn’t go for it. He said Wyatt needed to try it with more energy.

On the third take, the director again called to Wyatt.

“ ‘Now, I want you to feel like you’ve been hit with all the weight in the world — in your gut — all the problems, and then I want you to yell this phrase,’ “ Wyatt said the director told him.

“I don’t want you to say it. I want you to yell this phrase from the bottom of your gut — Mortal Kombat!

“And when I hit that mark, I ... “Mooooooortal Kommbat!”

The director told Wyatt to keep going and to “yell, yell.” So, he kept screaming the phrase over and over.

“They got stationary cameras in position,” Wyatt said, describing the scene of the shoot. “They have mobile cameras with the guys running around, then they have this huge boom crane above us with a camera and mics and everything.”

Wyatt said the scream happened 29 years ago. He had no idea what it was for or how it might be used. He could not have known how widespread or how well known it would become.

“I was just happy that I paid rent that month,” he said.

The scream would be used in the brutal “Mortal Kombat” video games and movie. It was many years later when Wyatt learned that it was sampled in a techno song by a group called The Immortals.

He said as the “Mortal Kombat” franchise grew in popularity, and the scream was used in various ways, people around him still did not know it was him.

“It was wild because when we would see these commercials come back, and I’d be with a buddy or something, I’d say, ‘You know that was me — I did that,’ ” Wyatt said. “Yeah, that was me. That was back in my time in New York.”

Though it’s a unique claim to fame, the storied scream is not where the now 52-year-old Wyatt’s involvement in acting ended.

According to his page on IMDb, Wyatt “is an accomplished actor who is driven by an incredible passion for self-expression.”

His credits include roles in films “Carlito’s Way” with Al Pacino and “Vibrations” with Christina Applegate.

“I’ve done some short films,” Wyatt said when talking about his work. “I’ve done commercials, voice-overs, cartoons.”

He even did some monster truck rally commercials “back in the day,” he said, and he easily modifies his voice to be exactly how one might expect an announcer to sound as he relays information about seeing the “fire-breathing dragon” and how you should “Be there. Be there. Be there.”

Wyatt said he is still “a full-fledged actor” with an agent. He said now his three children are signed under his agent.

Wyatt and his wife, who was born in 1986 — the year he graduated from Longview High School — have two daughters, ages 13 and 11, and a 5-year-old son.

He has gotten to act with his two daughters but not yet his son. He said he’s looking forward to it.

Acting, however, is not his 9-to-5 job.

“I currently work with Homeland Security, and that’s what pays the bills every day right now,” he said.

Wyatt still makes it back to Longview. He said he was in town recently to pop in on his mom and dad, who are 84 and 86.

He also has siblings in the area. His sister lives in Longview, along with his oldest brother and his twin brother, Kevin. He has another brother who lives in Keller.

And Wyatt remembers vividly the years he spent in Longview before stealing away to New York City.

His early years included ties to other residents who have gone on to their own forms of greatness.

Wyatt said Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker’s mother was one of his teachers at Mozelle Johnston Elementary School, and he grew up right down the street from Matthew McConaughey, who would also go on to become an Academy Award-winning actor.

Wyatt recalled a time when as a youngster it snowed. He and his friend, Neal McCoy —before he became a country music star — did not have sleds because snow is rare in East Texas. No sleds, but Wyatt’s mother baked a lot, so she had plenty of metal cookie sheets. He said he grabbed some of her cookie sheets, and the pair slid down Alpine Road across Loop 281, which then was just two lanes.

A search of News-Journal articles lists Wyatt’s name under headings for Longview High School singing productions and theater performances. According to a June 1987 item in the Longview Morning Journal, Wyatt was a member of the Singsations, concert choir, Lobo Band, musical comedy company and was seen on stage in numerous productions of the drama department.

He said he went through college, graduated from Texas A&M University and came back to Longview. Then, he started teaching at Pinewood Park Elementary School. It didn’t agree with him.

He said he and Donald Wesley, brother of former NBA basketball player David Wesley, decided to just head to New York to pursue acting.

Wyatt said Wesley had a relative he could stay with in the city. But Wyatt had to sleep on the subway before he found a place to live.

“I had transit cops kicking me, waking me up,” he said.

Wyatt soon found an agent out of New Jersey. The agent got him the gig where he would scream those two words that would follow him in his career and in life, after his fanbase told him about its popularity — something for which he’d still be grateful to get a royalty check.

His passion for acting also hasn’t changed much in the nearly three decades that passed since the scream at his one-time gig.

“I’ve always had the acting bug,” Wyatt said. “I’ve loved entertaining people since I came out of the womb. I think I ended up coming out of the womb with a cigar in one hand and a martini in the other, and I said, ‘OK, Where’s the crowd? Let me work ‘em, you know?’”

“And my teachers, probably if they’re still alive there in Longview, they’ll probably tell you the same things.”

Restrictions easing in US and Europe amid disaster in India
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom,” he said.

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet (0.9 meters). New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May. And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts’ governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please,” President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans,” the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan’s league title.

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City of Longview $192k grants to boost arts organizations

Seven Longview cultural arts organizations could soon get a boost in funding that will help them bring visitors to the city for a variety of events planned this year.

“Through this funding we are able to continue our programming. This grant will help us continue our shows and our season,” ArtsView Children’s Theatre Executive Director Nathaniel Olson said. “With the grant, we will be able to do more advertising to reach more groups that we haven’t in the past. Part of this grant will allow us to do ads outside of the Longview area so we can reach further out into East Texas and bring more people into Longview.”

ArtsView Children’s Theatre is scheduled to receive $30,000 out of a total $192,780 in Hotel Occupancy Tax that will be divided among the city’s cultural arts organizations. The Longview City Council on May 13 will consider awarding grants from its 2020 Hotel Occupancy Tax funds to ArtsView, Gregg County Historical Museum, Longview Symphony League, East Texas Symphonic Band, Longview Ballet Theatre, Longview World of Wonders and Longview Museum of Fine Arts.

“It’s fantastic and it’s bringing us some much-needed relief,” LMFA Executive Director Tiffany Jehorek said. “We are so grateful for the city’s support of the arts.”

Each year, the city receives tax revenue from hotel and motel occupancy and distributes it as grants for community-based programs and activities intended to enrich local tourism and increase the local economy. In 2019, the city distributed $275,000 in funds to cultural arts organizations; that funding came from hotel occupancy tax revenues in fiscal year 2019.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed, or, in some cases, halted travel and tourism leading to a decrease in the number of people staying in local hotels and motels. Longview typically distributes HOT funds Oct. 1 when the city begins a new budget cycle; however, the city was unsure whether there would be enough funds to distribute in 2020.

As the fiscal year concluded, the decrease in Hotel Occupancy Tax was not as drastic as the city had anticipated, so the city made funding available this spring to arts organizations.

Organizations must submit an application for the funds and explain how the money would be used. The city’s Cultural Arts Advisory Commission reviewed the applications and, in April, made recommendations for how the funds should be distributed. The City Council must approve the proposals at its May 13 meeting.

“We were just excited that we were able to offer some funding support for this grant cycle,” said Dietrich Johnson, the city’s assistant director of community services administration. “I know it’s tremendously helped our cultural arts groups as everybody tried to survive to the pandemic.”

The cultural arts organizations typically use the funds to help underwrite costs associated with promoting and marketing events to encourage tourism in Longview, Johnson explained.

Grant recipients must use the funds by Sept. 30, he said. The city hopes to resume its typical funding cycle this year to award grants again in the fall; however, that is based on seeing a “trend of normalcy occurring in terms of visitors and hotel stays,” Johnson said.

The proposed grant recipients have a variety of events planned for which funding will be used for marketing.

Gregg County Historical Museum is slated to receive $25,000, which among other things with help promote the Landmarks of Longview architectural home tour in September.

A proposal shows Longview Symphony League would receive the top amount of funding at $48,500. The symphony plans to use funds to help promote its Magic of Harry Potter concert in August as well as for tourist cards and season promotional brochures.

LMFA, which is on tap to get $30,000, will help use the funds to underwrite marketing efforts for such exhibitions as the upcoming display from Dallas collector Stan Graff’s private collection. The exhibit will feature a collection of early Texas art.

East Texas Symphonic Band is set to receive $18,710 to assist with costs associated with its planned spring concert, set May 24 at the Teague Park Amphitheatre.

Longview Ballet Theatre plans to use its $13,720 grant to create a promotional video to mark its 50th season.

Longview World of Wonders, the city’s children’s museum, plans to use a $26,850 grant to assist with promoting its exhibits.

ArtsView Children’s Theatre will use funds to help promote its two summer shows, “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” and “Disney’s Mulan Jr.”