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Curtain appears to fall on event center

By Glenn Evans
Sept. 19, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Results of an informal public survey appeared to lower the curtain Monday on the likelihood of a Gregg County Event Center being built anytime soon.

"I've got to be candid," Commissioner Gary Boyd said. "I'm not so sure if we spend this kind of money for it that the people shouldn't have a more extensive voice than they've had before."

Boyd was reacting to survey results showing people want more than a modest, covered rodeo arena. Three out of four want a venue for concerts, which means air conditioning which means a $20 million facility, at least.

Initial projections, which County Judge Bill Stoudt and the commissioners were mulling, put the 4,500-seat venue at $10 million to $15 million.

"That number is way beyond what we talked about up here," Stoudt said of the higher price.

Stoudt said after Monday's meeting the $20 million estimate did not include some support projects such as a 200-stall pen estimated to add another $2 million.

The survey, conducted since mid-summer online and in a Longview News-Journal insert, asked respondents 17 questions about themselves and the events they expect a multi-use facility to host.

At 232 out of 303 people responding, concerts drew the most support at nearly 77 percent.

A rodeo home, a site for fundraisers, a farmers market and sports venue drew the most votes after concerts, each drawing about 51 percent in favor.

More than 63 percent of respondents, 194 out of 306, said today's arena facilities are not comfortable or safe for spectators and animals.

After the meeting, Stoudt said the county is poised to contribute some $11 million to Texas Department of Transportation improvements on several highways and arteries. Those include extending George Richey Road from Gilmer Road east to U.S. 259 (North Eastman Road), improvements to Texas 42 south of Interstate 20 and safety improvements including turn lanes on the Kilgore Bypass.

Stoudt also said the county also should invest in some kind of downtown Longview parking facility for the the public and courthouse workers. He finally noted the rodeo arena at the Longview Fairgrounds is 70 years old.

"It's an unsafe facility," Stoudt said. "It needs to be torn down, it needs to be replaced."

The event center is not part of the county's annual budget that takes effect Oct. 1. The spending plan for fiscal 2011-12 shows $31 million in unrestricted reserves, of which Stoudt said $12 million must be safeguarded for emergencies.

And after the highway projects, that will leave about $6 million which remains short of even the lower, $10 million estimate. The city and county were in talks over who would spend how much in building and operating the facility.

Stoudt said it's possible an increase in local hotel/motel taxes, enacted for the city by state legislators this past spring, could provide a growing fund that might be tapped for an event center in the future.

In other action Monday, commissioners extended the county's burn ban.

The action came after Fire Marshal David Kidder reported wildfires that began on Sept. 4 are contained. Kidder added that fire crews continue working on "hot spots" within those fires.

He said two investigators were out probing causes for the blazes Monday morning.

Kidder also reported that Sunday night rains did little to lower the risk of wildfire as drought-dried vegetation remains an abundant fuel source.

"You give it a couple of days and those dead fuels will dry out," Kidder said, before Sheriff Maxey Cerliano added that his office continues to get about 50 calls a day related to fires.

"Whether you believe it or not, people are still burning," the sheriff said.



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