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Longview convention center in works; facility planned in I-20 corridor

By Richard Yeakley
Feb. 14, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Long-awaited plans for a Longview convention center came into focus Thursday night, with City Council members authorizing negotiations with a developer for construction of a hotel and conference center.

Chuck Ewings, assistant city manager, said he received instructions during the council's executive session to proceed with talks with the developer and owner of the property.

Ewings declined to name the developer the council is negotiating with or the specific site being considered. However, he did say the property is in the Interstate 20 corridor.

Ewings said the proposed hotel and conference center would be built through a public-private partnership, with the developer building a hotel and the city footing the bill for the center.

"It is good timing as the economy is recovering. We have had a discussion about a conference center since 2007. The council discussed at that time whether to have a bond election to build it," Ewings said. "Our goal is to build something that would accommodate a 1,000-person banquet with seven breakout rooms and a full-service restaurant and bar."

City spokesman Shawn Hara said the idea for the conference center is a goal that was part of the city's Vision 2010 plan.

Hara said the Convention and Visitor's Bureau sent out requests for proposals for the project, and the city examined two potential proposals, settling on the developer approved Thursday by the City Council.

"The I-20 corridor is the best place to build right now in Longview to get the best bang for the buck," said Branden Johnson, president of the Longview NAACP, about the potential construction of the center in South Longview. "Yes it will be a boon, not just for South Longview, but for all of Longview. ... I just don't see a major business coming to town without being near that major thoroughfare."

Ewings said a part of the negotiation would be to examine the cost and scope of the project, and the city has not decided how to finance it.

The center, if accepted, might require a bond election, or it could be paid for through hotel occupancy tax revenue, Ewings said.

"It is also to be built in the reinvestment zone, so, we have that to access for repayment," Ewings said.

The consideration of construction of the conference center also corresponds with the institution of the mayor's I-20 Task Force, which has been charged with building revenue through renovation and redevelopment of the area surrounding Estes Parkway and I-20.



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