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After leading Prop 1 push, Go West Longview turns to development

By Richard Yeakley
May 18, 2013 at 11 p.m.

A year after its formation, a grassroots group is ready to build on its successes - literally.

Go West Longview is aiming to make parts of the Greggton and Pine Tree areas pedestrian-friendly shopping destinations as the group moves ahead with its long-term mission of boosting economic development on the city's west side.

"We started strategizing a year and a half ago," said Kimberly Fish, the group's president. "We set some pretty lofty goals ... One year later we have accomplished all those goals and more."

Most recent was this past week's passage by voters of a proposition to allow beer and wine sales across Longview, an effort the group said would help attract retailers to the area. Go West also convinced Longview's state representative to propose a likely-to-be passed measure naming U.S. 80 through the area a historic road and helped organize city personnel, Pine Tree ISD volunteers and neighborhood residents to clean up Birdie Park.

The next phase of the group's efforts is development.

"We are going be leaning heavily to see new development, what we call intentional or smart development," Fish said.

To make that happen, Go West is considering forming another new organization to help guide and finance west-side redevelopment, she said. That could be either a non-profit or for-profit organization - "we haven't quite got that nailed down" - that would begin purchasing and marketing properties for redevelopment.

"Go West is by definition a grassroots group, we have no money," Fish said. "A separate entity needs to be created to guide redevelopment efforts along Highway 80."

Areas first on the list are the Lear Park corridor and former downtown Greggton, the area near the intersection of Marshall Avenue and Loop 281.

"We want to see where that shopping center is on Highway 80, the Greggton shopping center, re-purposed and kind of flipped, reoriented towards the back and see that whole triangle become a destination component for the city and fill a niche that we don't currently have in the city for urban properties," Fish said. "It would become that boutique, bistro environment that draws people there, that is walker friendly."

The group has said development of a new Pine Tree Stadium, a $20 million facility set to open later this year, will stimulate growth around Cotton Street and Loop 281 near Lear Park, adding more dining and lodging choices.

But not everyone is as positive that change can come to Greggton.

Jim Martin, who has owned and operated Jim's Trim Barber Shop for 42 years, said property owners in the area pose the largest hurdle to redevelopment.

"The only way it would happen would be if someone bulldozed it and started over, and that's not going to happen," he said.

Martin's business sits on Pine Tree Road just south of Marshall Avenue, in the triangle where Go West Longview sees redevelopment opportunity.

While he said he wouldn't mind seeing some new development across West Longview, the people in the area are, in general, not interested in buying, selling or developing, Martin said.

He added that he does not believe Go West Longview has been reaching out in the way it should if members are serious about redevelopment.

"I don't know them, but it seems to me they are after something to put on their resume," Martin said. "If you really want to develop, you have to get all the property owners together, hear their ideas and see what they want."

Martin said to his knowledge, such a meeting has not been conducted.

Longview District 1 Councilman John Sims, whose district has been most directly affected by the work of Go West Longview, sees things differently.

"They have a lot of plans, and I am looking forward to see what they do. They are trying to get business out here, to be able to build the Pine Tree school district tax base, and we need it in the worst way," he said. "I can't emphasize strongly enough how much good they have done for West Longview in the past couple of years. You didn't hear about them, but they surfaced, and now they have surfaced in a big way. I expect great things from them, because they are just that good."

Sims is so delighted by the work done by Go West Longview that he paid Fish, and her organization, one of the highest compliments a sitting councilman can.

"I just wish Kimberly lived here in my district, so she could take over when I leave in two years," Sims said.



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