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Longview group heads to convention with aim of selling I-20 corridor

By Richard Yeakley
May 18, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Making the Interstate 20 corridor and north and west neighborhoods as hot as fast-growing Northeast Longview is among the goals of a coalition heading to a shopping center industry conference this week.

The task could be aided by recent efforts in the city, said Diana Northcutt, retail development coordinator for the Longview Chamber of Commerce.

"A lot of times, (developers) want to be able to see there will be support, that as a community this is what we want," she said.

And the work of the city's I-20 Task Force, which has been making plans to boost development in South Longview, and passage of Proposition 1, which opened North and West Longview to beer and wine sales, send the right message, Northcutt said.

She and three others were scheduled to leave today for RECon, the big global real estate convention in Las Vegas. Hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, it is expected to draw more than 33,000 industry professionals from more than 1,000 companies, the council said. That will include more than 100 retailers.

In addition to Northcutt, Longview will be represented by City Manager David Willard, City Planner Michael Shirley, and Keith Honey, Longview Economic Development Corp. board president.

Though much of the city's recent growth has been in the northeast part of town, Northcutt said the group would not be as actively selling that area this time.

"That is progression. It is natural, and what really triggered that is the whole shopping center. Most retailers and restaurants want to go where other businesses already are successful," Northcutt said. "We still advertise that area, but we need to stabilize the market and promote the interstate."

To draw attention to the I-20 corridor, the group would seek to meet with companies whose expansion model focuses along interstates.

"We are pursuing those companies," Northcutt said. "We try to show them the number of cars and traffic ... they don't realize how big our market is. It is not just Longview. We are a retail trade hub for over 300,000 people, and we have buildings for sale."

While the group's main focus will be the I-20 corridor, Northcutt said this past week's passage of Proposition 1, which backers say will make North and West Longview more attractive to grocery and convenience stores, also would be a selling point

The inability to sell beer and wine in those areas "has been one of the issues for some of the grocery stores that we tried to recruit," Northcutt said of previous efforts. "That just gave them one more reason not to come."

Willard, who will be making his first trip to RECon, said it was appropriate the attention the city has been paying the corridor was seen in the push by chamber and LEDCO.

"The mayor and council feel like that is a definite area that has so much potential," he said. "Some of our largest industries - Eastman, Joy Global, LeTourneau University - are in this area. There is a lot of energy and synergy along the I-20 corridor, (and) if we can capitalize on that, that is a good thing."

The cost of the trip will be split between the Longview Chamber of Commerce and the city of Longview, city spokesman Shawn Hara said. While travel and food for Willard and Shirley may be supported by the city, the Chamber of Commerce will pay for lodging and registration for the conference.



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