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Plan revealed for South Longview conference center/hotel

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 12, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Council members got a first look Thursday at plans for a proposed conference center/hotel in South Longview, which as proposed would cost taxpayers more than $5 million.

While the council had plenty of questions for Kevin Hilchey, president and COO of Longview-based Lodging Host Hotel Corp., no decision for the next step of the building was made.

"This is the facility that we have determined can be built on this site. It would have 25,500 square feet of conference space, 10 break out spaces - three more than the city asked for - and meal service up to 1,000 people," Hilchey said.

The city and Lodging Host have worked with the Griggs Group, a Dallas-Fort Worth-based architectural firm, to create the first draft of the buildings that was presented Thursday.

<h3>First draft</h3>

The edifice, which would sit just west of the intersection of <a href=",-94.715774&spn=0.014016,0.023174&sll=31.168934,-100.076842&sspn=14.527443,23.730469&hnear=S+Eastman+Rd+%26+Estes+Pkwy,+Longview,+Gregg,+Texas+75603&t=m&z=16" target="_blank">U.S. 259 and South Estes Parkway</a> south of Interstate 20, would include a full-service Courtyard Marriott hotel with about 135 to 150 rooms.

Hilchey said the proposed price of about $5.5 million - plus costs for land and necessary road improvements next to the center - could change if the city chooses to add additional features.

"This will be the only full-service hotel in the market. It has a restaurant and bar facility and is able to service the hotel client with room service and also service the conference center," Hilchey said.

He said it would be the second Marriott-chain hotel in the city.

The conference space, however, would likely attract more visitors than the hotel could hold, causing spill over service to other I-20 corridor hotels.

"(If you have) 250 people, that is generally 250 in couples, and we have 135 to 150 rooms. We would not be able to accommodate all the guests," Hilchey said. He added that if the conference center is busy enough and requires more lodging space, there is room on the property to construct a second hotel.

A possible configuration of the conference center would focus on business training, which would bring guests to the area for longer periods of time and cause the hotel plans to be tweaked to include an extended stay component, he added.

"Required corporate training is something we are seeing in almost every aspect of business, from truck drivers to oil field workers. Those people are constantly looking for places to do those trainings," Hilchey said. "All that is part of what goes on in the next phase, determining what the stakeholders want."

City spokesman Shawn Hara said the proposed center has space near its main entrance that could be used as a city welcome facility.

Assistant to the City Manager Mary Ann Miller said the city would likely contract with Lodging Host Hotel Corp. and the hotel's manager, Kevin's son, Patrick, to oversee the convention center.

"The city would pay a management contract fee, and they would manage it for us," Miller said.

The Courtyard Marriott would have all of the traditional pieces of the hotel brand and would stand four stories tall on the east side of the conference center.

City officials have talked about a hotel conference center for about a decade

Hara said the idea for the center 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 Hilchey's property this spring.

<h3>Next step</h3>

Mayor Jay Dean said while there is interest in the development, one large question facing the City Council is how to fund the project.

Dean gave city staff about a 30-day time frame to look at financing options to present to the council for the city's cost of about $5.5 million and additional $500,000 or more for road work.

"Our next step has to be to going back to the table and doing our do diligence to look at how we pay for this. Because it is not in ... the interest of the city or the citizens of Longview for us to kick this thing around," Dean said at Thursday's council meeting. "My recommendation would be to move this forward ... I am going to suggest that staff comes back to council with a review of the different options that we have for funding, and then we up here decide how we are going to propose funding that so we can move the project forward."

Funding options discussed include drawing from the Hotel Occupancy Tax, using a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, issuing the debt as a certificate of obligation or seeking residents' vote on a general obligation bond.

<h3>Other hotel</h3>

At the same meeting, the City Council approved a planned development request from New Crest Image to build a five-story hotel with a conference center north of <a href=",-94.750262&sspn=0.056008,0.092697&hnear=E+Hawkins+Pkwy+%26+N+4th+St,+Longview,+Gregg,+Texas+75605&t=m&z=17" target="_blank">Hawkins Parkway near Fourth Street</a>.

City Planner Michael Shirley said the hotel would have 124 rooms.

The company was required to seek a planned development because a five-story tall building is traditionally not allowed on a general retail zoned property.

Shirley said because the facility also would offer 6,100 square feet in meeting rooms, city staff recommended approving the request.

The council unanimously approved the project, which will occupy 3.26 acres and connect with the Fourth Street extension.



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