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Progress slow on I-20 Corridor Task Force recommendations

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 19, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Some members of the I-20 Corridor Task Force voiced frustration Thursday that three months after their recommendations were presented to the Longview City council, progress hasn't come as quickly as they'd hoped.

Robert Crawley, who throughout the 60-day process that ended in July argued the city should put teeth into its ordinances that address dilapidated properties and allow the city more control over the attractiveness of buildings, said Thursday he fears the work might "fade into memory."

"I think they have grand visions of things that could happen in that area. Right now, I would like to see some small victories. I just don't know if what they are trying to accomplish is ever going to materialize any time soon," Crawley said. "One item that was of particular interest to me, and we talked about it at about every meeting, was putting teeth into the city ordinances so they could deal with vacant property owners."

The task force presented six recommendations to the council aimed at attracting motorists on I-20 to stop in the city and promote what Dean called "organic growth."

The recommendations were:

<ul> <li>To remove and redevelop the former hotel at Interstate 20/Estes Parkway</li> <li>Improve the city's visibility along I-20.</li> <li>Consider location and size when evaluating feasibility of I-20 hotel/city conference center</li> <li>Create a small area plan to guide development and re-development.</li> <li>A destination retail/entertainment district is desired.</li> <li>Develop a Sabine River Urban Recreation Area.</li> <li>Long-term development of I-20 frontage is needed.</li> </ul>

Other task force members, such as Branden Johnson, said that while there has been progress, little of the headway made is visible to passers-by.

"I am kind of ambivalent, although they are moving forward and that was a great presentation on the hotel/conference center (presented Sept. 12)," Johnson said.

Johnson said he felt the city was not "fully engaged" in the area and it was on the "back burner."

"I drive by there every day, being on the task force you pay attention. Can I see difference? No. They are not visible yet, but I know that there are some things in the works," said Pete Lamothe.

He said he was excited to hear about the purchase of the former Holiday Inn property.

Others offered more praise for the progress being made.

Andrea Mayo, who is also a non-voting board member for the Longview Economic Development Corp., said she thought the city was keeping its "eye on the ball" when it came to I-20 corridor redevelopment.

"The council heard the report. They have considered our recommendations. Obviously, there was quite a few things that we asked the city to consider, and I think they have looked at those," Mayo said. "I feel like three months out, and obviously needing to figure out funding ... we have moved at least a step forward."

Joycelyne Fadojutimi said she believes the city will continue to talk about the recommendations as it considers the area.

"I think the city is moving accordingly," Fadojutimi said. "I think the talk will come, once the city breaks ground, then they will know that something new is happening ... I think at that time, you will need teeth into those ordinances."

The LEDCO board announced intentions to purchase, demolish, reclaim and resell the former Holiday Inn property that topped the task force's list of concerns.

LEDCO Executive Director Susan Mazarakes-Gill said this week that the board of directors may consider a contract for the demolition when it meets later this month.

On Sept. 12, the City Council heard the first proposal for a hotel conference center that was also discussed throughout the task force's mission.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said those two projects, along with preparing to develop a comprehensive plan, which would take into account many of the task force's other recommendations, are large priorities for the city.

"In focusing on the comprehensive plan and moving forward on that, we are including I-20 Corridor Task Force's recommendations and are evaluating, not just blight but redevelopment," Hara said.

District 3 Councilwoman Kasha Williams, who served as council liaison to the task force, said the projects being considered could catapult development forward.

"I think that we are on the right track in regard to progress. We still have other things to consider, but I do feel that we are on the right track."



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