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Longview conference center talks put on shelf

By Richard Yeakley
Jan. 16, 2014 at 10 p.m.

The city has ended negotiations with a local company to construct a private/public hotel/conference center south of Interstate 20, but the project isn't dead.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said the decision came after an executive session of the Longview council following Thursday's meeting.

"We are ending negotiations with Longview Innkeeper LLC," he said. "Our plan is we are going to basically take a moment and look at where we are and re-evaluate what the plan is moving forward. But, the council is still committed to the idea of the hotel/ conference center, and their desire is to see it along the I-20 corridor."

The city began negotiations with Longview Innkeeper in February. The company was one of two that responded to a request for proposals to build the collaborative structure.

The plan was for the city to build a 25,500-square-foot conference space that would be connected to a full-service Courtyard Marriott hotel with about 135 to 150 rooms owned and operated by the private company.

Kevin Hilchey, president and COO of Longview Innkeeper, which colloquially goes by Lodging Host Hotel Corp., previously said the conference center portion would cost about $5.5 million. The hotel portion was expected to cost about $14 million, according to a presentation by Hilchey before the City Council given in September.

The following month, Assistant to the City Manager Mary Ann Miller presented a funding option for the center that would draw from hotel occupancy taxes and would likely not require a taxpayer increase.

In the same meeting, the City Council agreed to move forward into the next phase of negotiations.

"What we will do as staff is go back to the drawing board and see what is the next step for what we want to do," Hara said. "There is no immediate time table on when we will do that, but we expect to start taking some steps on what will happen in the somewhat near future."

The construction of a hotel/conference center was one of the key suggestions made by the mayor's Interstate 20 Corridor Task Force when it met in the spring to consider ways to revitalize the area and draw traffic from the interstate into Longview.

Hilchey said there were several concerns associated with the project, including funding.

City staff declined Thursday to speak to specifics of where the negotiations had broken down.

"It is the overall agreement. We were making sure we could come to something that both sides feel were mutually beneficial," Hara said.



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