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Mack 'cautiously optimistic' as city awaits amphitheater feasibility results

By Jimmy Isaac
March 20, 2017 at 10 p.m.

Mayor Andy Mack gives the State of the City address, on Wednesday September 28, 2016, during the State of the City luncheon at Pinecrest Country Club. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Results of a study to determine the feasibility of building an amphitheater near I-20 in South Longview remain a month away — and city leaders say that means it's too early to start a land grab.

Regardless, word early this year that Longview and economic development officials were considering construction of an 8,000- to 10,000-seat venue on as much as 60 acres along Interstate 20 has led to speculation about where it might be built — and recently to an understanding it could wind up at least partly in Harrison County.

"They're looking at property all over the I-20 corridor," Longview Mayor Andy Mack said Monday. "I know that there are a couple of tracts out there that would be suitable, but to my knowledge no contract has been executed."

Clarity on such issues will have to wait, officials said, as completion of the feasibility study engineered and paid for by the Longview Economic Development Corp. has been delayed. Original plans called for it to be delivered a few weeks ago, but a late start and additions to the study's scope have changed that. It "will probably be finished the end of April," LEDCO Board Chairwoman Peggy Vaughan said Monday.

The economic development corporation contracted with Fort Worth-based Freese & Nichols consultants in mid-January for a $50,000 study that was expected to be completed in about seven weeks. Consultants initiated the study in February, however, Vaughan said. Also, LEDCO and the consultants expanded the scope to more deeply analyze economic impact from an amphitheater, and that will further extend the study.

Study is key

Its results will be necessary to guide the next steps, including its location, said City Councilwoman Kasha Williams, who represents much of the area being considered.

"The consultants will come back, make their recommendations to us before we commit to a facility of that magnitude," said Williams, who also is part of a city committee working to develop a small area plan for the I-20 corridor.

Estes Parkway forms the southern boundary between Councilwoman Nona Snoddy's District 2 to the southwest and Williams' District 3 to the east. Both councilwomen represent the I-20 corridor that cuts across the edge of South Longview.

Snoddy said Monday she, too, was waiting for the study before deciding what further steps should be taken.

The city's Comprehensive Plan, which was approved in 2015, set goals for Longview's south side and the Interstate 20 corridor. It noted the city "has not fully exploited its location" on I-20 and that redevelopment along the interstate at Estes Parkway could enhance the community's economic competitiveness — if the right strategies and resources are applied. Separately, it also recommended a feasibility study for additional event space, though it didn't specify a location.

"If it's done out there in South Longview on the I-20 corridor, that meets the Comprehensive Plan initiatives," Mack said.

Crossing the border

Williams said she would be open to the idea of building a venue in Harrison County, which is across South Eastman Road from Longview City Council District 3.

Harrison County Judge Hugh Taylor and Pct. 3 Commissioner Phillip Mauldin, who represents that area across the county line, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

But Williams said working with Harrison County would be nothing new.

"The City of Longview has many initiatives that extend into Harrison County due to its close proximity," she said. "From that perspective, it would depend on the type of memorandum of understanding or interlocal agreement we would establish for that type of partnership. For the most part, this is a City of Longview project."

Snoddy said she would prefer the city reap the tax and economic benefit from an entertainment venue rather than the neighboring county.

"If we're talking about revitalizing, certainly we would want to see things occurring in the city limits of Longview," she said, "but hopefully generate some revenue for the city in the long run."

The Longview City Council adopted the Comprehensive Plan in March 2015. It culminated from 18 months of public meetings, surveys and conversations with civic clubs, schools, neighborhood groups and subcommittees led by an ad-hoc task force.

The plan set the following main goals:

  • Focus on commercial and retail development along Interstate Highway 20 to help spur redevelopment in south Longview.

  • Develop gateway and main corridor standards and themes that generate a positive first impression.

  • Provide for full utilization of existing vacant land except in those areas designated as open space.

The plan also recommends that Longview annex more than 2,000 acres along Interstate 20 — almost entirely in Harrison County. It's an area described in the plan as "some of the best potential for Longview in the near future."

"The City has a limited amount of frontage remaining along Interstate Highway 20 to expand," the plan says. "Many areas to the west are in the floodplain or impacted by the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Kilgore and other cities. This area north of the Eastman plant should be one of the higher priority areas for expansion. In addition to being high visibility frontage, it also could be an area for more industrial or high technology corporate offices. Both of these types of land uses need larger acreage, access to freeways and possibly railroad."

LEDCO directors are scheduled to have their regular monthly meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but Vaughan said the agenda includes no action regarding the amphitheater or the study.

Mack said he was looking forward to its results.

"I am still cautiously optimistic," he said.

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