While Mother Nature brought destruction this year, projects across Longview, including in downtown, brought new life and renovation.
Here are, in no order, the top 10 stories of 2019 in the Longview area.
Longview-area storms this year left record flooding, massive destruction and widespread power outages in their wake.
A storm March 14 destroyed as many as 10 homes in Kilgore with an additional 40 receiving “substantial damage,” Mayor Ronnie Spradlin said at the time. AEP-Southwestern Electric Power Co. said almost 9,300 customers lost electricity in East Texas, southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana.
Almost two months later, a storm May 2 in Longview dumped the most rain ever on that day — about 5 inches — based on records dating to 1902 and caused more than 2,700 homes and businesses to lose power, flooded roads and left motorists stranded, officials said.
And hurricane-force winds blew through portions of Longview on May 8, leaving destruction that in some cases has taken months of recovery.
More than 300 homes, businesses and other structures were damaged mostly in the central part of Longview but also in other areas of the city.
Among the damage was the steeple atop Oakland Heights Baptist Church on Judson Road.
Almost 45,000 electric utility customers in Gregg County lost power that day, and power wasn’t restored for many customers for several days, according to SWEPCO.
Downtown Longview activity
More businesses set up shop in downtown Longview in 2019, and two housing projects got underway.
Alibi Eatery & Craft Bar opened in April at 115 E. Tyler St., while Roma’s Italian Kitchen opened at 102 E. Tyler in July. Alibi’s owners later expanded into an adjoining building and renamed the combined business Alibi Eatery & Barcadia.
Downtown boosters saw the arrival of both establishments as an opportunity to draw more foot traffic downtown, especially on weekend evenings. They believe they complement existing Tyler Street establishments that are open at night: the Oil Horse Brewing Co. and Silver Grizzly Espresso.
Other small businesses opened downtown as well, replacing shops that closed. They include FirstLite Nutrition at 212 N. Fredonia St. and The Wright Threads, an athletic and casual apparel store, at 125 E. Tyler St.
And construction projects to bring apartment housing downtown made progress in 2019. The 65-year-old Petroleum Building on Whaley Street is being transformed into workplace and market-rate housing, while work has started to turn historical Heritage Tower on Green Street into a mix of 36 apartment homes for senior residents 55 or older as well at least 2,500 square feet of commercial, retail and office space.
Longview police officers were cleared in two cases of officer-involved shootings in 2019, one of which killed a suspect.
A Gregg County grand jury in early October found officers Jason Kelley and John Collier justified in fatally shooting Detravian Allison, 18, on Aug. 7 at an apartment complex on Pine Tree Road. On the day the grand jury announced its decision, Longview police released a video that showed Allison raising a handgun toward officers before being shot.
The incident occurred 20 minutes after police responded at 10:40 a.m. to a business in the 400 block of West Loop 281 regarding a criminal trespass, Police Chief Mike Bishop said. Allison and another man, who fled, were in a stolen vehicle at the time of the shooting.
In another case, Longview officers Doug Brinkley, Armondo Juarezortega, Jonathan Wolf and Kerry Higginbotham were cleared in the July 28 shooting of homicide suspect Kenneth Earl Thomas Jr., who survived.
Rehab hospital opening
Everest Rehabilitation Hospital Longview took its first patients in July at its facility at 701 E. Loop 281.
Everest Longview CEO Bobby LaFleur said 55 to 60 people were working at the facility when it opened with plans to eventually have 120 on staff.
The 41,000-square-foot hospital has 36 private rooms along with amenities that include a cafeteria, an in-patient therapy room, therapy gym and underwater treadmill.
Plans for the hospital were initially announced in November 2016 when Mark Coleman, owner/broker of Park Village Properties, reported plans to sell about 6 acres to Everest.
Everest co-founder Jay Quintana said at the time, “Our goal is to bring this service to the residents of Longview so they don’t have to travel out of the area for physical rehabilitation, occupational therapy and speech therapy.”
Waffle Shoppe redevelopment
In June, developers went public about what had been a nearly two-year discussion with city of Longview officials about redeveloping the former Waffle Shoppe restaurant site at the corner of West Marshall Avenue and Spur 63.
A potential tenant later identified as Starbucks was interested in a $2 million project at the site provided that a three-sided billboard was removed. However, a proposal from developers and the billboard’s owner didn’t meet requirements of the city’s ordinances regarding billboards and was later rejected by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
After talks between developers, city officials and Mayor Andy Mack, amendments to the sign ordinances were proposed and approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and later the City Council.
Earlier this month, the Waffle Shoppe structure, which had been closed since September 2016, was demolished. The billboard’s owner, Louisiana-based Lamar Cos., is working with the city’s Development Services division to get permitting that will allow the company to add digital signs in Longview in exchange for removing the three-sided billboard.
Marshall Avenue changes
Along with the demolition of the former Waffle Shoppe building, other properties along Marshall Avenue in Longview were torn down or redeveloped this year.
In November, the Globe Inn was demolished several months after the former American Dream Inn was torn down. Both East Marshall Avenue motels were former icons of Longview hospitality that had become magnets for crime, according to authorities.
A former Jack in the Box restaurant across the street from the Waffle Shoppe was redeveloped into a Regions Bank branch, and Zippy J’s opened its second convenience store at the corner of East Marshall Avenue and Eastman Road.
Meanwhile, Mayor Andy Mack said that he is interested in creating an East Marshall Avenue entryway into Teague Park.
Cultural district designation
On Sept. 5, after more than a year of meetings, application and preparation by a local task force, the Texas Commission on the Arts approved Longview for a cultural district designation.
Cultural districts are special zones that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization. They can become focal points for generating businesses, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development and fostering civic pride, according to information at arts.texas.gov .
The Arts!Longview district officially opened Oct. 10 with a community celebration that coincided with ArtWalk. A ceremony took place inside the former Guarantee Bank/Regions Bank building in which the district has offices.
Earlier this month, Arts!Longview announced that Cynthia Hellen would serve as its executive director effective Jan. 2. Hellen retired in November as senior director of the Belcher Center at LeTourneau University.
Longview ISD charter schools
Longview ISD opened six charter campus in August operated by the nonprofit East Texas Advanced Academies. Those schools are East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, J.L. Everhart Elementary School, Bramlette STEAM Academy and Forest Park Magnet School.
The district is exploring converting its remaining campuses to charter schools and submitted a letter of intent to the Texas Education Agency and put out a call for partners to apply to run the remaining seven campuses.
The district hosted four town hall meetings on the possible move, and district officials previously said it is planning more.
The district’s application deadline to the TEA to convert remaining campuses to charter schools is March 31.
Dollar General distribution center
Dollar General this year opened its nearly 1 million-square-foot Longview warehouse with at least 100 full-time workers. It plans to increase employment annually to reach 400 mostly local workers by 2022.
The company broke ground on the $70 million facility on George Richey Road in February 2018.
The Longview Economic Development Corp. estimated an economic infusion from the project reaching $700 million over the next 25 years.
Massive power outage
A power outage in August that affected 85,000 East Texas customers of AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. was caused by an overload on part of the power grid after vegetation came into contact with two major power lines between Longview and Hallsville, utility officials said.
Most customers affected were in Longview, Marshall and the surrounding areas of Gregg and Harrison counties, but customers in nine counties, including Marion, Rusk and Upshur, all experienced outages.
The outage also was blamed for plant shutdowns at Eastman Chemical Co. south of Longview. Those shutdowns required the company to flare and burn a variety of gases and chemicals.