Gregg County to buy parking lot, bank building to ease parking shortage

Regions Bank parking garage. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Gregg County took a critical step Monday toward expanded parking near its courthouse and will start over in its quest for vestibules at the courthouse entryways.

The target location for expanded parking is the former Regions Bank motor bank and parking lot properties in the southeast corner of Methvin and Center streets in downtown Longview.

County commissioners are seeking professional designs for a proposed parking facility. During its regular meeting, the court voted unanimously to request qualified design firms to enter bids.

The winning firm will provide architectural design and other services to construct a parking facility. Bids will be accepted from 8:30 this morning until 5 p.m. Nov. 1.

On Nov. 5, all submitted bids will be opened inside the Commissioners Courtroom at the Gregg County Courthouse, Purchasing Director Kelli Davis said.

The multimillion-dollar parking facility, if built, would likely be multiple stories high and handle as many as 300 vehicles and also provide space for other county offices, commissioners have said. The court secured engineering services for the potential project last month.

Gregg County has looked at alleviated parking for the public and employees for more than 40 years and also analyzed additional office space needs in the courthouse for the past 15 years, according to the court. A 2015 study by the county recommended a multilevel parking facility with the option of added office space to alleviate any concerns for the next 20 to 30 years.

“Gregg County would like to design and build a multilevel parking facility with office space on the ground floor on a parcel approximately 215 feet by 155 feet,” according to the request from Davis. “The parking facility should aesthetically blend with existing buildings in the immediate downtown area.”

Last year, the county spent $1.249 million for the former motor bank and parking sites south of the courthouse, a move that added more than 50 additional parking spaces.

After the county’s purchase, Regions Bank leased the properties from two partnerships — Metlot Partners and 213 Investments LLC — since March 2018 while it built a new branch location on West Marshall Avenue.

The branch location opened earlier this month, so the Commissioners Court agreed Monday with the termination of those lease agreements.

In other courthouse matters, commissioners agreed to reject all bids for installing vestibules at courthouse entryways and starting the process again.

The county received two bids for the vestibules project, but a change was made to the county’s request order, which led at least one of the contractors to withdraw its bid, Davis said.

Commissioners also reappointed Dr. Lewis Browne as the county’s local health authority with a two-year contract. Browne will receive $75,000 a year in salary to furnish medical services as an independent contractor to the Gregg County Health Department.

They also joined the Texas Indigent Health Care Association, agreeing to an annual membership fee of $200 and appointing County Health Department Administrator A.J. Harris as its county representative with the association.

In other county business, Thomas Visage was appointed to the Gregg County Emergency Services District No. 1 board, replacing Phil Thacker, who resigned last month “to enjoy his retirement,” board president David Funderburk said. The court approved the appointment.

Commissioners also agreed to provide county funding in fiscal year 2020 to West Harrison Volunteer Fire Department, East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Family Promise of Longview Inc., Greater Longview United Way Inc., SeeSaw Children’s Place, Martin House Children’s Advocacy Center Inc., East Texas Literacy Council, Community HealthCore and Kilgore Rescue Unit.

A $103,000 budget for the County Organized Drug Enforcement Unit was acknowledged by commissioners.

Expected expenses in 2019-20 include $25,000 for confidential and buy money, $60,000 for capital items and $18,000 for travel and training, electronics and other equipment and office, operations and support supplies, according to a report from Sheriff Maxey Cerliano.

The unit entered the fiscal year with a $425,021 beginning fund balance and is estimating awarded seizures this year at $30,000, the sheriff said.

The court also acknowledged an $11,500 expense budget for the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office State Asset and Forfeiture Account as proposed by Cerliano. The budget includes $2,000 for drug education.

At the East Texas Regional Airport, the sale of a leasehold hangar facility from Martin Product Sales LLC to GMax American Aircraft LLC was approved by commissioners.

GMax is paying $4,739.90 in annual rent for the 43,090-square-foot lot with a commercial aircraft hangar, Airport Director Roy Miller said. The water utility payment is $420, and the current lease expires Oct. 31, 2021, but comes with two five-year extensions.

Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.