by Christina Cavazos
Big things are on the horizon for Longview residents in 2021 as the city looks toward public safety, parks, street and business development projects aimed at improving the quality of life for the community.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the City of Longview and the Longview Economic Development Corporation (LEDCO) each embarked on projects to help the community grow.
In 2020, the city made progress on numerous projects that taxpayers approved through a 2018 bond election. Soon, Longview residents will see progress on a new police station, expansions and renovations at fire stations, street upgrades and park improvements.
Meanwhile, LEDCO officials negotiated performance contracts with long-standing businesses to help them expand facilities and create job opportunities in the city.
The City of Longview began work in 2020 on many projects that are certain to enhance residents’ lives and the community in 2021 and the years to come.
City of Longview taxpayers voted in favor of a $104.2 million bond election in 2018. The bond included plans for many projects in the spheres of public safety, streets and parks improvements. In 2020, the city began working on several of those projects.
In public safety, the city began work on constructing a new police department and renovations and additions at Fire Station No. 5.
The $33.4 million bond project to replace the existing Longview Police Department will allow the facility to expand to accommodate growth for the next 35 years.
The existing facility was built in 1977 when the department had 82 employees. In 2018, when voters approved the bond election, the police department had 234 employees working in the 31,000-square-foot building. Over the years, closet and storage areas were converted into office spaces and the city has been forced to rent out additional buildings to accommodate the police force.
The new police station will be a three-story, 74,300-square-foot facility that will feature a larger space for dispatch services, evidence storage, patrol offices, more conference rooms, office space, an investigations division and an exercise room. It is being designed to accommodate growth of up to 296 employees.
In October of 2020, the Longview City Council awarded a construction contract for the new police department. Construction is slated to begin in early 2021, though residents saw some preliminary site work take place in 2020. Construction is anticipated to last approximately two years.
“The new police station is going to be a state-of-the-art facility designed specifically for police operations. Once completed it will provide spacing for all members of the department to be housed in one facility along with providing for 35 years of growth as our city continues to grow,” Police Chief Mike Bishop said. “With technology continually advancing, it will help us advance our technology so that we can better address community concerns when addressing crime related issues.”
Also in October of 2020, the city broke ground on a project at Longview Fire Station No. 5. The $5.3 million project, approved during the 2018 bond election, includes a significant expansion and renovation at the facility. Originally built in 1985, Fire Station No. 5 will be modernized while constructing 10,208 square feet of new space and renovating 5,373 square feet of the existing station.
Construction is anticipated to take about a year. Once completed, it will allow the fire station to expand its staffing from a maximum of eight people to at least 12 employees. It will create three new bays, as well as a kitchen, living space and bunk rooms for employees. It also adds outdoor dining and recreational areas for personnel, and it will consolidate water rescue special operations into a single facility.
Fire Station No. 5 is one of three fire stations that will receive updates as a result of the 2018 bond election. Work at the other stations is anticipated during the coming years. Longview Fire Chief J.P. Steelman said the improvements will set up Longview Fire Department to accommodate future growth of the city.
“The three stations receiving upgrades were built during an era with smaller fire apparatus size. In particular, the length and height of fire apparatus have continued to evolve, which made it challenging for the stations to accommodate the scope of our many areas of emergency operation,” Steelman explained.
The stations will be constructed with flexibility to accommodate future operations, such as expanded EMS coverage.
“The ‘connectivity’ of our stations with one another in terms of producing a balanced and timely response to 9-1-1 is paramount for the success of all emergency response,” Steelman added. “The new stations will also be more accommodating for mixed-gender crews which was of little consequence in the 1970s and early-1980s with a male dominated public safety workforce.”
In the 2018 bond election, voters also approved $27 million for street improvements. While most street projects are planned for later years, in 2020 the City of Longview began work on reconfiguring the intersection of High Street, Mobberly Avenue and Estes Parkway. Residents should expect to see more work on that project in 2021.
The $3.3. million bond project to reconfigure the intersection calls for Mobberly Avenue to make a ‘T’ into High Street. The existing intersection meets in a ‘Y’ fashion as Estes Parkway currently splits with Mobberly Avenue veering to the right and High Street to the left.
The bond project also includes the extension of Millie Street to Mobberly Avenue and adds an entryway monument to the intersection along with landscaping to help welcome visitors to Longview.
Meanwhile, City of Longview parks also began to see improvements in 2020 as a result of the 2018 bond election. Scott Caron, Director of Parks and Recreation, said the community’s Comprehensive Plan included a focus on quality of life particularly as it related to the city’s parks system.
“A consistent theme was to take care of what you have. When we began looking at potential projects for a bond issue, that is where we started. We wanted to complete master plans and maintain or improve our existing parks,” Caron said. “What our residents will receive is upgraded playground equipment, additional athletic fields and accessible parks and trails. They will be able to enjoy these on a daily basis, while also drawing visitors to Longview for athletic tournaments and events.”
The $24.7 million worth of improvements to Longview’s parks system include updates to Lear Park, Broughton Recreation Center, Lois Jackson Park, McWhorter Park, Patterson Park, Spring Creek Park, Stamper Park, Womack Field, Rollins Park and Spring Hill Park. Bond plans also include updates to the Longview Arboretum and Cargill Long Trail.
In 2020, the City of Longview began work at many of the parks. At Lear Park, $7.7 million in improvements include adding two new softball fields, two new baseball fields, converting two soccer fields to artificial turf and adding lighting to two soccer fields.
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According to Caron (although 2020 was an exception), over the past five years Lear Park has hosted an average of 44 tournaments, drawing more than 20,000 unique visitors and more than 5,000 hotel room nights while generating more than
$4 million in economic impact. All that in addition to local league play, which involves about 2,000 youth annually.
Also in 2020, the city started work at Lois Jackson, McWhorter, Patterson, Spring Creek and Stamper parks along with Womack Field.
At Lois Jackson Park, plans include replacing the existing playground and pavilion and installing a new playground, pavilion and restroom. At McWhorter Park, the project includes improving the parking, replacing a playground and installing a new one, installing a sand volleyball court, renovating the existing basketball court and constructing a new basketball court. Patterson Park will see site and parking lot improvements, accessibility and an upgraded playground. Plans at Spring Creek Park include updating the trail, adding shade, replacing the playground and installing a restroom.
Meanwhile, Stamper Park and Womack Field will receive more dramatic improvements. On the Stamper Park side, the City of Longview is replacing the existing pavilion, installing a new pavilion and moving the basketball courts. There will be increased parking for Womack Field, a new entry and concession building will be constructed, and football fields will be properly graded.
At the Longview Arboretum, the city is adding three pergolas, additional parking, entry kiosks and lighting. That work is in addition to prior 2018 bond improvements that included additional landscaping, trail lighting and a bathroom at the Arboretum. “Our diverse park system provides something for everyone whether it is enjoying the landscape on a park bench, strolling along the many trails or competing on a competitive field,” Caron said.
Bond projects weren’t the only work that took place in the City of Longview in 2020. Construction started on the Longview Skatepark, which was funded by both the city and community donations, and the city began improvements on Guthrie Trail to connect Paul Boorman Trail to the Cargill Long Trail.
Funded in part by LEDCO and in part by a grant, the Guthrie Trail project connects Fourth Street to Delwood Drive, then from Delwood Drive to Eden Drive in a portion that has existed for years. In 2020, the city did work on the next extension designed to connect Eden Drive to Judson Road. That particular part of the expansion involves extending the trail underneath Judson Road to connect it to Guthrie Park.
In future years, additional phases of the trail will involve connecting it to McCann Road by going underneath McCann. From there, the trail will connect to the Paul Boorman Trail.
“When it’s all said and done, you’ll have 10 miles of continuous trail into Paul Boorman,” said Shawn Hara, media and tourism manager for the City of Longview.
Residents can expect to see more work on City of Longview projects in 2021, intended to help strengthen the city for the future while also improving the quality of life for its residents.
Working in cooperation with site selection consultants, facility managers, developers, realtors and property owners, LEDCO is the central information source for all development in the City of Longview, Gregg County and the surrounding region.
As such a leader in the business community, when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the community in the spring of 2020, LEDCO officials hit the ground running to check in on local businesses. By the summer of 2020, LEDCO had approved contracts with
businesses for expansion projects that will create jobs for the community. LEDCO’s grassroots efforts in 2020 are further setting the stage for even more business development in 2021 and the years beyond, as the organization continues on its mission to diversify and expand the economy of Longview to provide the highest level of job opportunity and quality of life to Longview residents.
Amanda Hlozek, LEDCO’s Marketing and Communications Director, said officials launched into action by placing information on its website for employers. Messages from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office as well as information about assistance, such as Paycheck Protection Program loans, were placed on LEDCO’s website. Additionally, the organization sent frequent emails with information to the business community, she said.
Kelly Overby, LEDCO’s Business Retention and Expansion Director, said the emails were intended, in part, to remind business leaders that LEDCO was available to help in any way needed. “Our goal is always to stay in touch with existing businesses and to know what’s going on in our community,” Overby said.
As lockdown restrictions began to ease up in the summer of 2020, Overby and LEDCO Vice President Diana Velazquez decided to go out into the business community and knock on doors. In June and July, they visited more than 150 businesses, including mom-and-pop shops, international firms and everything in between. Each day, they would visit a local bakery to purchase cookies that they then took to each business to hand out to its employees. “We wanted to just go out and remind the companies that we are here and that we appreciate them,” Overby said. “We also wanted to get a pulse for what they were experiencing.”
They asked questions such as whether businesses were experiencing layoffs, receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans or having any difficulties finding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The response, they said, was overwhelmingly positive. “They felt like someone was looking out for them,” Velazquez said. The industrial companies were considered “essential businesses,” so they did not have to shut down, Velazquez said. While many diversified how they did business during the 2020 pandemic, few experienced layoffs or furloughs, she said. “For us, it was interesting because we got to see widgets from industrial paint to vinyl decals, to Komatsu who does front end loaders, all the way to a company who installs cell towers. That is all made right here in Longview,” Velazquez said. “We realized the diversity of our economy more so than any other time, because we were boots on the ground visiting these companies and seeing how they were doing.”
Another benefit, they said, was that they were able to hand out information about LEDCO and its services to all the businesses – some of whom had never heard of the organization before.
“Our community is strong and we pulled together,” Overby said. “As LEDCO moves forward, we have to just continue those relationships with businesses to know what’s going on in the community. We have great companies here, and they work really hard for their employees. Their people are their biggest asset.”