Big step for city's arboretum

By Jimmy Daniell Isaac Reporter - Feb 23, 2018


Longview took a significant step Thursday in a "perfect public-private partnership" to make its arboretum dreams a 26-acre reality.

City Council members entered a memorandum of understanding with the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center.

The agreement guides maintenance, operations and financial responsibilities between the city and the nonprofit arboretum board for at least the next two years, said Parks and Recreation Director Scott Caron.

The agreement came more than a month later than arboretum supporters first hoped, but board members said the council's unanimous vote blossomed right on time.

"It's a tremendous relief, and we're so excited," said Suzanne Cook, fundraising chairwoman for the arboretum board.

Supporters have raised at least $1.7 million toward the facility's estimated $2.5 million construction cost. Cook expects construction along Grace Creek watershed near Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center to begin within a month as the board accepts contractor bids, she said.

"We had already known it was probably going to come, so we'll get to the bid as quickly as we can," Cook said. "Once people start to see the park bloom, we'll have a lot more money coming in."

ETM Consultants crafted the memorandum under a $75,000 consulting contract with the city — aided by a $25,000 donation from arboretum backers Bob and Dorothy Metzler.

Council members took several weeks mulling the finished memorandum to ensure it clarified that, once built, the facility would be owned only by the city and that it also clarified how the nonprofit board will cover any increased maintenance costs.

Satisfied council members were all smiles.

"Thank you very much for your hard work," said District 5 Councilman David Wright, "and I think it's going to be very great for the city."

District 1 Councilman Ed Moore recounted that the city, Gregg County, Longview Economic Development Corp., Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the arboretum board have each invested money, manpower or planning to a cause he said will be an asset to the community and its quality of life.

"As I've said a couple of times, this is a perfect public-private partnership," he said.

District 6 Councilman Steve Pirtle's son and daughter-in-law were married at an arboretum in Dallas, and Pirtle said he hopes the Longview facility is as much a desired attraction for his grandchildren as the Dallas Arboretum.

District 4 Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara, who made the motion to sign the agreement, told board members, "I just want to say thank you to the board who have gone out and raised so much money and been very patient."

In a statement, the arboretum board said, "Now, with a clear understanding of responsibilities and best practice, the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center board can begin the construction and cultivation process for turning undevelopable land into a destination point for locals and tourists in which to enjoy the natural beauty unique to East Texas."