Editor’s note: Coming Sunday is a profile about R.W. Fair.
The downtown Fair Plaza parking garage is officially open to the public.
An estimated 150 people gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate the grand opening of the garage, at 208 S. College Ave.
During the event, chimes could be heard from the garage’s clock, and speakers talked about the project, as well as the clock and the R.W. Fair Foundation, which donated the land for the parking garage.
Additionally, a statue of R.W. Fair, sculpted by Cherry Day and Jim Day, was unveiled and a ribbon cutting took place.
Toward the beginning of the event, City Manager Mark McDaniel noted that the Smith County Historical Society donated clock faces from the old 1909 Smith County Courthouse for the parking garage project.
The clocks went to Americlock in St. Louis, Missouri, where parts of the four original clocks from the 1909 courthouse were made into two complete clocks, according to a news release. Lexan replaced the broken glass, and new digital clocks replaced the inner workings, the news release states.
“For nearly half a century, the citizens of Tyler set their watches by the courthouse clock,” City of Tyler Facility Services Supervisor Gary Smith said in a news release. “And now it will be available for their grandchildren to use when they come downtown too.”
The pendant light above the R.W. Fair statue, which hung in the old 1909 Smith County Courthouse, was also donated by the Smith County Historial Society.
“So, lots of history here. … It’s not just a parking garage,” City Manager Mark McDaniel told attendees Wednesday.
Construction on the Fair Plaza parking garage began in August 2013.
City Engineer Carter Delleney said the city entered into a construction manager at risk contract with Manhattan Construction, which built the project and worked with Walker Parking Consultants/Engineers Inc., Butler Architectural Group and Ballard and Braughton Engineering. Various city departments and other local contractors also were involved in the project.
“It’s something that ... definitely the community was involved in,” Delleney said.
The parking garage was primarily paid for by half-cent sales tax revenue. It features four levels, including the ground level, as well as 384 parking spaces.
Delleney said components from the Blackstone Hotel, Tyler Commercial College, the clock tower from the old Smith County Courthouse and other former landmarks were incorporated into the garage project.
He said the structure is about 6,000 cubic yards of concrete, which equates to about 22 million pounds of concrete, and the tower crane used to construct the project was about 175 feet tall.
“Rest assured this building is sturdy, and we look forward to it staying and functioning well on into the future,” he said.
Delleney added, “We’re excited about this project. We’re excited for us to open the doors and let people utilize it. This will be a huge asset for the City of Tyler and the downtown area.”
Mayor Martin Heines said the half-cent program has afforded the community with solid financial principles to be able to do projects like the parking garage.
And Barbara Bass, who ended her third and final term as mayor in May, called downtown “the heartbeat and the pulse of this community.”
“We have seen other communities forget their downtown, and we have seen them lose their identity,” Mrs. Bass said. “In Tyler, Texas, we will not lose our identity. We love our downtown area and for many years, from the time R.W. Fair came and did his initial investment into downtown until today, we have had community citizens who cared enough to put their heart and their finances into making Tyler a great success.”
She also thanked the Fair family “for the many years of commitment to our community.”
Mrs. Bass said downtown has had a huge resurgence in recent years, from art walks to regular gallery showings to a recent Wine Swirl event, and the excitement of a parking garage is that it offers more enhancements for the community.
“We will get more people down here to bring their businesses because they have adequate parking. We’ll have more people who want to come down here because they won’t have to drive around the square … trying to find that one spot, and they will know they will be able to leave their cars in a safe place, and everything about Tyler and downtown is going to be better because of the commitment of this community” to the garage project, she said.
Harold Beaird also made remarks Wednesday on behalf of the Fair family.
Beaird described the late R.W. Fair, a successful pecan farmer, oilman and philanthropist, as well as religious and civic leader, as a generous man who was a firm believer in the Bible teaching, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”
Beaird also described R.W. Fair as someone with an “active mind” as well as “a good, generous and caring heart.”
He said R.W. Fair was devoted to the community, and the parking garage is the most recent of his gifts and contributions to the city. His other gifts include the S.A. Lindsey Building, at 123 S. Broadway Ave., and the Fair Foundation Building, 121 S. Broadway Ave.
“People are really excited about (the parking garage),” City of Tyler Senior Public Relations Specialist Serena Butcher said Tuesday, adding that she posted a picture of the clock on social media, and one person said they drove downtown just to see the clock, which was installed earlier this month.”It’s kind of exciting for downtown.”