Officials continue northside renewal efforts in Tyler

Published on Saturday, 22 June 2013 23:13 - Written by By Dayna Worchel dworchel@tylerpaper.com

Tyler City Councilman Ed Moore, 65, grew up in Tyler’s north end and remembers an area of African-American-owned businesses known as “The Cut” when it was in its heyday in the 1950s.

“We had restaurants, the movie theater, dry cleaners, a pharmacy, a grocery store — it was one of the first business communities in Tyler,” the District 3 councilman said this week.

“The Cut” was known by that name because one could “cut through” in the vicinity of North Palace, Texas College Road and Vance streets, according to information from the book “Remembering When We Were Colored in Tyler, Texas,” by Rodney Atkins, librarian at Jarvis Christian College.

Moore, along with north end business owners, developers and city officials, would like to return the north end to the thriving community it was in the 1940s and 1950s, and they would like to see it grow and thrive in the future with newly built affordable housing and retail development. The city, as a part of its Tyler 1st Comprehensive Plan, and the community stakeholders, are working on a plan to do just that.

The City Council originally adopted the plan on Nov. 14, 2007, after 18 months of community involvement and input. This 20-year plan created a strategic framework of future actions for the city and defines a vision for the future linked to overall goals and policies.

The plan, updated every five years, and overhauled every 20 years, contains strategies and action items for achieving the goals. One goal is to bring 3,000 rooftops to the north end. In 2014, the updated Tyler 1st plan will be presented to the City Council.

The “north end” is composed of three sub-areas, according to information in the city’s Tyler 1st plan.

There is north Tyler, which includes all the area north of Front Street to the city limits except for the downtown planning area which is bounded by Front Street, Beckham Avenue, Gentry Parkway, and Palace Avenue.

West Tyler is the second sub-area, bounded by Front Street to the north, Loop 323, Old Jacksonville Highway, Sunnybrook Drive and Vine Street.

The third area is the U.S. Highway 69 corridor from the city limits to Interstate 20, which is part of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Ed Thompson, 50, is president and chief executive officer of North Chase Development. He said last week that he believes in North Tyler.

Thompson, who also sits on the city’s Affordable Housing Committee, began to invest in the future of the north end in 2010 with the building of the 140 unit Lakeview complex on 18 acres for residents ages 55 or older. The city of Tyler spent $1.8 million to put in water and sewer infrastructure in 2011.

That complex, on North Broadway Avenue at Loop 323, along with the construction of the 140-unit Pinnacle at North Chase, an affordable housing complex for residents of all ages, followed shortly afterward. The Pinnacle is across the street from the Lakeview complex.

The acreage, including the Pinnacle apartment complex development, the senior citizen’s development of Lakeview, and the Forest Meadows townhome and detached home development, totals 405 acres. There are 370 acres left to develop, Thompson said. He is planning for a multi-use retail development to include restaurants and stores near those housing developments.

Thompson also has remodeled some of the small strip mall centers along Gentry Parkway and has improved their appearance inside and out.

Ron Lewis, who has owned the Cuttin’ Up Barber Shop for 19 years, just moved into his newly rebuilt barber shop off of West Gentry Parkway three weeks ago. Business has improved greatly since then, he said.

“I truly appreciate the effort he has given — my customers love it,” the 40-year-old business owner said of Thompson, who remodeled his barbershop. “It’s a more upscale look and it has been a blessing financially.”

On Wednesday, Tyler 1st Steering Committee members took a bus tour of the north end. The bus tour included some of the city’s half-cent sales tax projects, including the Glass Recreation Center.

The tour also included the North Chase development, the Texas College area improvements and The Cut.

The steering committee groups broke into individual working groups at the Neighborhood Services building to talk about ways to get more commercial investment in the north end.

In one group, which included several commercial developers and Realtors, all agreed that while rooftop numbers are important, major retailers look at other factors, too, when selecting locations.

District 5 City Councilman Mark Whatley said the North Chase development is a good start — but the frustrating part is trying to lure national retailers into the area.

“They look at income levels,” Whatley said of the retailers.

The councilman also said it’s important to keep crime low in the north end.

“Retailers are very sensitive to perceived crime rates,” he said. There is also a big hurdle with banks — investors need to know about the return on their investments, Whatley said. He said it would help for a large regional development to come into the north end to act as a catalyst for more developers.

Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said the north end needs to be promoted as a safe area.

“Thirty years ago when I moved to Tyler, the Realtors pushed south Tyler as the place to be,” she said.

Others in the group praised the city for their contributions to the North Chase development. Community Development Block Grants from the city were used to pay for the infrastructure of the developments, said Brenda Johnson, the city’s neighborhood services director.

“It was an agreement that if the city was able to build the first portion of (Thompson’s) street, he would sell five of the houses to people who are at 80 percent or below the median income level in the area,” Ms. Johnson said of the six-acre Forest Meadows development.

In addition to grants, the city recently has formed an affordable housing task force, made up of developers, investors, Realtors and others who have the desire to create affordable housing, Ms. Johnson said.

The city also will help entities locate properties that have been returned to their tax rolls because of tax foreclosure as a part of the Tyler 21 goal to revitalize the north end.

“We in turn would donate or sell to them at a low cost to an entity with the criteria that they use that lot to build affordable housing,” Ms. Johnson said. The city also would be able to assist with the infrastructure and the waiving of certain fees, such as permit fees and water and sewer tap fees, she said.

Thompson praised two banks that have partnered with his company to help make the Forest Meadows townhome development a reality.

“It says something about these banks; Southside Bank and Bancorp South and their commitment to the community – they believed in us enough to partner with us,” he said.

Moore, whose district is the north end, said he wants young people who grow up there and who have graduated to stay there instead of moving to the south side of town.

While the city to needs to enforce laws about weeds and cleaning up vacant lots, residents can help by turning in the information, Moore said.

“The bottom line is to clean up housing and streets — cleaning up the community. “We can’t put it all on the city,” he said.

Both Moore and Thompson said they think that when others in the community begin to see improvements and new development come in, those residents will get excited and want to fix up their own space in the north end.

“When people feel like there is no hope, you don’t invest in a relationship, a community, or your education,” Thompson said. “The only way for a community to get better is for someone to give of their time and to make it better,” he said.

The next steering committee meeting will be on July 17 at the Rose Garden Center.