About three decades ago, the Hollytree Country Club opened its fairways to golfers in a fledgling subdivision located in what was then the far southside of Tyler.
Little more than woods, farms and pastures lay beyond Hollytree to the south.
In the ensuing decades, Hollytree has hosted countless wedding receptions and special events.
Numerous clubs and organizations have held meetings here, and spectacular Fourth of July fireworks displays have drawn thousands of onlookers from throughout the area.
“Everyone goes there for fireworks; half of Tyler goes to the golf course and watches them,” said homebuilder Louay Mezayek, owner of Mosaic Homes in Tyler.
The neighborhood becomes a trick-or-treat hot spot on Halloween, with the streets clogged with children who have descended upon Hollytree from throughout the area.
And golfers, whose abilities range from novice to professional, have tested their skills on the rolling, emerald-green golf course, which snakes between stately homes. Some of those pros included Greg Norman, Lee Trevino and Bruce Lietzke.
Tyler’s development since Hollytree’s opening has extended miles south beyond Hollytree.
The growth explosion includes a movie theater, restaurants, schools, homes, churches and myriad retail outlets.
In 2011, FRESH by Brookshire’s, a grocery concept similar to Whole Foods and Central Market, opened across Old Jacksonville Highway from Hollytree.
Today, home construction continues in a Hollytree that is not only a place for the community to meet, eat and play but is also an economic engine for that side of town.
And with residential, commercial, transportation and school projects underway, business community representatives say Hollytree could be the city’s geographic center within a matter of years.
“I see Hollytree as being very important to south side development,” Mezayek said. “It’s in the middle of everything. Everyone knows where it is. Even in Dallas, people know about Hollytree.”
Rob Shields became Hollytree Country Club’s general manager in September.
“The golf course is in great shape,” Shields said in a recent interview. “We are the only major golf course in Smith County to overseed the fairways with winter rye grass.”
Overseeding keeps golf courses green year-round, he said, adding that longtime course superintendent Chad Decker continues to make improvements.
A new chef and food and beverage manager have been recruited to improve the Hollytree restaurant.
The Hollytree Country Club and golf course, along with the subdivision, was launched in the early 1980s. The par 72 golf course, rated among the top courses in the southwest, along with the country club, changed hands in 2005. The owners, who purchased the property in 2005, were Hollytree Country Club LLC, a partnership of Reiner Brasch, of Dallas, former Tyler resident Chris Cooper, now of Dallas, and Craig Zips, of Tyler.
The country club and golf course have hosted numerous community and charity events in recent years, including the University of Texas at Tyler Patriot Golf Classic and the Boo Ball, which benefits the ARC of Smith County.
Other homebuilders, Realtors and business leaders agreed that the Hollytree subdivision and its country club help drive development in south Tyler, along with the coming hotel and convention center and shopping area known as The Village at Cumberland Park.
There are about 500 homes in the main Hollytree subdivision, according to homeowner association records, Shields said. In some of the surrounding subdivisions, such as Hollytree West and Holly Heights, he estimated there could be another 800 or so homes that are built or being planned.
Mezayek, who specializes in building single-family luxury homes in Tyler, has about five such homes going up in the Hollytree subdivision, but the area is close to being built out, he said.
“I hate to see it run out of room … nothing is left to develop there,” he said. “There are about eight to 12 lots left, but those lots are owned. The only way to purchase one is to buy one from someone.”
Hollytree continues to stand out as one of the area’s most affluent neighborhoods, he said.
“Most doctors in town live in Hollytree,” Mezayek said. “I’d say 80 percent of my clients are doctors.”
The available lots in Hollytree usually sell for around $100,000, Mezayek said. Home prices range from the $300,000s to well into six figures.
Many Hollytree homeowners have purchased the lot next door to their home just to have extra room or to make a play area for children, he said.
One area that Mezayek is eyeing for possible purchase is about 465 acres of undeveloped land between Cumberland Road and Hollytree Drive.
Genecov Properties and Roosth Properties own the land. A lot of that land is unusable, he said, because it is in a flood plain. It also is hilly and has creeks going through it.
But Mezayek said he would love to purchase the land to build more homes on it.
David Wilson, vice president of real estate for Genecov Properties, confirmed his company owns the property with Roosth, but he declined to answer specific questions about plans for sale or development.
“There is no need to list it; everyone knows it’s for sale,” Wilson said. “It will develop; it’s just a matter of when.”
Gary Bayless, owner of Bayless Custom Homes, said home renovation is hot in the Hollytree area these days.
“I am going out to those older homes in Hollytree, and I am updating kitchens and bathrooms,” Bayless said.
He said that as the recession gets farther away in the rear-view mirror, demand for high-end homes is increasing.
“I am starting to build more in the Cascades — it’s coming back,” Bayless said. “But not much building had been happening in the Cascades during the recent economic downturn because banks weren’t lending money then.”
A quarter of the 253 homes sold in the Tyler area in November were for $200,000 or more, according to Greater Tyler Area of Realtors Association figures released last week. It marked the second best November sales ever in Tyler, second only to the 265 that sold in November 2007.
Twenty of last month’s sales were in the $250,000-$299,999 range, with nine in the $300,000s, five in the $400,000s and eight going for more than $500,000.
Tyler’s hottest new area for growth is near Hollytree, along the Old Jacksonville corridor with the new Oak Hollow and The Crossing subdivision, Bayless said, adding that the new Juls restaurant and FRESH by Brookshire’s grocery store are already located there.
“I am doing a lot of building in those subdivisions,” he said.
Bayless said he sees growth happening all over south Tyler.
“Over half of my clients are retirees,” he said. “Many of them are moving here because of a lower cost of living and the access to the hospitals and the restaurants. They come from Tennessee, California and Georgia.
“I’m optimistic about the growth in south Tyler.”
GROWTH ALL OVER
Tom Mullins, president and chief executive officer for the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tyler Economic Development Council, said that although Tyler’s geographic center, at least commercially, is considered to be South Broadway Avenue and Loop 323, that could change.
With all the growth on the south side, Hollytree could find itself as the center some day, Mullins said.
“(But) it’s a long way from happening now,” Mullins pointed out.
He said there is growth to the west and east, including the area around the University of Texas at Tyler.
To the west, the Tyler Junior College West campus, Tyler school district’s construction of a career and technology center and the new Centene facility underscore that area of town’s growth.
It’s centered around the recently opened Earl Campbell Parkway.
A ribbon cutting has been planned Monday at Centene, a health care services firm that is expected to have 325 employees and possibly expand to twice that, Mullins said.
The location of other companies along the east loop - such as Fed Ex, UPS, Aramark on Robertson Road, Rudy’s Barbecue and Sam’s Club - are a big draw, Mullins said.
“As we move forward, the growth will start pushing to the east, west and north toward Lindale,” Mullins said.
He expects to see more development along the U.S. 271 corridor due to the availability of land there.
“As developers move out there, more retail will follow,” Mullins said.
He expects to see an eventual slowdown in southern growth and more growth to the east and west.
“I can see a time when city limits go out to Toll 49 in other directions toward east and west,” Mullins said.
Tracts of land with loop frontage go for about $5 to $10 per square foot, versus $23 to $24 per square foot for South Broadway frontage, he said.
Heather Nick, city of Tyler planner, said the city, with the commercial growth and undeveloped land in mind, is preparing for the future on the south side.
“There are still large tracts of undeveloped land south of Holly Heights, which is south of Hollytree,” Ms. Nick said. “However, we do not have any preliminary plats that would signal proposed development plans.”
But there is some proposed infrastructure on city drawing boards to help alleviate possible congestion on south Broadway and Old Jacksonville Highway should the need warrant it.
“The master street plan identifies a proposed collector street south of Dueling Oaks Drive. The construction of this proposed collector would be triggered by any future development,” Ms. Nick said.