A proposed $3.5 million renovation of The Forum building has won a Tyler-based engineering firm a three-year tax abatement from Smith County.
Estes, McClure and Associates Inc. will relocate its base of operations to the downtown fixture, located at the corner of Front Street and South Broadway Avenue, as well as add eight jobs and more than $500,000 worth of equipment. The firm is currently located at 3608 Westway St.
The historic Forum Building has 26,775 square feet of space and sits on a 2.3-acre lot. It has ground floor offices, a showroom and offices on the main floor, a mezzanine dining area and full commercial kitchen, an elevator accessing all three levels, a covered parking garage and two additional parking lots.
The Smith County Commissioners Court approved the abatement during its Tuesday meeting.
The three-year, 100 percent abatement requires the firm to maintain its base of 69 jobs, then add four additional jobs in both 2019 and 2020, according to the proposal from the Tyler Economic Development Council. The eight new jobs will have an average salary of $45,000 per year with benefits, according to information provided about the abatement.
The TEDC estimates the abatement could be worth $34,650 over the three-year period, at the current tax rate.
The city of Tyler also approved a tax abatement for the project, at its Nov. 8 City Council meeting.
EMA has provided engineering and consulting services to architects and educational entities across the state for more than 40 years.
According the city’s agreement with EMA, the firm also will seek an abatement from Tyler Junior College. No agenda item related to the abatement was placed on the agenda for the TJC board of trustees’ regularly scheduled Thursday meeting.
EMA President Michael Clendenin said the renovation is on track to begin in February, with construction taking about a year.
Tyler Economic Development Council President/CEO Tom Mullins said he expects the abatement request to be presented to TJC in January.
Harris R. Fender Sr. in 1966 began constructing The Forum Building to accommodate Pope & Turner Furniture Inc., an Overton-based business owned by John Pope and Jud Turner.
The grand opening of Pope & Turner in the large building appeared to be a spectacle, attracting a reported 15,000 people in one evening, according to a May 24, 1967, Tyler Morning Telegraph article.
A grand prize given away during the weeklong celebration of the opening was a bedroom suite and a bedspread covered with 300 $1 bills.
The building was designed by E. Davis Wilcox and Associates and built by Clanahan Construction Co., according to an article that ran on May 23, 1967.
Pope & Turner grew and thrived for many years undergoing a steady transformation from a local retail furniture and appliance retailer to a high-end regional design center with multiple galleries, and statewide customer base, David Fender wrote in an email.
The store operation was sold in 1989 to a Longview company that retained the Pope & Turner name until they closed the business in 1991.
The building became vacant and space was donated to a children’s theater group under the direction of Iva Albright for the next several years.
In 1999 and 2000, the building was refurbished into The Forum to accommodate and showcase antique dealers merchandise and upscale products, Fender said. A restaurant was added to the mezzanine area in 2003 and was managed by Fender’s wife, Jane.
While the Forum became a very popular destination, the restaurant and retail management together left no time for Mrs. Fender to be with family, Fender said.
After six hectic years of operations, The Forum became too much of a burden on Mrs. Fender and they decided to close the restaurant, followed by the retail operation.
Fender said various charitable groups and businesses expressed interest in leasing portions of the buildings over the years, but the Fenders decided to put it up for sale. Contracts were executed a couple of times, but the buyers failed to close on the transactions. The property was again placed on the market and was purchased by Austin Bank in August 2014.