A few years from now, downtown Tyler may look and feel very different than it does now — with green spaces, greater pedestrian accessibility and more businesses for tourists and locals to enjoy.
Officials with Main Street, a department of the City of Tyler, together with those at Toole Design, are well on their way to creating a master plan for the downtown revitalization project.
Additionally, the Tyler officials distributed a survey to receive input from residents — moving the revitalization process one step forward. Amber Varona, Main Street director; Adriana Rodriguez, senior public relations and marketing specialist; and Garret Hope, downtown specialist, talked to The Tyler Loop about the years-long process and how it’s taking shape.
Rodriguez said the design, which costs the city $59,630, is expected to be completed within six to eight months, after which they plan to present it to the city council for approval.
Toole Design was awarded the contract to design and plan Tyler’s upcoming makeover after Varona, along with Mayor Don Warren and City Manager Ed Broussard, toured the downtown area of Sulphur Springs, located about 60 miles north of Tyler.
They said they were impressed with the changes Toole made there and invited them to join the team focused on making downtown Tyler more vibrant and inclusive.
Toole Design’s website and social media boast a vast scope of urban planning services across the U.S. and Canada.
“They have many years of experience and tailor each team to best serve the project or downtown they are working on. Our team includes a mix of engineers, planners, authors and landscape architects,” Rodriguez said.
The city’s online survey period recently ended, wherein Tyler residents were encouraged to recommend improvements they would like to see in the near future as well as 100 years from now. On the first day alone, the survey yielded over 150 submissions, according to Rodriguez.
In preparation for releasing a master plan later this year, Varona, various city leaders and Toole Design “have been meeting with different stakeholders in the city like business owners, developers [and] people that … live downtown that have input,” Rodriguez said.
Hope said the downtown square would be the first phase of the revitalization plan, but it will happen incrementally over the coming years. Once the master plan is created, Tyler city council plans to review it for approval and changes.
Although the possible new Smith County courthouse is not technically part of this revitalization plan, it too would bring major changes to downtown. At the State of the County address last month, County Judge Nathaniel Moran announced plans to propose the new courthouse to voters on the ballot this November.
Varona said survey responses indicate residents want Tyler’s downtown to become a greater destination and a district hub for arts and culture. She said since the city began downtown, its historic nature makes it a special destination for generations of Tylerites.
“There were so many families that came and made some wonderful memories and now [are] being able to relive that with their children and grandchildren,” she said.
So, what may appear on the square downtown? According to Varona, there likely will be green space and some multi-use areas such as an audience area for concerts, picnics and yoga.
The new face of downtown is expected to be noticeably different from the way things have been. Rodriguez said she often hears the complaint that there’s nothing to do in Tyler.
Varona said city officials envision a downtown where people age 8 to 80 can find things they enjoy. Parking, green space with welcome shady spots and a wide variety of businesses and tourist options all within walking distance — is the vision.
“You need those shaded areas and benches along the way for people to take a break and then keep going so that they can go all around downtown and not just a square,” Varona said.
As the revitalization takes shape, a central theme is inclusivity: A downtown accessible to all residents for their enjoyment– “to make it a place of gathering, commerce exchange, ideas exchange,” she said.
“We’re looking at multi-modal where you have bike lanes, wider sidewalks with shade that connect north, that connects south, east, and west,” Varona said.
Anyone who still wants to offer input may do so via email to [email protected]
Paul Haygood is a licensed massage therapist, professional juggler and a full time music student. After working as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska, a massage therapist on cruise ships and at Grand Teton ski-area spas and as a juggling and yoga teacher in Guatemala, he returned to his East Texas roots to spend time with his father and pursue voice and piano studies at what may be the best two year college anywhere, Tyler Junior College.
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