Fate, future of downtown facades sealed

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The fate and future of the facades are sealed. For months now, a portion of downtown Tyler has been cut off. It was the result of a massive fire that destroyed five historic properties back in February. In a surprising decision, the owners of those buildings have decided to donate them to Smith County. While some consider it a bitter-sweet blessing, others simply hope there's not a curse on downtown Tyler.

Downtown Tyler has been his route for years now, and postal worker Jimmy Smith has lived in Tyler since the 60's. Since February, the backdrop of his route has changed.

"Any historic picture you see of anything around downtown, you can look and see this," Smith said pointing to the building facades. "I just think it's a shame to lose that part of history of Tyler."

The fire completely gutted the buildings. Structural engineers said they couldn't be saved. News of the deep destruction and donation is hard to take for Heart of Tyler chairman of the board, Andy Bergfeld.

"This is obviously a sad day for us,"  said Andy Bergfeld. "The original square has already been torn down. A lot of buildings on the north side have already been torn down. So, our east side here was about one of the last areas that we had."

Bergfeld's group envisions an active downtown. He said what has been and will be torn down has not been replaced with alternatives that work.

"I don't feel, personally, we need another park on our downtown square," said Bergfeld.

That's just one way the county says the space could be used. Concept plans are drafted but Smith County Judge Joel Baker said nothing is concrete. He said the day after the fire, he made a call to the Genecov Group. He said they've been interested in the space for quite some time now.

"This does not change the nucleus of the heart of downtown which is county government," said Baker.

He said the fire was unfortunate, but the gift presents possibilities of expanding county court and office spaces.

"While it's not the original facade...it does retain some of those historic elements," said Baker.

The final product could be years down the road. Meaning the backdrop of Jimmy Smith's route is still uncertain

Judge Baker anticipates the project will be part of the county's pay-as-you-go program. He said they would also seek input from residents. As far as opening North Spring Avenue goes Baker said it may not happen for another couple of months, after the site has been safely demolished and cleared.

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