Heart of Tyler is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping downtown alive. The group of volunteers is responsible for organizing annual events such as Festival on the Square, the Downtown Flower Market and the Art Walk.
The organization has partnered with the city and since has helped in the creation of Gallery Main Street, the Downtown Tyler Arts Coalition and the opening of Liberty Hall.
“It took us time to get it built up to where we had enough volunteers, enough people interested, willing to pay their time money and efforts to rebuild downtown Tyler,” said Patrice Stein, president of the Heart of Tyler board of directors.
“If you look (back) 25 years ago what (downtown) looks like and what it looks like now (are) totally different and there is more to come,” Ms. Stein said.
John O’Sullivan, with O’Sullivan Management and Construction L.L.C., said he first became involved with the revitalization of downtown about 20 years ago when he helped Rick Eltife renovate a building that would be Ricks on the Square and the old jail.
O’Sullivan said he had the idea to renovate buildings for apartments from his banker and bought his first downtown building in a foreclosure on the courthouse steps in 1992. He said the building is now Salon Verve, and its upstairs was made into several apartments.
“It was all leased out before we finished, so we knew there was a demand for downtown living,” he said.
O’Sullivan was responsible for renovating 34 apartments downtown and has watched the downtown area come back to life.
“I see a big change,” he said. “When we started, about the only regulars downtown were some regular homeless people — those were some of the regular downtown residents.”
Beverly Abell, the organization’s directors highlighted some of the program’s successes during a short program at Region’s bank on Ferguson Street.
Several new businesses have opened including the Glass Onion, the county has renovated some of its buildings, the city installed new lighting and the People’s Petroleum building is in the midst of renovations backed by the Brookshire Grocery Company, she said.
“Another eyesore that has been ‘un-sored’ is the Butler Architecture Building,” Ms. Abell said. “Mike Butler and Jason Jennings took over this project and took an old Kawasaki dealership that was a lovely blue and white color scheme and changed it. …”
Ms. Abell discussed the success of Black Tie Bingo, the group’s largest fundraiser held in August, as well as ‘meet the artist’ events at Salon Verve, art shows at the Tyler Gallery Main Street and the downtown film festival. She said “cash mobs,” where large groups of people meet at a business and agree to spend at least $20 in that business, have also been very successful.
She also unveiled intentions to host a 1980’s style prom for adults in April.
But the evening took a solemn note as the group honored an outstanding volunteer for its annual Brick Award to the late Debbie Johnson Arredondo.
Ms. Abell said when Mrs. Arredondo moved back to Tyler, she was looking to volunteer and thought Heart of Tyler was the perfect fit. She began going to board meetings on her own for a year and was on several committees. Mrs. Arredondo negotiated contracts with several media outlets and worked tirelessly for sponsors for the organization’s Black Tie Bingo event, Ms. Abell said.
“She was dedicated, energetic and the ultimate sales person — just what the Heart of Tyler needed” Ms. Abell said. “Debbie worked so hard for the Heart of Tyler that we had to create a new title for her marketing/public relations chair.”
Mrs. Arredondo’s husband accepted the honor on her behalf and the crowd gave a standing ovation as he and her brother stood at the podium.
“She was a 100 percent person,” he said. “She gave 100 percent and expected 100 percent. … I don’t know how to thank you for Debbie.”