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City of Tyler plans changes to its downtown presence

The city of Tyler is planning to change its presence downtown with a new visitor center, and will be changing its current podcasts.

The city plans to move out of its Gallery Main Street space at 110 W. Erwin St. and into the first floor of the Plaza Tower around October or November.

As part of the downtown plans, the City Council has voted to create a Main Street Board, which will advocate for downtown amenities and administer a new grant program

“It’s really been an evolution,” said Stephanie Franklin, a managing director for the city. “As the downtown matures then the city begins to look at other options to help support that.”

The city had a 10-year lease with Gallery Main Street that wraps up at the end of September, Franklin said. Starting in the fall or winter the city will occupy the majority of the first floor of the Plaza Tower for a new visitors center.

The art gallery will be in the building’s first-floor atrium, and there will be a podcasting studio, Franklin said. With the new studio, the city will look at updating its current podcast, Roses and Weeds, and doing a visitors podcast, she said.

Franklin said the idea for additional podcasting is modeled after the city of Denton. The North Texas city also does Friday happy hours, and features local companies at events.

The 10-year lease is $6,147 a month from 2019 to 2024 and increases to $6,621 a month from 2024 to 2029. The City Council approved the lease with Patriots Tower LLC last week. The lease starts Oct. 1.

Additionally, the new Main Street Board will meet periodically to advise the City Council on issues related to downtown, such as a partnership with the Smith County government to bring retail to downtown.

The board will have seven members, with two from the Heart of Tyler, a nonprofit organization that works on downtown revitalization. For about a decade, that nonprofit was attached to the city’s Main Street program.

Franklin said the city has had an official Main Street designation through the Texas Historical Commission for years but has not had a designated board. She said most other cities have a designated board.

The Main Street Board also will administer a new downtown revitalization grant program, which will provide up to $10,000 in matching grants to downtown property owners to upgrade their facades and make safety improvements.

If the city and county are successful in their renewed application for a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Main Street Board would have a say in that. Results of that are expected by the end of the year.

“It’s all about downtown revitalization and encouraging rehabilitation of historic infrastructure downtown and reviving downtowns and being that support board for that function,” Franklin said.



Volunteers stuff backpacks ahead of School Is Cool event on Thursday

About 50 volunteers gathered Monday morning in the Rose Garden Center to stuff school supplies into 2,000 backpacks that will be given away during School Is Cool.

The annual free event is set from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Harvey Convention Center and Rose Garden Center, both of which are on the East Texas State Fairgrounds, 2000 W. Front St.

Children will receive backpacks and can get haircuts and vaccinations needed for going back to school. Parents will receive information on services for families with school-age children.

Smith County Commissioners Court proposes increase in tax rate to 34.5 cents

Smith County officials are proposing setting the tax rate at 34.5 cents per $100 of property valuation.

The Smith County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 on Tuesday to formally propose the rate ahead of public hearings on the matter.

While the proposed rate, which is up from 33.7311 cents per $100 of property valuation, has been discussed for weeks, this is the beginning of a formal process that will include public hearings before the Commissioners Court can officially adopt the property tax rate.

The proposed tax rate would amount to a $345 bill on a $100,000 house, up from about $337 the previous year, or about $518 on a $150,000 house, up from about $506 the previous year.

Those estimates do not include any exemptions that Smith County taxpayers may be eligible to claim, or for any increase property owners may have seen in their appraisal values over the past year.

The corresponding budget is due to the county clerk on Wednesday. There will be public hearings on the tax rate at the 9:30 a.m. Commissioners Court meetings Aug. 6 and 13 in the Smith County Courthouse Annex, 200 E. Ferguson St.

Many of the items in the budget are expected to be the similar to a draft working budget that County Judge Nathaniel Moran presented on June 18. However, he said some numbers have increased, such as one related to state-funded road projects.

The sole dissenting vote on Tuesday was Commissioner Terry Phillips. He has said the county can balance its budget without raising the tax rate.