Ed Thompson grew up being thankful for what he had.
The developer believes he demonstrates that with the work he is doing to revitalize north Tyler.
Thompson, who worked at Goodyear for more than 16 years before he lost his job and became a developer, has been working for years to enhance the area by building residential properties and taking rundown, vacant commercial spaces and bringing them back to life.
He believes that by taking something ugly and making it beautiful, others can be encouraged to do the same.
Even though Thompson cherishes its history, he said, "I'm not about what north Tyler used to be. … I'm about where North Tyler is going."
Thompson, 51, has so many dreams for the area and considers each of them his No. 1 goal. From bringing in new businesses to beautifying the neighborhoods and getting the community involved, he has a list of things he is working on.
Thompson also is planning the first ever Appreciate North Tyler Day on May 3.
He said he wants to "get people to understand and appreciate what they already have in our community."
He believes a lot of people don't realize what they have and instead look at what's going on in other areas.
Thompson wants the community to pull together to support small business and encourage civic engagement from the people who live and/or grew up in north Tyler. Several events that weekend, including Cinco de Mayo celebrations and a festival downtown, will be tied into Appreciate North Tyler Day, he added.
Thompson is planning grand re-openings of Meadow Plaza and Bow Plaza, two retail centers built in the 1960s that had fallen into disrepair until he bought and renovated them and leased them out to small business owners.
He said all businesses are profit-driven.
"My profit comes from enhancing and empowering people," he said. "I invest in people. You're going to win some, you're going to lose some, but I think most of the time you're going to win something. … All of us need someone to believe in us."
Appreciate North Tyler Day also will include a grand opening for the W.B. Houston Center, which Thompson constructed on Palace Avenue in 2012 for the Houston family. There, the Bread in a Starving Land nonprofit group feeds more than 1,000 people every Thursday, he said.
The events will include refreshments and information offered by businesses.
Thompson wants it to be more than a one-day celebration. He wants it to be the start of Community Impact Month — "empowering our community … moving forward" during the entire month of May.
He encourages anyone who wants to make a difference and help rebuild north Tyler to participate. While this year will be more about awareness, he wants more businesses to be involved in the event next year.
"This thing is just the beginning," he said. "Next year, it will take off even more."
He said Tyler city councilmen Ed Moore and Darryl Bowdre and Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton are involved in the celebration.
"I think he's doing a great job," Moore said, adding that they want to renovate old buildings to bring in new businesses, especially new restaurants.
They also want to recognize longtime businesses and encourage people to patronize them more.
Moore, 66, has lived in north Tyler all of his life and said he hopes other builders such as Thompson will do more work there.
"It's all of our jobs to get everybody involved in our community," Thompson said.
Residents have a responsibility to maintain and make their community better, he said, adding that one way they can do that is to support the businesses there.
Thompson said he could have bought and/or developed commercial spaces in West or South Tyler but "North Tyler I felt like is where God instructed me to go."
"My goal is to … bring economic empowerment to the community," he said.
In addition to the retail centers he renovated, Thompson bought a vacant facility on Glenwood Boulevard and refurbished it. It now houses The Great Foundation, a daycare for special needs children that relocated from Lindale.
He's also encouraging other businesses to renovate their facilities, as the A&W Grocery & Deli on Bow Street has done. The Woody Weaver Pharmacy center on Gentry Parkway also has recently been redone. He said all of the businesses that have been improved are bringing in more money.
Thompson also has been involved in improving the area's housing.
Lake View Apartments, a 140-unit low-income senior community, and Pinnacle at North Chase, with 120 garden apartment homes for low-income residents, filled up within eight and six months of opening, respectively, he said.
Pinnacle already has plans for a second complex in the area. Saige Meadows will have about 100 units. Thompson's development, Forest Meadows, is a community offering single family homes and North Tyler's first real townhomes, he added.
"There are so many wonderful things happening …" he said.
DOING THE WORK
Thompson is working to form a North Tyler Business Association and wants to hold community wide meetings to inform residents about several issues and services. He also wants to promote health and hopes to see a farmer's market open.
Thompson hopes to bring churches, nonprofits and other organizations together to help beautify the neighborhoods, starting by painting houses.
"I'll be out there with a paintbrush," he said. "I'll do the work myself if I have to. … The work has to be done."
Thompson also plans to start an initiative to plant trees around the community and beautify street corners and neighborhoods.
"No matter how small the investment, it makes a difference," Thompson said. "It's a mindset and that's what I'm hoping to change. There are a lot of things to be proud of here.
Dr. Dorothy Jackson, 58, who recently opened Phoenix Health Center at Bow Plaza, said more people like Thompson need to work to beautify the area and bring new businesses to the community.
"We just want to make an impact on our community," she said.
Bowdre, 56, has lived all across Tyler and preached in north Tyler for 16 years before founding a church in the St. Louis Community 16 years ago.
He said revitalizing the area has been something that has been talked about for a while but Thompson is putting substance to it.
He's made tremendous personal investment because he loves his community and is determined to do what he can to better it.
"It's up to us as a community to buy into that dream," he said.
Bowdre believes it will take a concerted effort of individuals, especially churches.
"What Ed is doing is going to have to be duplicated … all across our city," he said. "It's personal. It's us saying we're going to take it back. We're going to make it better…"
He said north Tyler is the oldest part of town and has some of the city's largest employers, as well as its biggest tourist attraction, the Caldwell Zoo.
He said where Thompson is working on renovating commercial properties once was the central part of the business community.
"We realize north Tyler is not going to be what it used to be," Bowdre said, but it can still be diverse, unique and something the whole city can be proud of.
"This is the start of something wonderful," he said.