The new owners of the Historic Carlton Hotel in downtown Tyler plan to renovate the decaying property into an apartment complex with commercial lease space.

New Orleans-based NORF Cos. announced in September that it had purchased that property at 106 E. Elm St. The building’s “signature” rooftop pool on top of the parking garage will be restored as part of the total $30 million project, said NORF’s Managing Director Cullan Maumus.

“Tyler is a great city in growth mode,” he said, recalling NORF representatives “fell in love with the city” when they visited during the process of purchasing the building.

He said the firm identified the Carlton Hotel after COVID-19 surfaced, when they couldn’t travel much. NORF began researching secondary markets “that might have been overlooked but exhibit strong growth factors and a strong economy.”

“Spending time there, the vibe is infectious,” he said. “City leaders proudly champion opportunity while entrepreneurs and professionals have bought into a shared vision. Locals celebrate each other’s wins and visitors take in its beauty. We are excited to participate in this undeniably special time in Tyler’s history. The Carlton was once a jewel of the city. We can’t wait to re-activate this iconic property and be a part of the revitalization of downtown Tyler.”

He said NORF is in the design and planning stages of the project and hopes to start construction in the first quarter of 2022. Renovations would take 12-14 months to complete.

The Carlton Hotel operated from 1954-1971. The 15-story building had 200 rooms, with air conditioning, television sets, the rooftop pool and cabana, a ballroom, coffee shop and automatic elevator. The building remained vacant after the hotel closed until 1977, when Smith County purchased it. The county stopped using the building in 2013 and later sold it. It’s been vacant since 2013.

Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran welcomed the announcement about NORF’s plans, saying county officials had received an announcement about the project but had not spoken with the developers. The demand for housing in Smith County is high, he said,

If additional residents units are added downtown, he said he thinks it would “fire up” growth and economic development there.

“There’s so much momentum,” he said.

NORF’s website says it was founded in 2013 “to focus on tax-incentivized historic redevelopment and urban renewal in New Orleans. Since 2013, NORF has acquired over 60 properties of various sizes and conditions – successfully restoring some of the more complex projects that others passed on.”

Part of the firm’s strategy is to create real estate investment funds under the Qualified Opportunity Zone Program, which was created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. States designate those zones because they’re “distressed” and in need of economic development and job creation. People who invest capital gains into the investment funds receive tax benefits. The former hotel is located within one of those Qualified Opportunity Zones. Other zones are located throughout East Texas.

The approximately120,000-square-foot building will be transformed to feature about 100, one and two-bedroom apartments. The parking garage with its roof top pool will be restored as well.

Part of the restoration strategy involves applying for state and federal tax credits tied to renovating historic properties. That’s why restoration of the pool area is important.

“It’s one of the signature pieces of the project that made the building pretty iconic for its time,” Maumus said.

He anticipates the apartments will appeal to young professionals and college students, including students and faculty at the planned new medical school at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Maumus said NORF also is considering other projects in East Texas.


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