It is a November afternoon and Andy Bergfeld is looking around the 4,500 square feet being renovated on the ground floor of Plaza Tower, the 19-story building that dominates Tyler’s skyline. Although there are piles of construction materials and dust, he likes what he sees.
When the 40-year-old skyscraper came on the market about two years ago, Bergfeld and his real estate investment group partners, Tim and Garnett Brookshire, purchased it and set out to make it the newest star of downtown revitalization.
The lobby and customer service areas of what had been Bank of America, the building’s longtime anchor tenant, are being transformed into what Bergfeld calls the Urban Market.
“This is where the retail bays will be,” Bergfeld says, pointing to spaces facing the square. Cafe 1948 and True Vine Brewing Co. will occupy two of the three retail spots.
“I can’t yet tell you what else is coming,” he says. “But people will be excited when they find out.”
On the opposite side of the atrium will be a suite housing Tyler’s tourism and downtown development offices as well as an art gallery, visitors center and Tyler-themed gift shop.
Bergfeld draws attention to the two stories of offices that look down into the atrium and the skylight above.
He clearly is excited about what the space is becoming.
“It’s going to be cool,” he says.
Bergfeld and the Brookshires also are the development team behind the renovation of the old Peoples National Bank Building, which is also located on the west side of the square.
They had the 1930s building retrofit with a modern air conditioning and ventilation system while preserving its famous art deco architecture. Over the five years of renovations, the historic building went from almost empty to fully occupied.
Bergfeld said that their success in attracting tenants made it clear there is a demand for quality office space near attractions downtown.
They were confident that Plaza Tower also would be a good investment. However, the building was beginning to show its age and its occupancy was only about 50%.
Garnett Brookshire said the needed improvements were more cosmetic than structural. The biggest challenge, he said, was boosting occupancy and better meeting the needs of tenants who increasingly expect more than good security and quick repairs.
“We asked them (tenants) what they wanted,” he said. “They were pretty like-minded. They wanted more amenities and interactive experiences.”
“That required thinking differently than what I was trained (as a property developer) to do over the last 20 years,” Bergfeld said.
The management team added rooftop yoga classes and an on-site message therapist. On some days, a mobile barbershop, known for pampering clients with haircuts and facials, is parked just outside the back entrance.
Tenants also made it clear that they wanted the ground floor to be filled with stores and attractions that would turn Plaza Tower into a community hot spot.
“We had to find retailers that were the right fit,” Bergfeld said.
To create the Urban Market, the developers are working with Fitzpatrick Architects of Tyler.
They gutted the offices that faced the square and replaced the dark black glass panels with large windows that let in plenty of sunlight, and doors that provide access from the square. They added a curb-appeal white facade and created space for potential outdoor seating.
Bergfeld and the Brookshires had taken notice that every time Samuel and Amber Richmann parked their mobile espresso bar, Cafe 1948, on the square, it attracted a crowd.
Earlier this year, they approached the husband and wife about putting the restored 1948 Boles Aero trailer they work out of in Plaza Tower’s lobby, and promised that they could move into one of the storefronts when it became available.
Excited about the opportunity, the Richmanns moved into a high-traffic location near the elevators, strung lights from their retro-looking silver trailer and added seating to create the ambiance of a European sidewalk cafe.
“Cafe 1948 has already created a place where people can gather with friends or business associates over a cup of coffee or a sandwich,” Garnett Brookshire said in a prepared statement released earlier.
The mobile espresso bar more recently was removed from the lobby as the Richmanns prepare to move into the new space.
True Vine Brewing Co., a craft beer brewery operated by Ryan and Traci Dixon of Tyler, will occupy one of the other retail sites.
It will mark an expansion for the craft brewery, which will maintain its current larger location off Earl Campbell Parkway.
The third store facing the square will be occupied by a nationally recognized ice cream vendor. The announcement of the company will be made later, Bergfeld said.
All three were selected because of their reputations of creating an atmosphere where people want to come and hang out, he said.
The largest occupant in the Urban Market will be the city of Tyler. Besides relocating tourism and downtown development offices into a central location, the city will also put in an art gallery and open a visitors center and retail store, said Amber Rojas, Main Street director.
“The retail store will feature locally made items, Tylerized products and downtown items” and the gallery will face into the atrium to “allow for additional exposure of our local artists,” she said.
“This space also created the opportunity to include a podcast/radio station to future promote the vibrant arts and culture scene right here in our community,” Rojas added.
If all goes as planned, the Urban Market will open early next year.
Sitting around a long table in Plaza Tower’s conference room, Bergfeld and the Brookshires are speaking about feeling a corporate and civic duty to improve the city.
“We are standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Tim Brookshire, noting they are continuing a tradition of community investment that was carried out by the founders of Roosth Properties, Genecov Group and others.
The Brookshires and Bergfelds have been involved in the community for decades.
Tim and Garnett Brookshire are members of the family that founded Brookshire Grocery Co. Tim Brookshire has served as the grocery chain’s board chairman and on boards of Trinity Mother Frances Hospital and several community organizations.
Garnett Brookshire, Tim Brookshire’s son, has a background in commercial banking and property management. He is on the boards of Heart of Tyler and Tyler Historical Preservation Board.
Bergfeld is president of Bergfeld Realty Co. and a member of the Tyler Independent School District Board of Trustees. His ancestors developed a section of Tyler that includes Bergfeld Park and the Bergfeld Center. His has served in Historic Tyler, Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and Heart of Tyler, according to the website.
All worship at churches in downtown Tyler.
Helping improve downtown Tyler, the symbolic heart and soul of the city, is a “challenge we relish,” Tim Brookshire said.
Rojas predicts the renovation of Plaza Tower and Urban Market will be a “catalyst” for development.
“The city’s goal is to create a vibrant and thriving downtown, through economic development and promotion of the arts and culture scene,” Rojas said. “Bringing people back to downtown and seeing firsthand how downtown has changed and the variety of amenities the area has to offer is an ongoing task. The Plaza Tower is helping create a culture that embraces the uniqueness of downtown and the value of hospitality.”
Renovating buildings and establishing private/public partnerships are key in “moving forward with revitalizing downtown,” she said.
The Brookshires and Bergfeld said they remember when, not too long ago, the area around the square was lifeless and few were willing to invest in downtown.
Those days are gone, Bergfeld said. “Nobody says downtown is dying anymore.”