The city of Tyler is seeking federal grant money to change the streetscape of Broadway Avenue in the downtown area.

The city wants to use about $5 million in grant funding to change the streetscape between Front Street and Erwin Street to make it more walkable.

If the project moves forward, it would be the first step toward an architect's decades-long vision to make the downtown area the center of the city as development continues to move south.

The grant, through a U.S. Department of Transportation program called Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, would be for a $6.25 million project.

If the grant application is successful, the federal government would pay 80 percent of the project, and the city would pay 20 percent. The city is looking at using money through the capital investment program or diverting money from another purpose to pay the city’s portion.

The Tyler City Council voted at its regular meeting last week to have city staff move forward with the grant application, which is due to the federal government this week. Mayor Martin Heines, who owns property downtown, abstained from the vote. 

The project is separate from the Texas Department of Transportation feasibility study that is looking at potentially widening a 5-mile strip of South Broadway Avenue to eight lanes and adding overpasses to accommodate traffic issues between Loop 323 and Toll 49.

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This illustration from Fitzpatrick Architects envisions a narrower version of Broadway Avenue between Front Street and Erwin Street. (Fitzpatrick Architects)

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This illustration from Fitzpatrick Architects envisions that narrower, more walkable roads in downtown Tyler would promote long-term property investment. (Fitzpatrick Architects)

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This illustration from Fitzpatrick Architects envisions a walkable downtown Tyler with a park and event space in the center and the eventual rebuilding of the Smith County Courthouse. (Fitzpatrick Architects)

Steve Fitzpatrick, from Fitzpatrick Architects, said his firm has been working on conceptual designs for the past year and a half to model how downtown Tyler should look over the next 20 years.

The designs would narrow the driving portion of Broadway Avenue in the downtown area and widen the sidewalks. The plan calls for eventually expanding T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza into a city park with event space and restrooms.

Fitzpatrick said his firm started working on the project pro bono after a few young hires joined the firm and said they would like to live in a downtown area within walking distance of amenities but couldn’t.

Since then he’s shown it to more than 200 people — including high ranking city and county officials — who all support the plan, he said.

Fitzpatrick said the city has been growing south in a linear fashion because governments are investing in east-west corridors that connect people to South Broadway Avenue. He said that trend will stop eventually.

“There’s a thing called the rubber band effect where if you go too far then it’s going to fall back,” Fitzpatrick said of the development pattern. “(The city) can’t stretch to Jacksonville. That would just be crazy.”

Instead, he said the city could make infrastructure improvements and re-center the downtown between the boundaries of Front Street and Gentry Parkway in one direction and Palace Street and Beckham Avenue in the other.

“A lot of this area is kind of neglected and not utilized,” Fitzpatrick said. “We think strengthening the core will strengthen each one of these areas around it."

Fitzpatrick said these types of projects increase property value in a downtown area by up to 400 percent. He pointed to similar projects to narrow roads and make them more walkable in Greenville, South Carolina, and Henderson, North Carolina.

Stephanie Franklin, the managing director of culture and tourism services for the city, said federal BUILD grants are competitive, but this project meets the criteria for a complete streets project that enhances economic development.

“We are an urban area (with more than 50,000 people) but we do service to a very large area geographically that is that rural area, so we are a regional hub, so really we hope that that will help move us through to the funding cycle,” Franklin said.

She said the city has received these types of grants in the past and expects to find out if the grant is awarded by the end of 2018.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Government Reporter

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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