Tyler: City Commits to Rebuilding Conference Center, Restoring Fine Arts Venue
Featured Photo (above): The front entrance to the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler. The building, adjacent to the rose garden, will be razed and rebuilt to the south as part of the Rose Garden complex redevelopment. A new public park will be located here, in the old convention center footprint. Image: Google Streets
By Edmond Ortiz
Tyler (Smith County)–Following years of discussions and planning, the city of Tyler is formally committing to rebuilding the Harvey Hall Convention Center at the Rose Garden Complex, and revitalizing the 93-year-old Mayfair performing arts venue.
Mayor Martin Heines, three of his predecessors and other city dignitaries gathered for a press conference Oct. 29 to announce a $20.8 million plan to redevelop the Rose Garden Complex, which includes the Tyler Rose Garden, the convention center, Rose Garden Museum, Mayfair building, Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, and other public meeting/activity structures. The complex is located just southwest of downtown.
The redevelopment project shall roll out in phases. Initial work will focus on construction of a new 37,500-square-foot Hall Convention Center immediately south of the current Hall Center structure; expansion and historic preservation of the Mayfair building; and street, infrastructure and parking improvements around these venues. Fair Park Drive and Rose Park Drive both will be redesigned.
A second phase will involve demolition of the existing Hall convention center and construction of a 73,700-square-foot public park in its place. The “Tyler Rose” brand will figure prominently throughout the new construction and enhancements. The redevelopment plan also calls for a 19,000-square-foot food truck plaza between the park and the new convention center.
Preliminary concept plan for the Rose Garden complex redevelopment. Image: City of Tyler
Meeting Nov. 12, City Council expects to appoint a design team to begin producing conceptual drawings for a new complex. Funding will come from revenues from the hotel occupancy tax and the half-cent sales tax fund.
City leaders said they hope to raise $4 million in private donations to help finance the overall project. The city projects finishing Phase I of the design in mid to late 2020, break ground in 2021, and finish all work in 2022, according to a press release.
City officials say the current conference facilities are outdated and floorplans are not adequate to service modern conference and event needs. Many of the meeting venues around the Rose Garden complex have long been part of Tyler’s growth and evolution.
The Mayfair and Hall convention center each have hosted, among other things, festivities associated with the East Texas State Fair. The Mayfair, built in the late 1920s, also accommodated performances from the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. The Friends of the Mayfair, a local nonprofit, launched a fundraising effort to save the structure in the last couple of years.
Built in 1927, the Mayfair performing arts building, part of Tyler’s Rose Garden complex, will be preserved and restored. Image: Google Streets
The city commissioned a feasibility study to examine the Rose Garden complex master plan and found that renovations would not provide the needed functionality. The cost to renovate the existing complex is near the amount of money needed to replace it.
Local leaders said the venues surrounding the Rose Garden complex would benefit from more meeting and parking space and other enhancements. The rose garden itself is the city’s biggest tourist attraction; Tyler is known as the rose capital of the nation.
“Harvey Hall, the Tyler Rose Garden and visitor’s center host hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, creating a massive economic impact on our community,” Heines said in a press statement. “It is time to invest into the Rose Complex, which is in dire need of redevelopment.”
“Together, these mayors laid the foundation for this project over the last 25 years,” City Manager Ed Broussard said in the news release. “Each one has moved this project forward, taking the necessary steps to bring us here today.”
The city is not going forward with a combination conference center/hotel, at least not in this plan. The city did buy land at South Broadway Avenue and Loop 49 to develop an envisioned convention center/hotel, but was unable to find a partner who could build and operate the hotel within budget.
Local officials said such a structure does not fit into the Rose Garden complex redevelopment plan. However, the city plans to hold onto the property and the convention center/hotel idea for the long term.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.