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Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas, business scene column
[January 02, 2007]

Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas, business scene column


(Tyler Morning Telegraph (TX) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Dec. 31--BUSINESS YEAR IN REVIEW: While the year in business 2006 was marked by news of the United Steelworkers ratifying its new master contract with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., ending a three-month strike and establishing a guarantee that the Tyler plant would operate for at least another year, the Rose City was full of other major, if less dramatic, business news.



Construction played a major role in the news, for most businesses must have some kind of shelter from which to operate, and growth brings about the need for highways. In late August, East Texans received a chance to travel down the road that finally arrived -- Loop 49.

The loop, the first phase of which runs between Texas Highway 155 and U.S.


Highway 69 became a toll road as it was being built, and in November it began tolling drivers. The money is to go into a fund to help pay for more construction.

Officials said the toll revenue will allow the roadway to be constructed much faster than it would with conventional highway funding, and Jeff Austin III, chairman of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, said he expects the loop to extend to Interstate 20 within 12 years. Construction is continuing to extend it east to Paluxy Drive.

Commercial and residential construction continued to be strong in Tyler in 2006.

According to building permits records, from January through November, the city issued 6,648 permits for a construction investment of $302.73 million.

Last year through November it issued 6,524 permits for a $241.04 million construction investment.

According to information from the city, Tyler's Development Services Department has issued 593 residential building permits, which by year's end is expected to meet or exceed the 606 issued last year.

The city also reported a 20 percent increase in commercial building permits issued this year. The city issued 84 so far this year, up from 70 last year.

The Tyler Independent School District's bond program for new schools poured tens of millions of dollars into projects in 2006. They included Jack Elementary, Douglas Elementary, Austin Elementary and Bonner Elementary.

Other notable commercial permits included a new Boys and Girls Club and additions to East Texas Medical Center.

Banks were also in a growth mode in 2006, with Hibernia, now Capital One, completing a 7,019-square-foot, $1.6 million branch at Texas 155 and Loop 323 on the city's southwest side.

Also, Austin Bank and Citizens National Bank began building their branches in Cumberland Park, and Guaranty Bank began construction on a 5,567-square-foot, $1.04 million branch at Old Bullard Road and Loop 323.

Some senior citizens' residential care centers also started construction.

They included the Waterford Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center and The Waterford Inn Assisted Living in the 2800 block of Shiloh Road.

The Waterford, a 35,000-square-foot complex, should be open in the spring of 2007, officials said, and it will provide degrees of care according to residents' conditions. It will have an assisted living section with 30 private apartments and an 80-bed, semi-private section for long-term care, and a full-serve dialysis treatment center provided by Renal Ventures Management LLC.

Other centers under construction include The Hamptons at Pine Ridge on Old Omen Road, Prestige Estates at Paluxy Drive and Roy Road and Signature Senior Living LLC on Old Jacksonville Highway.

The year also saw three pharmacies completed.

CVS Pharmacy built a 12,900-square-foot, $1.1 million store on South Broadway Ave. in the Bergfeld Center. Another CVS store, previously estimated at $1 million, opened at 2626 E. Fifth St. It replaced a nearby CVS store.

And Walgreens completed a 14,820-square-foot, $1.3 million store at 2120 ESE Loop 323.

Cumberland Park, the mixed-use development on U.S. 69 just north of Loop 49, saw its first retailer, the outdoors store Gander Mountain, open in April.

The 66,500-square-foot store represented an investment of about $3.59 million, according to building permits.

And the third Wal-Mart Supercenter opened at 5050 Troup Highway in September. Wal-Mart closed its store at 3900 Troup Highway concurrently with the new store's opening.

At 203,910 square feet, the store is more than 82,000 square feet larger than the previous Troup Highway store. The company said it would add 330 positions with the new store and employ about 500 people. The investment, according to Tyler building permits, was about $7.09 million.

New retailers moved in to the Tyler market to fill empty spaces.

Enid, Okla.-based Atwoods Ranch & Home remodeled the inside of the former west side Wal-Mart building at 303 NNW Loop 323, and a Ritter home improvement center filled the remaining space next to Hobby Lobby in the former Kmart store building on Loop 323 between Paluxy Drive and Troup Highway.

And Robert Peltier moved the Chevrolet dealership he bought from the King family last year out of downtown Tyler and to the former site of his Nissan dealership.

The Nissan inventory was moved to another Peltier lot at 3201 SSW Loop 323, and Peltier said his dealership promised Nissan that it would build a new, image-ready facility for the automaker. Peltier said the front half of the existing building that is being refurbished should be completed by March 2007.

While Peltier declined to give a specific cost for the entire job, he said it was "a lot."

The drought of 2006 brought a heavy burden to bear on area ranchers and hay producers.

Many ranchers were forced to feed their cattle in the summer because a lack of rain equated to a lack of grass in the pastures. Those who could not feed their cattle were often forced to sell them, Michael Davis, owner-operator of Tri-County Livestock Market in New Summerfield, said.

In mid-August, Texas Cooperative Extension reported estimated drought losses for Texas had reached $4.1 billion, far more than the $2.1 million mark set in 1998.

And because of the lack of rainfall, there was nothing for hay producers to cut and bale, creating a short supply in summer and into winter.

Bullard area rancher Jimmy Bain said a lack of rain last winter only worsened conditions by the time summer arrived. In mid-August he said a friend of his already had to sell off his entire herd.

With a unanimous board vote in June, the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce put SporTyler, a sports-related tourism program, back in business.

SporTyler helped sponsor and operate some of sporting events in the 1990s, but eventually became dormant. In February, Mark McDaniel, Tyler deputy city manager, suggested forming a group to investigate re-establishing the program. McDaniel cited examples of the success the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce had with its attention to sports-related tourism.

The board's action included establishing SporTyler under the Tyler Convention & Visitors Bureau, which made the program an official chamber committee effective with the chamber's new fiscal year.

The CVB budget is funding the new program.

After three years, the program will be submitted to a "sunset review," and it could be renewed if it is shown to have helped increase hotel/motel tax revenue.

According to a 2007-09 proposed budget, with each fiscal year ending Sept.

30, SporTyler should bring $82,000 in revenue its first year. That amount is projected to increase to $118,000 and $156,000 the next two years.

Also in 2006, the chamber board approved the organization's participation in the Hispanic Business Alliance, an entity to foster Hispanic business development through collaboration among new and existing programs and agencies. It budgeted $33,400 for its role in the alliance.

The Fourth Partner Foundation proposed to fund a third of the alliance's $99,600 budget, with the remaining third to come from the community.

Boardings at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport decreased in 2006, largely because of American Airlines' decision to reduce the number of American Eagle flights out of the airport in March to combat proposed changes to the Wright Amendment.

The Wright amendment, passed in 1979, restricted Southwest Airlines' service to limited points in Texas and neighboring states in an effort to build business at the then-new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Amid the turmoil, American officials warned the city's Airport Advisory Board in May 2005 that if the amendment were repealed, the airline would have to cut some Tyler service to remain competitive.

As a result, Colgan Air, the Continental Connection to Houston, became the airline with the greatest number of boardings at the airport after American trimmed the number of its commuter flights.

Also in 2006, the city and the Historical Aviation Memorial Museum made strides toward putting the old airport terminal on Texas Highway 64 back in use.

In June, HAMM signed a $15,000-per-year lease for the first floor of the building and began renovating it to be the museum's new home. HAMM officials said the museum's facilities on Dixie Drive would still be used for airplane restoration.

In March, Comanche-based Higginbotham Bros. & Co. Ltd. acquired Sam R. Hill Lumber Co., a Tyler institution for contractors and do-it-yourselfers. HBC officials said their company would retain the Sam R. Hill name.

And in May, Cox Communications Inc. and Cebridge Connections announced they had closed the sales transaction on most of Cox's cable television systems, including most of Tyler-based Middle America Cox, to Cebridge.

Both companies were private, and they did not disclose the terms of the transaction.

Cebridge also announced the rebranding of the company to Suddenlink Communications.

Cox was looking to sell the operations to reduce debt incurred in the process of its going private in 2004, and also to put the company in a better position for growth.

To see more of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tylerpaper.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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