POSTED: Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 7:02pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - 12:04pm
It's been six months a since a massive fire ripped through Downtown Tyler
SMITH COUNTY - It's been six months a since a massive fire ripped through Downtown Tyler and some businesses say they are fed up with the parking situation there.
For 30 years, Ralph Mason's Levines Store has called the downtown square home and, he says, his business is struggling.
"To be honest with you," said Mason, "It's been the toughest six months since I've been in Tyler."
He acknowledges the economy had played a large role in the lack of business recently. But he also said some of his customers are bypassing his business because they said it's too difficult to park in downtown.
In fact, there are only four parking spots directly in front of the store. Eight spaces are gated from the destroyed properties and parking spaces across the street are reserved for law enforcement officials.
"Somehow we need to have a solution," said Mason. "Are we going to go another six months...24 months? I like having Levines in downtown. I'd hate to be forced to move away from the square."
Six months ago, Levines was just feet away from being engulfed in the massive fire that gutted five buildings along Spring Avenue.
Then buildings were then donated to Smith County by the properties owner.
But since then, the only change Mason said he's seen, is the amount of trash cluttered along the pavements near the site.
Smith County Commissioner Joel Baker said there is a reason for the delay.
He said the county doesn't exactly own the property just yet.
"We are set to close and transfer the title to the county early next week," said Judge Baker. "As soon as we get the title to the property then we'll start the process. We can't do anything with the property until we have ownership of it."
Judge Baker said the plans aren't set in stone.
One short term idea is transforming the buildings into an open courtyard full of trees and park benches.
"We want to make sure we act quickly and responsibly, diligently and analyze every situation," he said.
Judge Baker also said the county will work with the historical society to see if they can preserve part of the building."
Mason said although it's an eyesore downtown, more than anything, he wants the city and county to address parking issues.
"If we're going to have a viable downtown," said Mason, "Then we need to address parking here long-term."