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'New Jacksonville:' Oak Hills, Oak Hollow Developments Will Bring Dynamic Presence

Tyler Morning Telegraph Business Editor

Steve Thornton and J.P. Davis often refer to Old Jacksonville Highway as "New Jacksonville, not Old Jacksonville."

Since buying up 368 acres of land on both sides of the highway, the owners of Oak Properties have been busy developing the land that has since been turned into homes and offices, as well as large businesses like FRESH by Brookshire's and The Heights of Tyler.

"There's probably more than $100 million in infrastructure, commercial buildings and homes added to the city's tax base out here since 2006," Thornton said.

And they're not even close to being finished with the two developments -- Oak Hollow, 178 acres on the east side of Old Jacksonville, and Oak Hills, 190 acres on the west side.

"It is the first true master-planned community in East Texas," Thornton said, calling it "a high-quality corridor going out to neighborhood communities."

Two local businesses -- Swann's Furniture and Merrill Lynch -- are constructing facilities in the developments to move from their current locations, and several large shopping centers filled with restaurant and retail businesses with sprawling open air spaces are planned. Our Saviors Lutheran Church has purchased land there and is working on plans now, Thornton, president of Oak Properties, said.

"A lot has happened out here," he said.

About 10 years ago, they bought Hollytree West and began developing land off Old Jacksonville Highway. About the same time they finished that development four years later, the Oak Hill property became available. S&T; Development bought the property -- the first large tract of land to be purchased on Old Jacksonville, Thornton claimed.

Oak Properties bought the 178-acre tract six years ago and named it Oak Hollow because of the trees lining the property. They have since developed it into 70 percent high-end residential and 30 percent commercial, retail and office, he said.

Oak Hollow's anchor tenant will be Swann's Furniture, which broke ground Tuesday on its planned 50,000-square-foot store that should be completed in about a year, Thornton said. Swann's will be in the center of Swann Plaza Retail Center.

Mark Priestner, president of Planning Concepts, said the center will be similar to Highland Park Village and all of the businesses in Swann Plaza will be connected with outside walking and shared parking.

Oak Hollow has lots ranging from $60,000 to $250,000, Thornton said.

Thornton said they are talking to several retailers and restaurants interested in coming to the area for an 11,000-square-foot retail building they will be constructing and leasing.

There are six office buildings completed or under construction, with 10 to 12 tenants, in The Village area of Oak Hollow.

When completely developed, there will also be 350 to 400 homes in Oak Hollow, Thornton said.

One of the unique things about Oak Hollow is its three lakes, he said. The largest lake is surrounded by homes while the other two have offices around them. There are more than two acres of park area, three miles of walking trails and it has boulevard streets and no thru-traffic in the residential neighborhoods, Thornton said.

"It makes for a very livable, playable, kid-friendly atmosphere," Priestner said.

People who live out there can walk to work and to the restaurants and centers. "Neighborhood retail is what we're looking for," Thornton said.

Priestner said they designed the homes and retail located there to cover everyone -- from young professionals to retired empty-nesters.

Oak Hollow offers garden homes and town homes to typical single-family and large estate single-family houses. The idea is young couple can live there and move within the neighborhood as their living needs change, he said.

"We have the highest end of each division of homes," Davis, vice president of Oak Properties, said. "We're trying to set the bench mark for each category of residential."


They bought the 190-acre property that has been developed into Oak Hills four years ago and immediately began working with Brookshire Grocery Co. for the FRESH by Brookshire's store that opened this year. Thornton said they worked with Brookshire's to design the site plans for the store, which is the anchor for the Oak Hills development.

Oak Hills is about 85 percent commercial and 15 percent residential. Thornton said they planned for 60 percent commercial but bumped it up to meet the growing interest and demand in the area.

Trek Interests, LLC, is developing an 11-acre site for The Ridge Shopping Center, which will surround FRESH on the store's north, west and south sides. There will be seven retail buildings with a total of 120,000 square feet in the first phase of the development.

The first building, already under construction, will be 15,000 square feet and will have four retail and restaurant tenants, Thornton said.

Emily Thornton, Thornton's daughter and director of marketing and sales, said one tenant will be the Bikram Yoga Studio, a franchise.

Glenn Eikner, of Burns Commercial Properties, said Katie's Jewelry will be another.

The style of The Ridge is going to be "true Texas Hill Country style with a contemporary flair" similar to FRESH's facility, Thornton said.


Oak Hills Montessori School, also located in Oak Hills, is expanding and is only on its second phase of development, with a total of four phases planned, Thornton said. The Heights of Tyler, a skilled nursing, rehabilitation, Alzheimer's care and assisted living facility, opened last year. And Sundance at Oakhill, a planned memory care facility, held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.

Merrill Lynch will be moving to the area after being downtown for more than 30 years, Thornton said. It will take up 8,000 square feet in a 12,000-square-foot building already under construction on Old Jacksonville, he said, adding that it should be completed by the end of the year. The other 4,000 square feet will be leased out.

Keller Williams Realty moved into a new facility in Oak Hills less than two years ago and had to the double size of its building sooner than expected, Thornton said.

Your Favorite Things, an interior design studio, and The Rage Salon, have relocated into the area. Thornton said the salon was the first building they constructed that gave the development the theme of what The Ridge is going to be.

The Promenade is an area that already has retail and offices, including Jucy's, Chicken Express and Kung Pao, but will be expanded and possibly have another retail center added as the area grows, Ms. Thornton said.

Oak Properties has also sold a 29-acre tract to Tyler Independent School District to construct a new middle school if a bond passes voters, Thornton said. The first school bond to include the new middle school construction failed in November.

More than 70 acres between the two developments have been sold since the end of 2007, Eikner said.


"Two of the oldest retailers in town (Swann's and Brookshire's) are moving to the newest area of town," Davis said. "It's the new Jacksonville, not the Old Jacksonville."

He said all of the development took place during "one of the worst economic downturns in our lifetime."

The downed economy has impacted Oak Properties' development very little and their commercial plots picked up during that time, Thornton added.

Several offices, including accountants, dentists, legal and other professionals are already located in both developments, and Thornton said they are planning to move the Oak Properties offices from Oak Hollow to Oak Hills.

Ms. Thornton said they want to make the development a hub for urban-style restaurants and shopping centers. The different retail areas are based on different consumer needs.

They are working with local and regional groups, not national tenants, to fill the retail centers in both developments, Eikner said.

One restaurant they are in discussions with is a regional restaurant that offers fine dining Northern Italian cuisine, Thornton said, adding that he couldn't convey the name of the eatery until the deal was made final.

Oak Hollow is more high-end with medium- to low-commercial traffic because it is neighborhood oriented, and Oak Hills is more fast-paced, hustle and bustle, Thornton said.

Both projects probably have another five years of development, he said.

"It's really driven by demand for the land use," Eikner said. "We are picking and choosing carefully on who is put out here."

Thornton said Oak Hollow and Oak Hill will each only have six entrances off of Old Jacksonville and the buildings are shoved to the front with parking in the back for a more beautiful neighborhood design.

Priestner said both developments will offer the same walkability and attention to detail.

Thornton said traffic counts on Old Jacksonville Highway have gone up in recent years with the growing development.

Eikner said Oak Hills and Oak Properties is the first master planned community in East Texas and the area is long overdue for something like this. He said the area, with Hollytree and Hollytree West nearby, is one of the areas in town with the highest density in population and in highest-earning residents.

Thornton said they have spent tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure out of their own pockets, from profits and loans. They completely developed the land, cutting in the streets and putting in infrastructure, before trying to sell any of the properties.

"People are visual ... we took the guess work out of it," he said.

Priestner sees all the plans on the developments and helps design the projects. He said they worked with tenants throughout the entire process to fit their needs.

Eikner and Blair Swaim, of Burns Commercial Properties, are responsible for leasing the properties. Thornton said the day the developments are being finished, they are pretty much being leased.

"They are the most aggressive developers in town," Eikner said of Thornton and Davis.

The developments have also brought a lot of new employees to that area of town.

Eikner said The Heights has more than 120 employees, FRESH has about 150, Keller Williams has more than 100 and Merrill Lynch has about 40. There are now about 300 employees in Oak Hills without the future tenants of The Ridge, he said.

He said this is the first time two projects this large -- Oak Hills and Oak Hollow -- were put together for one development in Tyler.

For more information, call 903-939-9972 or visit www.oakpropertiestx.com

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