Downtown Arlington Management Corp.
500 E. Front St.
Arlington, Texas 76011
Aldo Fritz, president of the Downtown Arlington Management Corp., need only step outside the organization’s East Front Street office to confirm – at long last – that the long-awaited tipping point for the city’s downtown renovation has arrived and continues to accelerate.
The DAMC office exists in the midst of one such bit of evidence, Urban Union, a 100,000-square-foot, 6.5-acre collection of what was once a mishmash of tired used-car lots, mechanic shops and the old Luke Honda auto dealership.
The development contains an eclectic array of startup businesses ranging from craft beer brewer Legal Draft and gourmet baker Sugar Bee’s to Union Worx, a coworking office.
It’s a synergy thing, Urban Union being only one success story among many.
A block away, patrons flock to the newest downtown watering hole, Tipsy Oak, or listen to up-and-coming musicians at nearby Grease Monkey, which credits itself in part with discovering Grammy winner Maren Morris.
Three blocks away the Levitt Pavilion, an outdoor theater, packs in audiences for 50 concerts a year featuring performers such as Barenaked Ladies and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Old guard restaurants such as Gilligan’s, meanwhile, enjoy new revenue highs.
“Things are going well,” said Fritz, 39, in what might be considered an understatement.
He’s been on the job a year now after stints as a planner for the City of Dallas and as a mainstay in redevelopment of the massive J.C. Penney Co. headquarters in Plano.
Not that things have come easily for downtown redevelopment since DAMC was created as a nonprofit partner with the city and the University of Texas at Arlington back in 2006.
Ever since the T&P Railroad laid out Arlington’s half-mile wide downtown in 1876, the town has expanded from its core. With 400,000 people now spread across almost 100 square miles, early economic development emphasis focused on GM, shopping centers, businesses along the interstate and a municipal brand heavy on professional sports and amusement parks: roller coasters, football and baseball.
“I think you could say it was a typical suburban phenomenon,” said Fritz, ever the pragmatic planner. “First there’s abandonment of the old downtown, then nostalgia, then redevelopment and return.”
The major snag for downtown redevelopment was difficult to resolve: Not many people lived in the area, fewer than 2,000 when DAMC was created in 2006.
By 2019 it’ll be close to 10,000, the arrival at long last of what Fritz describes as a live/work/play – and visit – “everybody’s neighborhood downtown.” That neighborhood downtown feel should be enhanced when an Abram Street rebuild is complete that will slow traffic and enhance pedestrian access.
Clearly it helps, he says, that downtown is handily sandwiched between a booming UT Arlington and an expanding entertainment district that recently opened Texas Live! and at which the Texas Rangers are busily constructing a new indoor ballpark.
DAMC board Chair Amy Cearnal calculates that the downtown renovation is also arriving just in time for a shifting demographic market focused on millennials. Bureau of Labor Statistics studies show that more than half the age group prefer suburban living, but with proximity to amenities – very much a description of today’s downtown Arlington.
“All living options in the Downtown Arlington district are a bike ride or Uber away from all the entertainment district has to offer from Rangers to Cowboys to TexasLive! and other dining opportunities,” Cearnal said. “Downtown living is a great option for career-flexible millennials or baby boomers who don’t want a big yard but want more amenities.”
Fritz, meanwhile, continues to work away at strategies that range from expanding public art and popup cultural events to creating a downtown podcast and attracting off-center retail.
“We’re focused now on continued momentum and communication,” he says. “Not enough people know about what’s happening here. But they will.”
O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.