Oh, The Places We'll Go: A Look Back and A Look Ahead
[caption id="attachment_7340" align="img-wrapleft" width="132"] Tony Rutigliano, DAMC President & CEO[/caption]
"Oh, the places you'll go." I've read this Dr. Seuss classic to my kids more times than I can count. It's one of their favorite books and frankly, it's one of mine too. Full of adventure and optimism, the story promises that good things are out there, just waiting for you to persevere and discover them.
As I think about this story, I'm reminded of the city, business and civic leaders who, through dedication and vision, have brought Downtown Arlington to this moment in time. Now a new generation of visionaries are joining them. Their combined efforts are accelerating the pride and placemaking in downtown, and the combined results are exciting, and bode well for downtown's future.
Imagine someone visiting our downtown for the first time. Maybe she's here to meet a friend for lunch or drinks after work. Maybe she's here to attend her first class at UTA. Maybe she's here to do a little shopping, get a massage, or take care of some business. Or maybe she's here to take in a show or attend a special event.
As she does, Downtown Arlington Management Corporation (DAMC) is with our guest every step of the way. Because not only have you, as entrepreneurs and business owners, inspired her patronage and loyalty by delivering quality products, services and activities, you as DAMC Board, BID members and city leaders are quite literally creating for her a uniquely Downtown Arlington experience.
Through our advocacy, our partnerships, and our strategic investment of BID dollars, DAMC is focused on the key factors that shape that downtown experience not only for visitors and neighbors but for future development partners. As we look ahead to 2016, we can point to significant progress during 2015 in several critical areas: encouraging art and cultural vibrancy; incubating our entrepreneurial ecosystem; placemaking; mobility and bike share; and marketing.
Encouraging Art & Cultural Vibrancy
Cultural arts distinguish Downtown Arlington from other communities, and DAMC is in a unique position to showcase and enhance the collective impact of every individual artist and arts organization.
DAMC is committed to identifying strategic projects and programs that further enhance our cultural vibrancy and support our goal to be recognized a State of Texas Cultural Arts District. Public art for example, such as the recently dedicated Dream sculpture, helps draw attention to arts and culture as a value of our community, as an attractor and nurturer of the creative class, and as an economic driver for our city.
Incubating Our Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Developing the next generation of entrepreneurs is long term proposition, but we have a pipeline to talent that makes most other downtowns blue and orange with envy. UT Arlington, an educational and research powerhouse, is right here in the heart of our downtown. (In case you didn't know, Arlington is a college town!)
UTA invests vast amounts of time, talent and dollars to matriculate and graduate classes in the thousands. It's absolutely our job to inspire those new grads to choose Downtown Arlington as home for their careers, their family, and their fun.
Of course, downtown businesses have been hiring UTA students for generations. In order for us to create a truly sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, we must also seek ways to entice them to start their own businesses here by working closely with the university and by providing mentoring opportunities, grassroots support, and other forms of assistance.
In an effort to incubate this entrepreneurial spirit, DAMC launched the Downtown Arlington Open Coffee Club in 2015. In 2016, and with your participation, we can accelerate the conversations that help to take concepts from whiteboard to blueprint to groundbreaking. And, along the way, establish a strong connection between these talented innovators and our fair city that will last a lifetime.
As we well know, there are many special places in Downtown Arlington. But there is also a growing sense of place. To our first-time visitor, the experience is organic, but we know it can only be achieved through intentional placemaking.
Clean, bright and safe: Not too long ago, trash cans were a hot topic of conversation at DAMC Board meetings. That's because ongoing trash collection is fundamental to the revitalization of any urban area, followed closely by lighting, signage and parking where you expect and need it. While DAMC and the City of Arlington continue to go from good to great in these areas, in 2015 DAMC partnered with the Arlington Police Department to add another vital layer. This new program, the Arlington Police Mounted Patrol, has instantly become popular with visitors and merchants (and horse lovers) alike. Watch for this special patrol at future downtown events.
Curb appeal: Thanks to the Urban Design Center and DAMC's new Downtown Destinations Grant Program, more existing properties in downtown are getting a facelift. While several projects are still in the works, Kool Keg recently completed an upgrade, which features a new beer garden and growler filling station to better serve customers.
Locals' choice: Fact (or if it isn't, it sure seems like one): Visitors want to go where the locals go. Why? Locals have the time to separate the wheat from the chaff. As we continue to encourage development and redevelopment, our goal is for all of our downtown partners to be the local's choice. Because when a visitor comes to town and sees us voting with our feet, they'll know they've come to the right place.
Residential vibe: Meanwhile, as 404 Border and The Arli open in 2016, and then 101 Center in 2017, many more options will become available for anyone who wants to work, learn, play and relax in their own neighborhood. More housing options in downtown mean more locals, and as we know, locals are good for business.
Mobility and Bike Share
Mobility: DAMC is laser-focused on connecting developers, visitors and residents with downtown assets. The Abram Street initiative, a connectivity game-changer, will transform downtown's main artery from thoroughfare to welcoming gateway.
DAMC's involvement, however, didn't end with City Council's approval of the project. Once downtown construction begins in 2017, DAMC will work diligently to mitigate the short term inconveniences. In coordination with the City, we'll provide additional signage and develop a multi-tiered marketing strategy to support, unify and supplement those employed by individual downtown business partners.
Bike Share: With the anticipated launch of a bike share program, the connections multiply exponentially. In fact, I'll put it on record: this is the top priority for DAMC in 2016.
According to an April 2014 article in USA Today, "although commonly praised for health and traffic benefits, (bike sharing programs) also serve as a 'last mile' function..." In other words, bike sharing is for intraconnecting downtown, but it's also about interconnecting with Arlington and beyond.
Think of what that "last mile" looks like in Downtown Arlington. That mile encompasses nearly all of our business improvement district. It's exactly one mile from the Sanford House to the College Park Center. It's a 6 minute bike ride from 404 Border to Grease Monkey. It's a 9 minute ride from Arlington High School to the Levitt Pavilion. And if you live in downtown, it's all within reach.
After parking once in a downtown or UTA parking lot or disembarking the MAX, that mile will get you just about everywhere, and perhaps more importantly, you will be physically and psychologically closer to everything in between. Mobility leads to more connectivity, and connectivity leads to a greater ownership of place.
Each new development, event, opening, or milestone is an opportunity to tell the Downtown Arlington story. DAMC continues to expand our storytelling reach via media coverage, social media and paid advertising. Our Downtown Destination guide has been very effective in illustrating our wide range of businesses, arts and cultural activities, venues and events. In 2016, we'll launch a refreshed website featuring even more economic development information to help expand our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Still, the best promotion has been and always will be word of mouth. When Downtown Arlington tweets about an event, it's good public relations. When a business owner or neighbor retweets it, it's a great endorsement. Endorsements build brand. Endorsements are powerful calls to action.
Imagine again our visitor as she nears the end of her first time in Downtown Arlington. She experienced enthusiasm and pride as she dined or shopped or took in a show and tweeted about it. She noticed all of the interesting developments under construction, including the new Downtown Library. Her kids will love that. There are several cool restaurants she didn't have time to try, and she learned about an upcoming exhibits at the Gallery at UTA and the Arlington Museum of Art. So she decides to return for a group date night with her husband and friends.
Oh, the places we've been. And oh, the place we're building together.