Arlington Is Cool Now

(D Magazine, August 2018)  ... I probably know Arlington better than the average North Texas resident. I’ve attended my share of Cowboys and Rangers games, spent some time on the campus of UTA, hiked along the West Fork of the Trinity River at River Legacy Park, and even purchased a used Toyota from a tiny dealership along Division Street. And yet I never knew Arlington had a downtown.

The guide for my Arlington expedition is Aldo Fritz, president and CEO of the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation and the man who’d sent the email. I find Fritz at his organization’s headquarters on East Front Street, located in a light industrial building that stands next to the railroad tracks and has been recently converted into office suites. Fritz landed in the American Dream City like so many Arlingtonians before him. He moved to Dallas from Miami to take a job in the planning department at Dallas City Hall. He lived in a bungalow in Vickery Meadow. Went out in Uptown. Says he was a “big Dallas guy” who never pictured himself living in the burbs. Then he met his future wife. They started looking for a house and thinking about a family, and Fritz realized Dallas real estate was getting expensive. “I didn’t want to be house poor,” he says.

Before I see downtown Arlington, Fritz takes me into a conference room, and I catch a glimpse of the vision for its future. On the wall hangs a rendering of nearby Abram Street, which runs in front of Arlington City Hall. The design depicts a typical example of what urban planners refer to as a pedestrian orientation. Earlier this year, the city broke ground on a street renovation project that will see Abram Street narrowed from four lanes to three, its sidewalks widened, trees planted, and medians added to help slow traffic. The aim of this strategy is to generate the kind of pedestrian traffic that drives street life. Street life has never been something Arlington leaders seemed concerned about. As it turns out, they have been thinking about it more over the last 10 years, as pockets of North Texas congeal into urbanlike districts that advertise increased quality of life and demand premium rents.

Arlington’s downtown rebirth began in 2007 with a grant from the Levitt Foundation that helped fund the Levitt Pavilion. Since opening in October 2008, the outdoor plaza and event space plays host to around 50 free concerts a year. That public-private investment set the stage for developer interest. The 101 Center, a $50 million mixed-use development, opened last year catty-corner to the Levitt Pavilion and is the largest new development. On the streets around the Levitt, more signs of change are visible: a 1920s two-story auto dealership converted into lofts, multiple mixed-use developments coming out of the ground, and a new library adjacent to City Hall. Fritz is eager to show me a side of this new development that possesses a “Bishop Arts feel,” as he calls it.

We leave his office, cross the old Texas and Pacific tracks, and walk down the middle of a narrow street lined with bungalows and tiny old commercial buildings. Fritz points out all the new businesses that have opened in older buildings: two breweries, two coffee shops, a Free Play arcade, and a vinyl record shop. There’s a Twisted Root and a Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on Abrams, but also mixed in are some older Arlington standbys: Flying Fish, Shipley Do-Nuts, and J. Gilligan’s Bar & Grill.

We decide on J. Gilligan’s for lunch. Randy Ford, who opened the joint 39 years ago and now does a brisk side business shuttling customers to and from events at AT&T Stadium, drops by the table, and I ask him about the rendering of the new apartment building that hangs on a wall alongside some beer signs. He says that so many people come into the restaurant asking about all the development, now all he has to do is point to the picture and say, “That’s what they’re building ..."

To read the full story by Peter Simek, click here. Photo by Scott Womack. Originally published in the August 2018 issue of D Magazine