Star-Telegram: Downtown blossoms at last
October 11, 2010
By Robert N. Cluck and James D. Spaniolo
Anyone who drives south on Center Street through the heart of our city can see it: Suddenly something big has happened to downtown Arlington.
From the new bridge that moves traffic south across Interstate 30, to the restaurants taking shape near the restored Arlington Music Hall and the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, it's clear that what is going on is grand.
Last month, commercial property owners with the biggest stake in downtown redevelopment received City Council support for a bold plan to support downtown development with additional property taxes.
And on Monday, the University of Texas at Arlington, the city and First Baptist Church of Arlington will formally celebrate our partnership as we launch the College Park District, an area spanning more than 20 acres on the northeast corner of campus.
In two short years, the two primary elements – the 6,500-seat College Park Center for special events and its companion residential-retail development – will become a nucleus of activity like we've never seen in our urban core.
The Residences at College Park will provide living space for 600 students in residence halls and apartments wrapped around two parking structures to support campus and downtown activities. Retail shops and restaurants will line the streets. Patrons will spill out toward College Park Center and other downtown establishments.
This project would not be happening without vision and leadership from the university, the city and First Baptist Church.
Arlington has committed up to $18 million toward the parking structures and agreed to provide the space to our community for downtown events. Church leaders contributed 1.5 acres toward the project; in turn, members of the growing congregation may use the new covered parking spaces when they are needed most.
Even now, the bustle of activity has prompted private student housing development along the university's northwestern edge and a revival of interest in businesses relocating or expanding to be near it all.
But these results have not appeared overnight. They were imagined and advocated by persevering community leaders who refused to give up on their affection for the city's center.
Their plans, crafted and revised, were like the rungs up the big hill of the Titan roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas, each one pulling us toward the launch point.
They led to the first major financial commitment to downtown redevelopment in 1995 by the Arlington City Council and Chamber of Commerce. This initial funding enabled what was then Downtown Arlington Inc. to hire its first full-time development director.
And it was their determination that helped reorganize our collective efforts in 2006 as the Downtown Arlington Management Corp.
City and university leaders provided start-up financing to set the nonprofit organization on solid footing and enabled it to rally $1.2 million in community support for the Levitt Pavilion, the amphitheater that provides 50 nights of free music and performing arts events each year.
So many others stood their ground over the years -- from J. Gilligan's Bar and Grill to Theatre Arlington to the Arlington Museum of Art -- resolved that the downtown district was and will remain their place to do business.
We cannot know all that the future holds for downtown Arlington and the College Park District.
But we do know what kind of change happens when business, educational and civic interests band together to make it so.
This moment is exhilarating. It's like being at the top of the Titan and getting ready for the thrill of your life.