Through a public-private partnership, First United Methodist Church of Arlington is working with community leaders, congregation members and the city on a $1.1 million project to revitalize North and Center streets.The Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, which uses a portion of money the city acquires from natural gas drilling to benefit Arlington, awarded the church a $225,000 grant toward its project.The church held a groundbreaking ceremony on North Street after services Sunday. District 8 Councilman Michael Glaspie said the grant is one of the largest awarded during his time as secretary for the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation.“The motivation for assisting FUMC was the project’s direct connection with the development of downtown Arlington,” Glaspie said in an email. “The project benefits the community, and should be a significant catalyst for downtown enhancements.”As a part of the project, a safety median 30 feet in diameter complete with flowers and a tree will be built on North Street between the 300 block of Center and Mesquite streets to slow down traffic. “The whole traffic pattern has changed,” said Charles Clawson, chairman of the church’s board of trustees. “We now get cut-through traffic from Cowboys games, and it has become a safety and accessibility issue.”The church has had to hire police officers to help control Sunday afternoon traffic so that congregation members can back out of their spots safely on the tight two-way street, one member said.A little more than two years ago, the church’s board members approached the City Council and requested that the city close North Street, which borders the left side of the church.Council members wanted a better solution, so the board reached out to the community, and concepts evolved.District 5 Councilwoman Lana Wolff said the foundation initially awarded the church $25,000 in March to launch the effort and promised to donate $200,000 more if the church could match the funds. Wolff serves as vice president for the foundation.“The church is right at the gateway between Division and Center. It has a tremendous presence,” Wolff said. “We don’t have a whole lot of history left, and that corner has a whole lot of heritage in this community.”Sidewalks along Center and North streets will also be updated in a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly way, with the addition of brick pavers, plaza areas and landscaping. Leftover funds will go toward updating the church’s sanctuary and other needs inside and outside the church.Mary Lobban, the church’s business administrator, said the church is looking to honor the late Gene Patrick, a councilman and longtime church member who was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown.The church is looking to install pavers with Patrick’s name around the median on North Street.Community leaders are excited about sidewalk enhancements because they are modeled after downtown design standards and in line with the vision of a pedestrian-friendly, vibrant downtown.The downtown area was forgotten for generations because the city was developed as a sprawling suburb, said Tony Rutigliano, president and CEO for Downtown Arlington Management Corp. “Arlington grew up around the car. We never we really thought about the people,” Rutigliano said. “The momentum is there, but it really takes private property owners like the church.”Bart Thompson, the church’s building and grounds committee chairman, said the church also hopes to install bronze plaques with historical information along the sidewalks, being as the church is one of the stops on the city’s historical tour.Irving-based contractors SYB Construction will complete the project.The church is also working with the Downtown Arlington Management Corp., the Rotary Club of Arlington, Kiwanis Club of Arlington and the local JP Morgan Chase for additional campaign funding.Lobban said church leaders are optimistic that the campaign, which runs until Dec. 31, 2014, will achieve its goal.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST