Star-Telegram reporter Bill Hanna’s recent story described the transformation of Abram Street into a pedestrian-friendly experience through the middle of Arlington that will produce significant changes in the progress we can see everywhere.
The centerpiece of the new Abram Street is the burgeoning configuration of an expanded City Hall, the new central library nearing completion, the 101 Center apartment/business mid-rise building, and the Levitt Pavilion with new facilities to annually stage its 50 free concerts.
Hanna’s story reminded me that a little more than a year ago I wrote about a young banker who came to my office on Abram Street in downtown Arlington about 40 years earlier looking for a $500 donation to help pay for a consultant study of how to improve the city’s central business district.
Tom Cravens explained that something needed to be done to guide the resurgence of the city’s core, which was once the main gathering place for its residents.
Since the era of what was called suburban sprawl that evolved after WWII, Arlington had become one of those municipalities familiar throughout the country where patterns of new development had left downtown behind.
Old photographs of people congregating around the town’s main feature — a historic mineral water well at the intersection of the appropriately named Center and Main Streets — illustrated life as it once was in the heart of town.
When youthful Mayor Tommy Vandergriff decided the well needed to be shut down in the early 1950s, he encountered some unhappy townsfolk. The mayor’s justification was his vision for a town that was to become more than a water stop between the two big cities to the east and west.
Twenty years later, about half of what was left of the old downtown was bulldozed away to make room for a new City Hall complex and central library.
By then, other than a couple of banks expanding their offices, nothing much had been built in the center of a city enjoying record-setting population growth spreading in all directions.
That reality is what motivated Cravens to lead an effort that would focus on a possible resurgence of the city’s birthplace. The result was the first of what would become many versions over the next couple of decades of plans to re-energize downtown.
The most recent of those studies was produced in 2004 and provided some ideas that would finally be initiated. Some long-sought results were beginning to be achieved with people rediscovering the place many had only passed through on the way to somewhere else.
With all of that underway, the city is developing a new downtown master plan that will recognize the changes that have occurred throughout in the past 10 years, build on that momentum and chart the course for the future.
In my Arlington business and political experience, which began in 1967, I have occupied offices in six downtown buildings, all of them either on Abram Street or no more than a block away.
During that time, I often wondered if any of the plans that began with the one Tom Cravens first rounded up funding for would ever materialize.
Progress has finally been made thanks, to a large extent, of the city’s ability to create an enterprise zone configured around the historic downtown area to support private development.
When the Texas Legislature next convenes, there will again be initiatives pushed by some to deny cities these means to encourage private investment and public-private economic partnerships.
Arlington’s downtown experience and subsequent achievement of long-sought goals, made possible by the use of those vital tools, is one of the state’s many success stories that would serve to end such threats to local control.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.