Music, tacos and craft beer fueled a block party Thursday evening to celebrate the grand opening of Urban Union, a mixed-used development that is giving new life to old buildings in Arlington’s core downtown.
The project’s first phase, anchored by Legal Draft Beer Co., which opened in July, is located in 30,000 square feet of renovated automotive repair buildings at 500 E. Front St., filled nearly to capacity with six office and entertainment-focused tenants, said developer Ryan Dodson.
“It’s 92 percent complete. It’s a perfect time to showcase the last year’s worth of work,” he said. “We have new businesses open, the landscaping is in. It looks really nice.”
Hundreds of people milled along Front Street in the early evening, most stopping by the project’s flagship enterprise, which brews and cans its own beer and sells pints for swilling on its spacious patio.
The other first-phase tenants are Sleep Cottage, makers of designer sleep masks; Sugar Bee Sweets; CearnalCo residential real estate brokers; Dodson Companies; and Downtown Arlington Management Corp.
“I love that it’s walkable, and I love the diversity of businesses,” said Beth Owens, an Arlington native and co-founder of the BrandEra marketing firm, “They’re doing a great job of repurposing some of these buildings and creating new energy in this part of town.”
Dodson hadn’t come up with a description of the architectural look he’s going for.
“Maybe a good term would be like modern industrial, or something,” he said. “All I know is it’s eclectic and it’s fun, and we don’t comply with almost any ordinance from the city, but they’re working with us.”
The second phase, also about 30,000 square feet, kicked off recently with construction on an “extremely pedestrian-friendly” plaza between two buildings that will have permanent benches, streetlights and other features. It will serve both for parking and for hosting musical performances and other events.
Dodson said he will be marketing aggressively to bring restaurants into the next phase.
Ultimately, Urban Union will be a three-phase, 100,000-square-foot collection of 16 to 18 buildings, mostly from the old Luke Honda auto dealership that Dodson purchased in 2013, plus a half-dozen buildings to be newly constructed.
“They were just a mishmash of mechanic shops, used-car lots,” said Dodson, who eventually compiled 6.5 acres that straddle Front Street.
“What you’re starting to see is what was industrial space reimagined into restaurants, businesses and breweries,” said Michael Jacobson, president and chief executive of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, “You’re taking what has made Arlington what it is and reworking it and making something that is current and hip.”
‘Urban industrial look’
Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton appreciated the “urban industrial look” filled with “a mixed-use environment.”
“Between real estate and sleep masks and cupcakes and beer — it’s a unique, cool place to come that’s a different panel, if you will, in Arlington’s quilt,” he said.
The compound is bounded by Mesquite Street on the west, not far from City Hall, and sandwiched between Division Street and the railroad tracks.
“The cool factor is a big deal,” Dodson said. “Everybody who comes out there and sees what we’re doing, the old buildings that we’ve renovated — they get excited about it and want to be a part of it. I’m talking about people who want to rent space.”
Dodson Companies has developed smaller projects in Arlington, including Block 300, an “adaptive redevelopment” of buildings in the 300 block of Abram Street that now house Flying Fish, World Burrito, Hooligans and other establishments.
“Then I started looking for a bigger project,” Dodson said. “I’ve always liked that location. [Front] is a really nice little street. There’s some good traffic on it.”
The development impressed Cathy Stein, a Dalworthington Gardens resident.
“It’s really brought a lot of good looks and good businesses to the downtown Arlington area,” she said. “And I hope it’s just the beginning.”
Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST