Sue Phillips believes that folks have a couple of choices when neighborhoods start changing in ways they don’t like.
“You can stay put and work at making things better, or you can run away to the newer and shinier,” Phillips said. “My husband and I chose to stay put and do our part to make a difference.”
Residents since 1979, Sue and Jimmy Phillips are deeply involved in East Arlington Renewal, an organization dedicated to preserving a neighborhood that sprang up near the General Motors assembly plant in the 1950s. They’re excited about a project that could be the most significant boost to that organization’s mission in its 34-year history. A 630-day, two-phase project set to begin the first week of November will dress up New York Avenue from Abram Street to Park Row and completely replace utilities, rebuild the road bed and replace the pavement and sidewalks from Park Row to Arkansas Lane.
Phillips believes the $12 million project will be the catalyst for rebirth of what she calls downtown east Arlington.
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“When you start redevelopment, you know that nothing happens until you get a good street,” Phillips said. “No developer invests in an area where the streets are deteriorated or in serious decline.”
Phillips said the stretch of New York Avenue from Abram to Park Row was redone between 2001 and 2003, and its concrete surface still looks pretty good.
Andrea Ruales, a city civil engineer, said that the six-month first phase of the project will include cutting out and replacing sections of the concrete that have failed and replacing sidewalks and ADA ramps.
Then, utility work from Park Row to Arkansas Lane will install new water and sewer lines and address some drainage issues, Ruales said. “We’ll do pavement reclamation, remove the existing street, rebuild the subgrade and resurface with 8 inches of asphalt.”
Phillips said that the New York Avenue strategic plan also includes beautification with “total streetscape improvements, new lighting, park benches and paste-on designs at intersections.”
In her vision, the woman who’s been dubbed by some followers as the mayor of east Arlington sees a return of the area’s glory days.
“We had more grocery stores and Park Plaza shopping center, the original mall in Arlington,” Phillips said. “It’s still there, at the corner of New York and East Park Row, but it has a lot of vacancies and needs a huge amount of improvements.”
Within a couple of years of the projected mid-2018 completion of the New York Avenue contract awarded Sept. 20 to East Jackson Construction of Fort Worth, Phillips hopes there will be a Walmart Neighborhood Market near her home, and she also wants Braum’s to come back.
“We miss the ice cream and the dairy products you can buy there,” she said.
And she and her neighbors “love the new Asian market center, Ben Thanh Plaza, at Pioneer Parkway and New York,” Phillips said. “It will almost be like a tourist attraction. Not only Asians, but everybody will go there. It’s an attraction for a greater shopping experience.”
Ben Thanh owner David Dang was counting on that throughout the three years it took to finish the marketplace. The Oct. 1 grand opening of his supermarket — the shopping center’s anchor store — lifted a huge weight from his shoulders.
“Over 18 years in business, I listened to what people want and learned what I needed for an urban store,” Dang said.
Listening to Phillips, Dang learned that non-Asian customers likely would be turned away by the smells inherent in an enormous fish market in the back of the store. He addressed that by enclosing it in glass and installing a $50,000 air-filtering system. As it turned out, the Asian shoppers appreciated it just as much and complimented Dang on it.
Ben Thanh now has more than 40 specialty businesses representing such cultures as Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, Philippine, and Egyptian. It’s a reflection of the diversity of east Arlington residents, Phillips said.
Residents also want to see a major turnaround of the area’s existing multifamily housing, “which has already started,” Phillips said. “One developer already has made huge investments.”
Cross Equities, a property management company based in Addison, saw potential where others saw liabilities.
“We took that eyesore over there called L’Atrium in May 2011 and spent a lot of money to give people something they can be proud of,” said Tim Gillean, owner of Cross Equities. “It’s now called Crossway Apartments.”
The 484-unit complex spread over several blocks near Texas 360 had a reputation for crime, grime and code violations. Cross Equities invested more than $5 million, changed the flat roofs to pitched roofs, renovated the homes into modern living spaces and removed elements that had contributed to crime.
It was one of several recent success stories generated by community policing since the East Arlington Police Service Center opened at 2001 New York Ave. in 1996, said police Lt. Eddie Garth.
“The biggest issue in east Arlington is quality-of-life code enforcement stuff, like the older apartment complexes,” Garth said.
Garth encouraged apartment complex owners to use Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design measures, like taking out things bad guys can hide behind near residents’ entry doors. That was a big problem at L’Atrium that Gillean eliminated in the renovation.
Gillean said that Cross Equities also bought and renovated a 362-unit complex off Park Row in May 2007, because he anticipated a renewal movement and he wanted to be part of it.
“We work well with the city of Arlington and East Arlington Renewal to go in and fix these properties up,” he said. “Any tenants that were not conforming with our community policies, or had anything to do with crime, we cleaned the place up and got rid of them.”
Garth lauded hundreds of east Arlington residents who are committed to cleaning up the rest of the neighborhood.
“We’ll see groups out there with trash bags picking up litter,” he said.
Phillips said that an anti-litter campaign called See Litter, Pick It Up was born in one of East Arlington Renewal’s meetings. Its success is evident on many neighborhood streets and proof of what can happen when people make an effort to meet their neighbors.
“When you know each other, you’re not afraid of each other,” Phillips said.
And that can inspire people to stay put and make things better.