Richard Greene

Downtown Arlington transformation finally underway

The 101 Center mixed-use development in downtown Arlington is on the site of the old central library.
The 101 Center mixed-use development in downtown Arlington is on the site of the old central library.

There’s something in the downtown Arlington sky that we haven’t seen in a very long time – cranes.

The Star-Telegram has been covering two big projects in the city’s center that have been a long time coming but they are here at last.

I don’t remember the exact year, but it was in the early 1970s when Arlington banker Tom Cravens walked into my downtown office asking for money for an endeavor he described as being sorely needed.

He explained that it was imperative to get something going to revitalize the central business district. The area had been left behind in the burgeoning growth of a city on the move in every direction except downtown.

What he wanted the money for — a modest $500 ask — was to help fund a plan that would address the need for a renaissance, to stimulate investment interest in the city’s core.

Professional consultants were hired and soon produced such a plan. More plans would come in the years ahead, with none of them finding much support from private entities willing to take a risk downtown.

Even earlier, in 1969 an an impressive plan was adopted by the City Council and was described in a Dallas newspaper with glowing possibilities: “An ambitious plan, complete with malls, superblocks and an amphitheater, for possible redevelopment of the Arlington Central Business District …”

While almost none of that happened, efforts at revitalization continued in the spirit of never giving up.

Now, the high-rise development named 101 Center has been topped out, and already the landscape at the intersection of Main and Center streets has vividly changed.

When folks discover it, the reaction is often something like, “Wow, what’s that going to be?”

Developers and city leaders alike are more than ready with answers. You can find them all on the project’s website.

“101 Center means business. And not just because the first floor of this new Arlington apartment community will be filled to the brim with shops, restaurants, and other retail options.

“This downtown development will include a 24-hour fitness center, a pool, grilling stations, resident lounge and 24-hour accessible package lockers. You and your furry friend will be able to move into 101 Center in 2017 and enjoy monthly rent that covers your cable, WiFi, utilities and even furniture in select units.”

Since the project is being constructed on the property where the old central library was located, a new modern, state-of-the-art, replacement is coming out of the ground across the street.

That’s the reason for the other crane in the sky.

The $30 million, 80,000-square-foot, three-story George W. Hawkes Downtown Library is the result of a 2009 Central Visioning project launched by the city to provide cultural, recreational and learning opportunities for youth, seniors and families.

These projects will be further enhanced by the redevelopment of Abram Street through downtown, which will transform that thoroughfare with a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and ever more reasons to discover all that is happening downtown.

Finally, these are plans that have produced real outcomes.

All of this comes to reality via a partnership of the city with the Catalyst Urban Development company, which has found success with similar projects in area cities such as Irving, McKinney, Rowlett and Plano.

At its annual meeting last month, Downtown Arlington Inc. gave an award to Tom Cravens for the vision he first described more than 40 years ago and he has pursued ever since.

Tom’s leadership confirms the truism: When you don’t give up, good things eventually come your way.

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.