As Hershey Jones set up his namesake restaurant in downtown Arlington in late 2019, Abram Street was undergoing a facelift of its own.
The arterial roadway, running from downtown to the Grand Prairie city limits, had been under some form of construction since 2014. Workers roped off lanes to install new drainage or sewer pipes or reduced lanes to make space for wider sidewalks or lighting. For Jones’ first several months running Hershey’s Palace at 513 E. Abram St., construction complicated parking and downtown.
“It raised a flag,” he said, “but I saw that it was further completed than from the time that I did what I had to do, that it wouldn’t affect me as much.”
Now, as the city puts the finishing touches on the project, Jones is seeing more people walk around — and passersby are seeing more of the businesses that line the street.
“We want people to get out and see that downtown Arlington has improved,” he said.
Mayor Jeff Williams had a similar message Friday at the intersection of Abram and Mary streets. In front of around 50 officials and business leaders, he said better days are ahead for the city, especially downtown.
“We know that we’re not totally out of the pandemic, but we need to take note of great accomplishments, and definitely Abram is one of those,” Williams said.
The project, which voters voted to fund in the 2008 bond elections, spanned seven miles, from Collins Street to just past state Highway 360. Its completion marks the end of construction-related traffic headaches for downtown businesses and motorists. The six-year project was the largest street rebuild in the city’s history, according to officials.
Along Abram Street’s downtown stretch, businesses have started to see the renovation’s effects.
Natalie Ellis, general manager of the record store Growl, said construction hurt the business’ daytime sales. People who did not know where to park would end up bypassing the store altogether.
“Most of our money was made during the night time,” she said. “Now, we’re starting to get traffic here during the daytime.”
After closing for a few months due to the pandemic, Ellis said the shop will resume hosting live music and movie nights, as well as play music outdoors. While construction posed a nuisance to businesses like Growl, Ellis said she enjoyed the final product.
“We actually go outside sometimes and just look down the street because it’s so beautiful,” she said.
Creating a ‘town square’
For Arlington’s historically sleepy downtown, the last several years have been marked by projects and developments to draw people from the entertainment district and UT Arlington.
Over the last couple of decades, the city has collaborated with businesses on projects. The recently relocated and renovated George W. Hawkes Downtown Library and Levitt Pavilion now pepper Center Street. Across the street, new residential complexes such as 101 Center provide parking and retail destinations for residents and visitors.
“This area will be our town square, that’s how i think of it, and Abram’s the corridor that draws all of us into it,” said Dr. Ignacio Nunez, who represents downtown as District 5’s city councilman.
As state officials ease restaurant, bar and event restrictions put in place due to novel coronavirus, businesses are looking to capitalize off that end goal.
Katelyn Rudd, an employee at Inclusion Coffee at the intersection of Abram and Center streets, said she’s noticed more people catching concerts at Levitt Pavilion and walking to nearby businesses. She said improving downtown will help draw people who would normally look to Dallas and Fort Worth for night life.
“I think making Arlington have a little bit more of a bigger city vibe … will make people come to Arlington for more than sporting events and just know that there’s more to do here,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jones, after finding success with Hershey’s Palace, bought the space next door to create a restaurant arm of his shop that will complement its takeout services. The sit-down space will add space for people to watch sporting events and listen to live performances.
“I believe in it,” Jones said. “That’s why I’m investing in it.”