Leaders say reinvestment plan will ‘lift up’ Arlington’s international business area

·4 min read

Andy Nguyen has had big plans for a strip of East Arlington businesses for some time.

When he was a leader in the Vietnamese community, he watched people from around the world immigrate to Arlington and set up businesses along Pioneer Parkway. Nguyen said the area has a lot of potential to become a destination for residents and travelers to get a taste of cultures from around the world. The section just needs some upkeep and infrastructure improvements.

“From Asia to Africa, from Central to South America, these diverse people are already here in the international corridor working hard to make a home and a living,” he said in a phone interview. “With millions of tourists visiting the greater DFW area, why not give them a reason to stop by the international corridor and truly enjoy the wonders of our diversity?”

Arlington leaders are set to approve funding for the international corridor through a tax increment reinvestment zone covering Pioneer Parkway from its intersection with Center Street to the city limits, as well as from Mitchell Street to Arkansas Lane. The financing model generally redirects ad valorem tax revenue from the property within the zone to pay for improvement projects, with the goal of increasing property values over 30 years. City staff estimate the zone will accrue $61 million for projects before expiring in 2051.

The reinvestment would encourage more business developments, said Bruce Payne, the city’s economic development director, as well as encourage projects that will beautify the area and better connect the shops for pedestrian traffic.

“The cost of infrastructure to serve that development creates a burden if you will, an inability to get that financed,” he said.

Reinvestment zone

The city council’s approval of a reinvestment zone is the latest major step in realizing a proposal first discussed in 2017, when Nguyen was District 2 county commissioner.

Dr. Ignacio Nunez, the District 5 city councilmember who served on Planning and Zoning at the time, said city government received ample buy-in from business owners along the corridor, but the project was placed on the backburner. Nunez said the city and council will likely revisit the project with business owners if and when the reinvestment zone passes.

“The business owners all up and down that section of 303 knew about that project at the time and were willing to entertain the notion that we were going to be investing money into the infrastructure and the entrances and exits in the parking lot to make them better,” Nunez said.

The city revived its efforts in earnest in the past year, with council members approving an agreement to split planning costs with Tarrant County. If the council gives final project approval, officials will appoint a board to oversee zone projects and financing. Grand Prairie leaders are considering creating a similar agreement for its stretch of Pioneer Parkway, which similarly has multicultural businesses including Asia Times Square.

Council members and staff said the plan resembles closely the reinvestment zone containing downtown Arlington and credited downtown’s program with attracting residential and business developments that have made the area a destination. Other active zones cover the city’s entertainment district and Viridian.

“In 1998, no one lived in downtown Arlington,” said Andrew Piel, District 4 councilmember. “Now, 20 years later, we actually have made investments on a project-by-project basis that has built up a community downtown.”

Gentrification concerns

City staff and council spent part of their public hearing addressing concerns that the project might price people out of their homes.

Median household income in the 76010 ZIP code generally covering the reinvestment zone is $39,073, well below the metroplex’s estimated $70,281 median income, according to census data. Around 60% of households speak a language other than English at home, and over 36% were born outside of the United States.

In a passionate three-minute speech to council, Jo Anna Cardoza, a community activist and officer with Arlington LULAC, said she was “heartbroken” the city is targeting the east Arlington corridor with redevelopment. Cardoza said she and her family were displaced by AT&T Stadium construction, and she has heard of other residents of color displaced by similar projects conducted in the name of beautification and revitalization.

While she understood the area was in need of redevelopment, “sacrificing the most vulnerable in this community is not the way to do it,” she said.

“My community matters,” Cardoza said. “They deserve to live in this city.”

Piel and Nunez said they understand Cardoza’s concerns. However, the reinvestment zone targets primarily commercial property and projects.

“The whole idea is to lift up the area by providing investments that allow the businesses there to energize and grow,” Piel said. “That will bring in possible new development maybe in the form of senior housing. It’s not really a gentrification mechanism because gentrification requires that people be forced out.”

The project will go before the council for final consideration Tuesday, May 18 during its evening meeting.

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