What started out as a conglomerate of old buildings with project possibilities just north of the Union Pacific Railroad in downtown Arlington, is now an area drawing comparisons to the trendy Bishop Arts district in Oak Cliff.
Some social media users are quick to point out that the area, known as Urban Union, isn’t even close to earning that comparison, and its developer, Ryan Dodson, tends to agree.
“It’s a compliment to be compared,” he says. “We’re not close, yet. But the vibe is definitely there. And I think the groundwork is there. It’s never going to be Bishop Arts. But it could definitely be Arlington’s coolest street.”
At full buildout, Urban Union, located between the rail line and Division Street just east of Mesquite Street, will encompass about 145,000 square feet across eight acres. Several businesses, including Wild West Comics and Hurtado’s BBQ, will soon join the mix.
Chris Powell, who opened 4 Kahunas Tiki Lounge in Urban Union last year, says Wild West Comics, formerly Lone Star Comics, is currently located on Cooper Street near the University of Texas at Arlington. Powell, who's now 44, got his first job in downtown Arlington as a teenager working with his mom at Lone Star Comics, he says. At one point, he was general manager. About six years ago, his parents bought a few of the comic shops, including Wild west, which is run by his mother Elaine and brother Matt. Wild West Comics doesn’t expect to lose any of its loyal, customer base, he says, adding that the area’s growing density is a definite bonus.
“With a lot of new faces coming into downtown, it’s a big opportunity for us,” says Powell, who’s now Vice President of Retailer Services for Diamond Comic Distributors.
The endless string of comic-based movies keeps customers coming back, Powell says, as more kids are getting into comic books. A rack of Little Golden books based on comic characters right by Wild West Comics’ front door gets a lot of attention, he says, and family board games are a perpetually hot item.
Of course, Texas BBQ is never out of style, either. “(Hurtado’s has) been operating out of a pop-up at Division Brewing,” Dodson says of the local pitmaster. “It’s a total slow-and-low craft BBQ deal. He puts a little Tex-Mex flair and sometimes serves it with homemade tortillas.”
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Dodson, who does his best to curate an eclectic mix of tenants, says that when the company initially acquired the former Luke Honda showroom on Division Street, where Wild West Comics will be moving, he had no idea there’d be so much interest. Although Dodson says he’s not trying to duplicate any other area, he does believe Front Street, which runs along Urban Union, can become a destination street for locals as well as those visiting the stadiums and other nearby attractions.
“We just didn’t have a charming, old district to redevelop, so we’re kind of redeveloping 1950s-era car lots and warehouses,” he says. “And we’re adding charm where we can. We’re just kind of trying to embrace the mid-century aspect.”
Dodson also plans to open up about 60 new parking spaces over the next few months that he’ll carve out along Front Street and from alleyways and fences. He’ll add another 100 spaces or so once new buildings are built.
Whether through an old radiator shop turned into a pizzeria or a mid-century automotive showroom gone comic shop, when Front Street really takes off, Dodson says it’ll be home to the best of bars, music venues and retail shops.
“A lot of the areas that are cool and organic and funky are not in, you know, shiny parts of town,” he says. “You take these old parts of town and you get creative. And I think that’s what gives a lot of the character people like.”