As public health and the city's economy are weighed in the balance during the pandemic, an absence of crowds and rumbling roller coaster wheels lends an aura of eeriness to Arlington’s entertainment district.
Six Flags Over Texas at Arlington, Hurricane Harbor, Texas Live! and AT&T Stadium remain shuttered, and the newly constructed, $1 billion-plus Globe Life Field has yet to host its season opener for the Rangers. But it’s too soon to tally the economic impact of the coronavirus on Arlington, says city spokesperson Susan Schrock.
“Data from the state would be for the entire city, not just the entertainment district,” she says. “We won’t know, specifically, for months.”
Nonetheless, a visitor report conducted by Longwoods International for 2017 found that Arlington attracted nearly 15 million visitors that year. The report suggests that, minus the tourism tax revenue, each homeowner would pay $1,300 more in taxes.
A loosening of coronavirus-related restrictions by Gov. Greg Abbott allowed some businesses, including restaurants, to reopen at 25% capacity May 1. Yet Texas Live! hasn’t announced a reopening date, Schrock says, “nor have Six Flags over Texas/Hurricane Harbor, Globe Life Field, AT&T Stadium or other major venues in Arlington currently closed to large, public gatherings.”
Still, some other establishments around the district are open and seemingly thriving. Restaurants have altered operational procedures and business appears brisk at everyday joints like Walmart, QuikTrip and Carmel Car Wash.
David D’Aquin, who owns Baseball Diamonds, located on East Lamar Boulevard, says that although his jewelry store closed for about a month, it’s now open by appointment only. He hopes to fully reopen this year, perhaps in a month or so.
“I can legally be open, regardless, because I buy and sell bullion,” he says, adding that because he’s 66-years-old and has a weakened immune system after battling cancer a few years ago, he didn’t want to risk getting COVID-19 and spreading the virus. He followed recommended guidelines and stayed home.
According to Tarrant County’s webpage, Arlington has logged 685 positive cases of COVID-19 as of May 11, of whom nine people have died.
“While the city is in communication with entertainment district venue operators and the business community overall as we are working to reopen Arlington’s economy safely during COVID-19, each individual business would make its decision on when and how to reopen to the public as restrictions are lifted by the state,” Schrock says.
Businesses are expected to put more recommended safety protocols in place, like hand sanitizing stations, increased cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, employees and others wearing face masks as well as signs asking people who are ill to keep away.
To help ease budget shortfalls, city leaders have moved to trim about $20 million from Arlington’s operating budget. Last month, City Manager Trey Yelverton presented a plan to Arlington City Council members outlining ways to shore up some losses while having the least effect on public services.
“This plan includes suspending planned city employee pay raises for the year, freezing vacant employee positions and freezing certain planned projects and purchases, among other strategic budget savings,” says Schrock, noting that it’s also too early to address whether there will be any revisions of planning and development projects within the entertainment district.
Council members approved an $810 million expansion project for the entertainment district in December.
According to Schrock, Arlington is “among Texas cities asking Congress to change the CARES act and provide broad federal financial assistance available to cities and states that are experiencing budget shortfalls related to COVID-19.”
An Arlington business owner more than 30 years, D’Aquin says he’s traded customary handshakes and hugs for elbow taps recently. And he admits he’s not doing lots of business.
“But I’m able to do some business and make some people happy,” he says.
“I mean, it’s a blessing to be part of people’s lives; I believe what we're supposed to be seeing is the fact that we’re supposed to be working on things together,” he continues. “Right now, the whole world is working on the same problem. And, maybe, this is to teach us to do that.”