Arlington Highlands development symbolizes city's economic health, mayor says

ARLINGTON - Since opening six years ago, the Arlington Highlands shopping center has become the city's fifth-largest property tax payer and a major sales tax generator.  Though it already features more than 800,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and entertainment options, the Arlington Highlands, near Interstate 20 and Matlock Road, isn't through growing. Besides announcing new tenants, the property's new owners, M&J Wilkow, have revealed plans for a shaded area for outdoor concerts and children's activities and expressed optimism that Arlington's future Center Street expansion south of I-20 will attract even more upscale shops.

The success of businesses such as the Highlands has helped keep the city's economy strong, Mayor Robert Cluck said Tuesday at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce's annual State of the City address. Such success stories are why the city expects to shatter its record for sales tax collection - $50.5 million - by bringing in an estimated $53.7 million this past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

"Tax collection can be a very good measure of economic health in any city. Property tax collections have been consistently and modestly improving since 2011. Sales taxes have performed very strongly in this city," said Cluck, speaking to more than 300 community, education and business leaders during a luncheon at the Arlington Convention Center.  "This year, as we close the books, it looks like another all-time record for sales taxes."

New community venue 
M&J Wilkow and AEW bought a majority stake in the Arlington Highlands in December. To keep visitors coming, the owners plan to host year-round community events, said David Harvey, M&J Wilkow senior vice president.  In coming months, work will begin on a creating a shaded area near the new Bar Louie, formerly Black Finn, designed for public gatherings such as live outdoor concerts and children's activities.  "Our goal is to have the property perceived as more community-involved," Harvey said.  The future construction of a Center Street bridge over Interstate 20 is also expected to attract more high-end tenants to the shopping center, which could help fill the vacant Splitsville bowling nightclub, which closed in 2011, Harvey said.  Besides improvements at Arlington Highlands, Cluck touted the continued growth of General Motors, which opened a vehicle parts stamping facility and added 1,000 workers over the past year, and the ongoing development of Viridian, expected to significantly increase the property tax base in the coming decades.

Viridian, in far north Arlington, already has 130 homeowners and an additional 100 homes under construction that have sold, developer Robert Kembel said Tuesday. The company has begun work on adding $5 million in amenities for residents, including resort-style pools. A $13 million, state-of-the-art elementary school is expected to open next August.  The city's Metro ArlingtonXpress bus service, which began in August, is already averaging 250 riders a day, exceeding expectations, Cluck said. Buses transport riders between downtown and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort-DFW Airport Station.  "The city of Arlington is no longer the largest in the nation without public transportation," Cluck said.

Strong partnerships 
Cluck also praised public safety initiatives, including the longtime campaign to teach residents how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the fight against West Nile virus and efforts to reduce crime.  He also applauded the opening of the Gene and Jerry Jones Family North Texas Youth Education Town at the Salvation Army and new and expanding partnerships with school districts, the University of Texas at Arlington and Tarrant County College Southeast for helping to encourage youths to graduate and pursue rewarding careers. "These strong partnerships will enable us to successfully rise to the challenges of tomorrow, no matter what they might be," said Cluck, Arlington's mayor since 2003. "Our best days are ahead."