When Sandy Brewer and her family moved more than eight years ago from Cordova to a turn-of-the-century home just two blocks from Arlington’s Depot Square, she said it felt like taking a step back in time.
Arlington is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state, having grown to 11,664 residents in 2013 from 2,569 residents in 2000. Arlington business owners hope Depot Square is primed for growth.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“It’s like stepping back into the 1900s,” said Brewer of her neighborhood and Depot Square, where she opened The Travel Agency Inc. and helped get the Depot Square Merchants Association off the ground. “It’s a completely different feel. We just knew that’s where we wanted to be.”
Arlington is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state, having grown to 11,664 residents in 2013 from 2,569 residents in 2000. Incomes and property values have been on a steady upswing.
Brewer and other Arlington business owners and officials hope Depot Square, the train station at the heart of the community since the 1800s, is primed for more growth, the type that supports Arlington’s growing residential population while maintaining the small-town charm that makes Depot Square unique and beloved.
“If you look at the surrounding suburbs of Memphis, you only have a handful of historic commercial districts that are still viable,” said Chris Burcky, who owns property in Depot Square and is a member of Main Street Arlington, which supports development of the square. “You can build an identity that doesn’t make you like every other suburb, which can be a recruitment tool. It can become an identity driver to attract residents and businesses.”
In January 2013, Arlington approved a master plan developed by Memphis-based LRK Inc. for the area. The plan identified areas for new commercial businesses and growth while maintaining the elements – narrow streets, buildings built close to the street, and shaded sidewalks and walking paths – that created the town square atmosphere.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development recently selected Arlington to participate in the Tennessee Downtowns program, a competitive community improvement program for cities and counties seeking to revitalize traditional commercial districts such as Depot Square.
Communities selected to participate in Tennessee Downtowns will form a volunteer committee of local citizens who will participate in a two-year training curriculum supported by the National Main Street Center. The curriculum is designed to teach citizens about comprehensive, sustainable downtown revitalization and historic preservation. The training includes webinars, workshops and a $15,000 reimbursable grant to complete individualized downtown development projects.
Opportunities for growth include redeveloping vacant property, reusing existing buildings and developing a 25-acre tract east of Chester Street that is currently owned by Arlington, according to the LRK master plan.
“We’ve put a bit of emphasis, the town has, on development in that area,” said Arlington town planner Heather Sparkes.
For decades, the town was essentially centered around Depot Square. The square was surrounded by businesses and residences, but it is separated from major arteries such as Airline Road and U.S. 70.
Brewer said that when she first opened her business in Depot Square, there weren’t many reasons for residents to visit.
“It was a little lifeless,” said Brewer. “There were people there and stores there, but (Depot Square) is a little off the beaten path. There wasn’t a reason to come there unless you knew the shops were there.”
But dedicated residents and groups – including the Arlington chapter for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, the Depot Square Merchants Association and Main Street Arlington – maintained the historic look and feel of the area and organized activities, such as the annual Christmas parade and the Arlington in April festival, to activate the district and bring in more visitors.
“Everybody who was down there wanted to create a reason for people to come to the historic area and see where Arlington started,” said Brewer. “We’ve made a place where people want to come and have a business, or a place people want to come on a Saturday or enjoy an afternoon.”
The town can now capitalize on that momentum.
“We have some businesses who have invested in the area, but we have some parcels that need some attention and can be revitalized and we have several vacant parcels that could be prime spots for development,” said Sparkes. “It’s kind of a hidden gem in the county.”