If Ryan Dodson had a dollar for every time someone has asked him, "Where is Downtown Arlington?" he would have a lot of dollars.
"I still get the question," laughed Dodson, who is the president and managing partner of the Dodson Companies, a development firm based in Arlington.
But as new businesses, restaurants and bars continue to fill the spaces of the "Urban Union" project he's developed, it's a question he finds himself answering less frequently these days.
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"The word is definitely out," Dodson said. "Now that you can start to see it, people can start believing it and people can get the feel for what we've visualized for so long."
Situated along Front Street -- just south of Arlington's Entertainment District -- Urban Union has taken several blocks of old, rundown industrial buildings and transformed them into the likes of Legal Draft Beer Company, Sugar Bee Sweets Bakery, Cartel Taco Bar, 4 Kahunas Tiki Lounge, and The Tipsy Oak Ice House, among others.
"We certainly took inspiration from places I like to hang out," Dodson said. "I love Bishop Arts. I love West 7th. I love Trinity Groves. So in going to these spaces and hanging out there on the weekends and the evenings, why not Arlington? Why can't this area be something extremely cool and fun? And I think we've proven, to a certain extent, that it is and has that capacity."
With the early success they've had at Urban Union, Dodson and his team have opted to press forward with a major expansion of the project, extending it five blocks towards Center and Mesquite streets -- adding more restaurant space, as well as retail and loft space.
"We're really trying to take it to the next level," Dodson said. "That's what this Phase II is going to do."
And they've already announced their first new tenant -- Cane Rosso, a popular pizza joint that tends to take up residency in DFW's hippest neighborhoods.
It will move into a renovated former radiator shop along Front Street -- and should open this fall.
Owner Jay Jerrier admitted he was skeptical when he was first approached with the idea of opening up shop in Arlington.
"Arlington, you usually think of what you see along I-30, where it's all chain restaurants and tourist stuff," Jerrier said.
But after his friends at Legal Draft convinced him to come check out Urban Union -- and introduced him to Dodson -- he was sold.
"I was like, 'OK, this is pretty cool,'" Jerrier said. "I didn't know all this stuff was here. It just seemed like they were kind of putting all the pieces together and it finally made sense."
Dodson said Jerrier's reaction to Urban Union is not unsimilar to most people's who come for the first time -- which is why he's optimistic this hidden gem of Arlington won't stay hidden for much longer.
"Front Street is going to be where it's at in the next couple of years," Dodson said.
Phase II of Urban Union is slated to be complete in 2020.