Dog lovers howl with delight over downtown Arlington project

dfwnewsa | March 5, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Dog lovers howl with delight over downtown Arlington project

Leila Ezell and her “super smart” 4-year-old dog, Saila, hang out at the future site of the downtown Doggie Depot. The area is currently a long strip of unoccupied land along the Union Pacific railroad line but will soon be converted into a dog park. Saila, a blue heeler mix, will use the park to improve her fitness, play and train as a service dog, Ezell said. (O.K. Carter | Arlington Report).
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For a long time, those visionaries who worked toward remaking downtown Arlington into a work-play-live place overlooked one not-so-tiny four-legged consequence of attracting thousands of new residents.

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It was going to make the place go to the dogs, in a good fur-buddy sort of way.

And that’s why a new, privately funded but public off-leash dog park, Doggie Depot, will be the next downtown attraction, though “amenity” might be a better word.

Apartments or not, condos or not, high-rise or not, pet deposits be darned, people love their dogs, and they bring their canines with them when they move.

How many dogs? More than anyone realized until recently. The one-square-mile downtown area currently has slightly more than 4,200 residents. Based on survey research, that calculates to about 1,000 dogs living with their owners downtown. Add to that thousands of other residents – and their dogs – in 20-minute-walk or five-minute-by-car proximity. And there are four more high-density residential developments on the way, with others in the early planning stage.

More people, more dogs. They don’t call canines man’s best friend for nothing.

How did Downtown Arlington Inc. develop its dog population boom information? They asked the people who lived downtown, or near it.

“Data from our 2022 Downtown Resident Survey showed 40 percent of respondents had a pet, while another question found that these residents have been dissatisfied by the lack of pet-friendly destinations within walking distance of their residences,” said Garret Martin, Downtown Arlington Inc. director of communications and placemaking. “These findings gave us the necessary push to go out there and find a solution.”

The solution to a problem of which few people were aware turned out to be Doggie Depot, the “depot” designating the new dog park’s location alongside the south side of Union Pacific rails downtown. The previously underutilized linear strip of land is between Mesquite and East streets, just north of the city’s municipal tower building.

It’s only 30 yards wide but lengthy, 100 yards from street to street – visualize a football field trimmed in half end-to-end. Its southern edge hosts a dozen 50-year-old pines, its northern edge a not-so-scenic railroad track, and, just beyond that, a mixed-use apartment and retail project still under construction. It’s a handy location amid downtown dining, bars, and the cultural district, as well as an easy walking distance from downtown apartments, government services and the University of Texas at Arlington campus.

The difficulty, Martin notes, was that the kind of first-class dog park Downtown Arlington visualized would not come cheap.

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Though the city leases the land from the railroad, funding for a new downtown park was left to the devices of Downtown Arlington Inc. A major boost gave the project wings when the downtown agency received a competitive $75,000 national grant from Project for Public Spaces with funding from General Motors.

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“This grant, in conjunction with their financial contribution, includes in-kind architectural design services from Project for Public Spaces,” Martin said. “Project for Public Spaces is a renowned placemaking and urban development organization with decades of experience transforming spaces to places, and we are glad to have them on our side.”

The downtown agency added to its information base by conducting an additional bulletin board survey at local businesses asking residents what they wanted in the way of a downtown dog park. A thousand replies later, Downtown Arlington had its answers: Dog owners wanted secure, dog-proof fencing, doggie waste stations, benches and tables, good lighting, separate areas for small and large dogs, shaded seating, signage and dog agility play pieces. Add to the wish list running water and spaces for public events, of which there will be many.

The park should be completed  by early summer, with a grand opening date to be announced. Downtown Arlington also plans to use the park as part of its annual Downtown Outdoors campaign and as a host site for, Martin said, “a variety of fan-favorite events, such as the acclaimed Pet Portrait Photo Walk or Canine Movie Night.”In addition, Downtown Arlington calculates that the more people who visit Doggie Depot with their canine pals, the more familiar they’ll become with other downtown amenities ranging from live concerts and theatrical performances to dining and retail spots.

UTA senior Leila Ezell lives downtown with Saila (the name translates to “Sunshine” from Arabic), a blue heeler mix that also happens to be in training as a service dog. Ezell said she could use more accessible space to accommodate both Saila’s hyperactive nature and her need for training.

“The downtown Arlington area has several pet-friendly spots, from Levitt Pavilion and the DREAM park to outdoor patios at local restaurants and pubs,” Ezell noted. “While it isn’t an issue to walk on leash with my dog downtown, it does require daily exercise for myself, which can be especially strenuous since I have a disability.“Having an off-leash park allows my dog to get more exercise than we’d be able to do on-leash. Lacking local accessibility for daily training and exercise has elongated our training timeline, but with the Doggie Depot having such a high degree of walkability, we’ll be able to hone in on some necessary skills for her first Public Access Test.”

Longtime downtown worker Jill Terry lives almost two miles from the city core, but Doggy Depot will nevertheless be much closer than any existing city dog park – a considerable plus to her.

“I own four dogs, and they love going to the park,” Terry said. “Having it here will be great for the community and the downtown area – a good social place for both dogs and people.”

Where are construction funds coming from? The Project for Public Spaces grant helped, Martin said, as did financial donations from numerous downtown businesses. Individuals can also participate by buying $100 or $250 commemorative bricks inscribed with memorials to their dogs living and deceased. The bricks will form a pathway into the park. Click here for more information.

O.K. Carter is a columnist at the Arlington Report. You may contact him at o.k.carter@arlingtonreport.org

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