America's Best Communities projects continue in Arlington

Oct 26, 2016 Issues: Jobs Labor and the Economy

North County Outlook: America's Best Communities projects continue in Arlington
By Christopher Andersson

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen visits to see the improvements in downtown Arlington

Arlington officials met with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen to talk about the progress made with the $100,000 the community received as part of the America's Best Communities competition.

Darrington and Arlington entered the competition as a joint entry and advanced to the finalist round with seven other communities in April.

The competition is meant to see what small to mid-sized communities can come up with as the best plans to revitalize themselves.

Larsen visited downtown Arlington to see the local improvements on Oct. 18.

Arlington and Darrington entered the competition after they had already been planning how to revitalize themselves.

"We're fortunate that the wonderful grant we got from the Economic Development Agency after the 530 mudslide was to help with the revitalization plan for the whole Stilly valley," said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert.

"I think that it really shows a lot about our communities that we've taken this tragedy and are making something positive out of it," said Larsen.

By advancing to the finalist round the teams from the communities have received $100,000 to spend in 11 months to implement initiatives.

One of the major projects for the Arlington team is improving the visual appeal of the downtown area.

Work parties have already helped improve the area as part of the America's Best Communities competition.

In September a group helped paint one of the downtown businesses. On Oct. 22 volunteers used pressure washers to clean up the sidewalks of Olympic Avenue.

"I've lived in Arlington since 1950 and I can help, so that's what we're here for," said volunteer Jim Tanis.

Improving the look of the downtown makes the area more attractive for businesses to move in and for people to come down to the area, said Tolbert.

Arlington Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Holocker has been visiting the downtown businesses, even those not part of the chamber, as part of the project.

"A lot of them have been here a while so we've been trying to get them to think a little bit differently," she said.

Holocker said they are using some of the funds to help brighten the windows and make many of the displays downtown welcoming.

"It feels good, so even if the store is not open you have that warm, friendly feeling when people are downtown and it will make people want to come back," she said.

Other visual improvements have also been available because of the funds.

"We're giving small grants to businesses to spruce up their facades," said Sarah Lopez, Arlington's recreation and communications manager.

Tolbert said these are things that many local business owners don't always have time to get to, but the project has "been a catalyst for a lot of upgrades."

Since the beginning of the project Tolbert said there has been a net increase of 27 businesses in the downtown area.

"Part of that's the economy, part of that's the banks loaning money again, and part of that is our efforts," said Tolbert.

Arlington and Darrington's plan also includes many other initiatives like broadband equity, pocket parks, a youth council for each town and a Oso memorial bike ride.

Tolbert said access to broadband Internet should be more evenly distributed.

"We're not giving our young people who live in rural communities equal access to education and information," she said.

From a business perspective, it presents a challenge though.

"The providers have been honest: getting broadband equity to Darrington would be challenging. There's not enough population base there to return the investment they would put in," she said.

As part of the project, Arlington and Darrington have both implemented a public WiFi hotspot though. Arlington's is in the parking lot between Playa Bonita and Arlington Health Foods in the downtown.

Astro-turf, canopy, benches and other items make up Arlington's portable "pop-up park" meant to show how small parks can be creatively fit into small spaces in the city.

"It's kind of an urban idea we stole to see how we could regenerate it in a rural community," said Tolbert.

At the "pop-up park" the team has been gathering info on what people would like in the future from small parks.

"Now we have a survey of what people like so we can build a small pocket park in our merchant's parking lot," said Lopez.

The America's Best Communities team is gathering data on how well all 11 of their initiatives are performing and will meet with the other seven finalists at a summit early next year. The winner of the competition will be awarded $3 million to continue their plan.

"Arlington and Darrington look to me like they have a great plan, a winning plan," said Larsen.