The End of an Era

July-Finish-Line
A rendering of Arlington’s new City Council Chamber, which is scheduled to open in 2018. (Image courtesy of The City of Arlington)

A few weeks ago,

the Arlington city council chamber, the place where vital decisions have been made that have shaped our community for the past 35 years, hosted its last meeting.

It has been where government of, by and for the people has been conducted in a process that is the most favorable among all levels of government for upholding the American tradition of granting access to those elected to represent us.

In addition to hosting meetings of the city council, the chamber was the site where many other of the city’s public entities have held their sessions, and it is a favorite among state legislators and members of congress as an ideal setting for their town hall assemblies.

A new venue will take its place

in a couple of years as part of the development of the city’s new central library next door to city hall.

When the “old” council chamber opened in 1981, Arlington was home to less than half the number of residents we have today.

Our population has grown from 160,000 persons when the city ranked as the 95th largest in the country to more than 385,000 during that time span. Arlington now stands as the 50th most populous city in the nation.

Mayor S. J. Stovall and his city council colleagues

were the first governing body to occupy the then-new public meeting room. The greatest challenge those members of the council were dealing with at the time was working out of the financial problems resulting from the closing of the Seven Seas Marine Life Park.

A great many Arlington residents reflect a puzzled look on their faces when they hear that – more than half the current population wasn’t here when the park was in operation.

In the Arlington tradition of seizing opportunity and solving problems, a unique partnership was crafted that resulted in the development of the Arlington Convention Center and the adjacent Sheraton Hotel on the old Seven Seas property between Six Flags Over Texas and the Rangers ballpark.

The Parks in Arlington Mall became a magnet for shoppers, driving an economic boom for a city that was growing like crazy. As a result, the city emerged stronger than ever from what was to become known as its only setback in becoming a major tourism center welcoming some 10 million visitors every year.

As Stovall’s term came to a conclusion in 1983,

he turned the gavel over to new Mayor Harold Patterson in ceremonies conducted in the council chamber, followed by similar events of administering oaths of office to succeeding mayors and council members in the ensuing years.

Major decisions continued to unfold in weekly public sessions that resulted in the acceleration of road and thoroughfare development, revisions of the city’s comprehensive plan for future growth, and the design of capital improvement plans overwhelmingly approved by Arlington voters in successive bond elections occurring in three- to five-year intervals.

When another city attempted to steal the Texas Rangers Baseball Team from Arlington, the council chamber was the place where a comprehensive agreement with the team was approved, an election called, and debate unfolded before voters, who then by a 2:1 margin in the largest turnout ever for a local measure, ensured the Rangers would remain where they belonged – in Arlington.

The meeting room was also the place where a big celebration took place in 1991 when General Motors declared it would keep building vehicles in the 40-year- old Arlington Assembly Plant even though the company was closing plants elsewhere in the country in response to a national economy in recession.

It is noteworthy that both the Rangers and GM

have again been on the city’s agenda as the days of the council chamber came to a close. As a result of the city’s support, the big car company recently announced a $1.4 billion expansion of its Arlington plant – the outcome of an agreement with the company approved by the city council in one of its last major decisions in the room.

And then, at the very last meeting in the building, a new agreement with the Texas Rangers was unanimously approved to build a new ballpark with a retractable domed roof to help keep the team in Arlington for another 30-plus years.

During the construction time for the new council chamber, meetings will be held on the third floor of city hall. Then the move will take place, ushering in a new era of guiding the city to an exciting future in a facility designed to further the process of representative democracy that works best when it is implemented closest to the people.