Archived Story

MainStreet shares goals

Published 12:12pm Friday, January 25, 2013

MainStreet Alexander City Director Richard Wagoner shared the organization’s long-term and short-term goals for the city with council members Tuesday night.

Wagoner focused on four projects MainStreet is tackling in the next year and stressed the importance of the revitalization of downtown in order to strengthen the community as a whole.

“This town and this community are vital to the existence of that lake,” Wagoner said. “We’ve got to provide the services there and the businesses there.”

Wagoner said the first focus of MainStreet is to encourage retiree attraction and relocation.

“In the late 1990s, Alexander City went through the dismantling of a Fortune 500 company, Russell Corporation. I use that term (Fortune 500 company) for a reason,” Wagoner said. “We didn’t just lose 7,000 manufacturing jobs. What we lost was a hierarchy of individuals who were leaders in our community, members of our churches, members of our civic groups and service clubs, donors to the United Way, donors to MainStreet, donors to the chamber, taxpayers – we lost that income.”

Wagoner said that between 1990 and 2000, Alexander City lost 25 percent of its population between 0 and 44 years of age.

“But we grew 29 percent in our population age 45 and up,” Wagoner said. “People say, ‘Do we want to become a retirement community?’ But we are becoming a retirement community already in many ways. We feel if we can go out and try to attract 500 or 1,000 retiring couples to this community, then we can grow, and they bring $100,000 each in expendable income.

“That’s the retiree of today – they are baby boomers,” Wagoner continued. “We’re a different category. We’re not retired at 62 or 65 anymore. We’re still working and very active – involved in our churches and service clubs.”

Assets of the area, Wagoner said, include our medical facilities, continuing education opportunities, large body of water for recreation and other recreational opportunities, short distances to major metro areas, mild climate, scenic beauty, reasonable cost of living and safe, quiet neighborhoods.

Wagoner said retiree attraction is an economic development model because the retirees will increase consumer spending and demand for local goods and services, which could in turn create an economic boon for businesses.

“We’re not saying this replaces any traditional economic strategy – it’s just another tool in our tool box,” Wagoner said.

The second focused project of MainStreet, Wagoner said, is to create uniformity in streetscaping of major entrances to the city.

Wagoner said this project would have to be ongoing, and in order for it to be successful, the city must pay attention to detail, have the private and public sectors buy into the concept, have a coordinated effort between the city and private property owners, focus on the entire community instead of just downtown and to create a plan of action.

Wagoner recommended the project begin downtown and then work its way outward, using comprehensive landscaping and beautifying efforts to rid the city of unsightly, unkempt areas.

“When we talk about streetscaping, that’s landscaping, that’s signage, that’s furniture – that’s everything that goes throughout the town,” Wagoner said. “We never know who’s going to drive into town and what’s going to turn around and make them leave.

“Sometimes we don’t see the ugly – we see it so much every day that we don’t pay attention to it. But it’s there, and other people do pay attention to it,” Wagoner continued.

Wagoner said he met one family from Atlanta that visits the farmer’s market in the summers while they vacation at their second home on Lake Martin. When speaking with the father, Wagoner asked how the family typically drives into town from the lake, and the father responded that they drive over the River Bridge, turning onto Dadeville Road and using Cherokee Road to come into the downtown area.

“I asked, ‘When you come down Cherokee (Road), what do you see?’ And he said one word: ‘Failure,’” Wagoner said. “That’s harsh. It was harsh for me to hear. But we’ve got to open our eyes and see what other people are seeing when they see our community.”

MainStreet’s third project is to “develop an entrepreneurial incubator for the development of manufacturing and marketing local food products through funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission.”

Wagoner suggested representatives of MainStreet, the city, the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance and the Chamber of Commerce visit Shoals Culinary Center in Florence and then work to develop a commercial kitchen that can be rented to produce goods. The facility would also provide packaging for local goods, which can then in turn be sold in local stores.

“We need to go after funding to make this happen,” Wagoner said. “The next thing is to take a downtown location and make it the location to get these all these different food products created right here by our own people.”

Wagoner also discussed cosmetic changes downtown on Calhoun Street in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Transportation and NorFolk Southern Railroad, which will include resurfacing, re-stripping parking places, removal of all concrete, closing the crossing in front of the Riley Building, adding two new planting beds, replacing the existing trees, removing existing traffic signals and overhead wire and replacing that wire with decorative traffic signals and underground wiring.

Wagoner also reviewed MainStreet’s multiple projects and sponsored activities throughout the year, noting that MainStreet invested $37,476 in contributions through exterior building improvements, landscape improvements, Christmas decorations, website development and entrance signs in 2012.

Council members thanked Wagoner and MainStreet for their continued efforts to improve the community.

“I think it is tantamount of us to market downtown.  Downtown Alex City has to become a destination,” said District 5 Councilman Jim Spann. “I appreciate the work you have done on the buildings. It makes a world of difference on the way things look. You move a mountain one shovelful at the time … so we’ve got to start moving the mountain a little bit along.”