Archived Story

Elbow grease and passion spruce up downtown

Published 7:07pm Friday, July 5, 2013

Lately it seems like there’s always something happening downtown: remodeling, planting, painting. Much of that activity is related to MainStreet Alexander City and its highly involved director, Richard Wagoner. What MainStreet has started is a popular movement … more and more people are taking pride in their buildings and working to make our century-old downtown area an attractive, lively place to spend time and money.

Even the Alabama Department of Transportation got busy and laid new asphalt downtown. Once that work was finished, it was easier to see all the work that’s being done on the edges of the blacktop.

Wells Fargo has made the outside of its building sparkle, doing grout work and pressure washing in the past month or so.

I really admire the gumption of those who risk their blood, sweat and tears, as well as their money, to improve our downtown. Larry Tuggle is an extreme example, the alpha male of downtown do-it-yourselfers, and his Shoppes of Queen’s Attic project has inspired me for quite a while. It must have inspired Henry Foy, too, because the work he’s done at Emporium Wine is impressive, and I think he’s done most of it himself.

Brooks Lamberth is making big progress with his newest downtown restoration project, part of the old Frohsin’s Building. Brooks gave me a tour inside his place, and it’s a magnificent space, with old beams, towering ceilings and an interior brick wall that just makes me smile. The outside of his building, with its old brick and new doors and window openings, is very attractive to my eye, and I like the fact that everybody who comes down Main Street gets to look directly at it.

Lou’s Beauty & Style Shop, a building in a very high profile location downtown, is getting a make-over. In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen men working on ladders, painting the outside of the building a cream color with brick-red trim. My hat’s off to Lou Benson – it’s definitely looking more beautiful and stylish on the corner of Calhoun and Main these days. Wagoner told me there will soon be a new awning installed that will span the length of the Lou’s building.

The United Way building has a new coat of dark green, or gray, or brown paint. I think it looks dark green, but Richard says it sometimes looks gray or brown depending on the light. In any case it looks good, and Richard says soon a new color will be applied to the trim.

The United Way Conference Room, which was the old Climax Cafe before it burned in the ’50s, got a make-over by brick mason Jamie Blair at Henderson & Coker, which Wagoner called “a wonderful job” that got the “historic architecture correct.”

Downtown Properties, the company owned by Larkin Radney and Kenny Riley, has done a lot of work to make the new Cloud Nine, Kevin Lanier Photography and Carlisle Drug buildings look great. In fact, Kenny Riley’s building has been looking great for quite a while, and it has new Alee Elm trees out front that I’ve got to say I really like. (I liked the old trees, too, but apparently others did not. And you can see the Riley building better now.)

Two of the highest traffic buildings downtown, JR’s and Little Black Dress, both got new awnings recently.

The remodeling done by Tim Evans at the old Graves Furniture and Carlisle Clothing buildings is just beautiful and the buildings are all at full capacity now.

Back down on Calhoun Street, Jackie Strong at For Heaven’s Sake is removing the old wooden facing on her building and adding new wooden frames for the windows and repairing the ornate brick facade that Wagoner calls “dental work” because it looks a little like a toothsome smile.

Now people get to see the original architecture and get a unique, valuable, comforting sense of our town, Wagoner said.

“Downtown is the center of this community. When downtown dies, the community dies. These people who own these buildings and run these businesses downtown, they’re passionate about it. They want to be where they are.”

Wagoner said City of Alexander City has played an ongoing, integral part in improving the downtown area, and it is now working on a project to improve the Broad Stree.

All this work didn’t just happen by itself. Passionate people who care about our downtown have made it happen.

And in the past two years, MainStreet has given out more than $40,000 in matching grants to improve the outside of downtown buildings, and has also spent roughly $30,000 on downtown landscaping.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the Adelia McConnell Russell Foundation, which has funded the facade matching grants,” Wagoner said.

Alexander City is one of 13 cities in Alabama that has a MainStreet program.

It looks like it’s working very well to me, and we’re all better for it.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.

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