Elsie Hickman

This morning, a friend from my Virginia days sent me a video interview of the mayor of Dumfries, Virginia, a small, historic town outside of Washington, D.C. When asked about his leadership challenge, he said, “I want people to drive to Dumfries, not through it.”

That got me thinking about Alexander City.

Alexander City is searching for a new identity and that is taking many forms downtown — restoring the charming old buildings, cleaning up the downtown and making it visually attractive (love the red umbrellas). The problem is only the local population will see it because for the most part Alexander City is what you drive through on your way to Auburn or Birmingham, not a place you drive to.

Traveling up or down U.S. Highway 280, Alexander City is a variety of fast food and semi-fast food places with a few local businesses thrown in. It is what you drive through on your way to Lake Martin and maybe stop to pick up a few groceries for the weekend. We have beautiful new signs for the city and new arrows pointing the way downtown, which are so much better than the old signage.

From 280, we see the remnants of the old Russell campus. Judging by the cars, some of it is occupied and some of it isn’t.

Does anyone know what is being done in these buildings? Is there any requirement for the occupants to place signage or to clean up the buildings or is this just rental space? The campus looks tired and dated.

What is the plan for the empty buildings? When will it all be cleaned up? At the very least they should be painted and cleaned up.

What will make Alexander City a place people want to come to, not just through? One thing that will help is to publicize better what is taking place already: the concerts in Strand Park and the entertainment in the alley. Unless you are already reading one of the Lake Magazines or The Outlook, you wouldn’t know these events are going on.

A few years ago, there was a dinner on the streets of the town. Why couldn’t this become an annual event and publicized outside of Alexander City?

When the buildings that currently house city operations downtown are finally vacated, what is the plan for this space? People have talked about a parking lot but why not a park that could host family movie nights, concerts and even plays? Why not a small water park? Numerous people have expressed an opinion the city needs more activities for kids.

Require owners to clean up their businesses, especially on the side streets and Cherokee Road. So many parking lots are nothing more than broken pavement, dirty-looking buildings and broken signage. Why can’t the city encourage landlords with empty buildings and storefronts to clean up these places and give incentives to owners to give new businesses a chance? Landlords, why not consider a progressively increasing rent plan that gives new businesses a chance to get a footing and succeed? Surely that would be better than buildings sitting empty and continuing to depreciate.

It is my observation towns and cities give off a vibe that give us a real sense of who they are. I don’t know about you but I’m always attracted when I feel that energy and positivity certain places give off. We want to be in that space where we feel like exciting things are happening. We need Alexander City to be that kind of space, a place we want to come to, not just the place we drive through.

Elsie Hickman is a Lake Martin resident who is a regular columnist for The Outlook.