New Year Wishes for 2012

By on 31 December, 2011 in Holidays, Kate and Stephen with 3 Comments

Last year was our first New Year’s Eve at Midtown Montgomery Living. As the new year dawned, we wrote about 11 wishes that we had for Montgomery for the year 2011. Before we move on to our 12 wishes for 2012, we thought it would be fun to look back at the previous year (and whether those wishes came true) before moving on to the hopes and dreams of the coming year. In other words, using the classic image of the previous year as the old man and the new year as the baby, we’ve got to interrogate the old guy before we start making demands on the infant.

Wishes from 2011:

1. More green spaces – Montgomery made some progress on this point in 2011. In May, we went to the opening of the Hampstead Institute’s urban farm behind the offices of the Montgomery Advertiser, down beneath Overlook Park. We liked the new farm, and it’s a marked improvement over the previous site use – a toxic railroad depot. Still, we didn’t hear much about the farm after it was launched. They hired a farmer and got $52,000 in federal tax dollars from the USDA, but any news about produce being produced didn’t reach our eyes and ears. There may have been some class field trips down there, but as far as it being open to the public or a highly-visited attraction, we don’t even know anybody who has ever been to it.

The Hampstead Institute did hire a guy named Edwin Marty to direct their, um, “institute,” and he has a book and seems to be dedicated to progressive urban ideas like green spaces and city farming. But he also (at least sort of) works for a real estate developer, so it’s unclear whether Hampstead’s interests are identical with the public’s.

We also really never heard any follow up on the Full of Life farm. If that place (over on a vacant lot at the corner of Broughton and Emerson) ever became a bustling community center, they never mentioned it on their blog, which hasn’t been updated since Christmas of 2010.

The city did make a new “green space” on the corner across from the Renaissance downtown, in front of the new temporary-looking “downtown retail incubator,” but it’s not really even large enough to throw a Frisbee across. We continue to follow closely work on the Cypress Nature Park project.

2. Curbside recycling – No real progress on this point in 2011. After cancelling curbside pickup in 2009, the city got $100,000 in federal tax dollars (stimulus money) to do a “feasibility study” about the prospects of building an “arc plasma incinerator” with Huntsville-based Plasma Waste Recycling. The facility would have pretty much been the only one of its kind in the nation, so it was no surprise to learn that it was not in fact practical. That has left the environmentally conscious folks with the less-than-optimal option of saving up recyclable materials in various corners of their homes (or, if they are lucky, outdoor sheds) and then trucking them to various semi-convenient drop-off points around town. Oh, and no glass and no plastics that aren’t number 1 or number 2. In 2011, residents of Madison County got new curbside recycling options, as did residents of Gulf Shores and tiny little Irondale. There’s no reason why bright minds can’t figure out a way to make this a service offered to residents of the state’s capital city.

3. Big things from Biscuits baseball – Although the Biscuits didn’t win the division, ticket buyers got to see some great baseball and will likely be able to fondly remember 2011 as the dawning of the era of Matt Moore. Unfortunately Moore was on the road when he no-hit the Mobile Bay Bears, but he turned in a number of gems here in Montgomery and the Rays think highly enough of him to have both pulled him up to the majors in 2011 (where he even started a playoff game and went 7 shutout innings against the Rangers) and inked him to a long-term contract.

And Moore is just the highlight of a strong bunch that last year included Tim Beckham and Stephen Vogt and Hak-Ju Lee. There really isn’t enough space here to go into all of the recent accolades heaped onto the Biscuits and former Biscuits. Tampa Bay is simply one of the best run franchises in Major League Baseball right now, with the reigning Rookie of the Year, former Biscuit Jeremy Hellickson, and the American League Manager of the Year. They’ve got legitimate superstars in former Biscuits Evan Longoria, David Price, and James Shields. That means that Montgomery residents are extremely lucky to be the home to the Rays pipeline of talent. Baseball fans around the world are envious of the quality of play that Montgomery residents get to witness, so we’re looking forward to another strong season (and seeing the stadium’s new scoreboard). Now, about that awful “Bring on the Biscuits” song …

4. Local restaurants survive ethics reform – This one feels a bit dated since a year has gone by, but at the start of 2011, people (including our mayor) were talking about how the new ethics laws passed by the Legislature might hurt local restaurants because lobbyists would now be (at least somewhat) constrained in their wining and dining of elected officials. And we have no idea whether that law had any impact on the bottom lines of the restaurants that have closed. In fact, we really don’t know when exactly some of these places went out of business. It may have been in 2010. Or maybe they are planning on re-opening.

But Lunde’s is no longer on the ground floor of the Bell Building downtown; the Marina has been replaced by the relocating Capitol Oyster Bar; Hooter’s allegedly had some kind of dispute with the franchise and may re-open as something else; Donny’s Buffet allegedly wasn’t making customers weigh their “to go” plates and couldn’t absorb the costs of heaping piles of food walking out the door (they have become Thomas’s, which is delicious); the Village Kitchen suffered amid reports of bad service and now serves New Orleans-inspired cuisine under the name Roux; Dreamz opened in the building that once housed the legendary Sahara restaurant on Norman Bridge, but appears to have stopped serving lunch; Martha’s, a downtown house famous for soul food and pictures of celebrities switched to a buffet and now appears to be closed; Daisy’s, a downtown greasy spoon, is shuttered; the downtown Brew Pub is now some kind of outdoor gear shop; and Nancy Patterson’s and Sal’s closed amid highly-publicized tax problems and bankruptcy.

There may be a similar list of places that have opened in the past year, but it does seem like the food scene lost more than it gained in 2011. We wish more places would open up on Monday nights and we hear that El Rey is opening a new lounge sometime in 2012.

5. Less blight – This is another area where the city has made a good amount of progress in the past year. The city government has continued its plan of purchasing properties from private owners and then re-selling them to motivated re-developers. In addition to the stores on Dexter (and the gargantuan One Court Square Questplex building), there’s city spending on Maxwell Boulevard, and a planned purchase and tear-down of the old Sears building on Court Street. We’ve already written a bit about the flipping of the old downtown Kress Building, but even the strongest critics of city policies would have to agree that leaders are making admirable and great strides towards pulling down collapsing buildings, buying properties being neglected by out-of-state landowners and getting real estate into the hands of motivated capitalists and entrepreneurs.

6. Montgomery Mall – No progress made here. Looks like the idea of turning the property into a regional health care provider for veterans has failed when the feds decided not to put a VA on the site. And now there’s going to be a church in one of the former anchor stores. Sad. Maybe 2012.

7. More and better live music – We saw a total of one live music show in Montgomery in 2011. We drove to Birmingham for several great ones at Bottletree and Workplay, but the only thing that raised an eyebrow was when Weird Al came to the MPAC, but we weren’t spending $30-plus to go see a live performance of “Eat It.” We are glad the MPAC is bringing Lewis Black to town in January, but if their best musical offerings are orchestras performing Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin covers, we’ll continue to catch the occasional free show at ever-hazy Head on the Door. There was a bit of talk this year that something called the Iceberg Lounge was going to open as a smoke-free, all ages venue, but that failed under murky circumstances, leaving us without a decent venue for mid-level bands looking for a gig between Atlanta and New Orleans or Mobile and Nashville.

8. Love and respect for history – This one was kind of vague and it’s hard to measure whether 2011 represented an increase or decrease in this area. Still, it’s a good overall sentiment.

9. Animals find loving homes – This one is probably tough to gauge too, but the idea was a general hope that folks would adopt lots of pets from the Humane Society, which euthanizes around 15,000 animals per year. Those folks probably have their adoption stats for 2011, but we haven’t checked. A good wish for every year, really.

10. Something in the Colonial Bank building – Although the FDIC has moved into a few of the offices of this largely abandoned building on the (far, far) east side of the city, it’s mostly still empty.

11. Re-open Maxwell to the public – This didn’t happen either. Maybe one day. We really want to tour the base and see the museum. It would honor the troops to allow citizens to see the bases that house the folks that put their lives on the line in service of our country.

Wishes for 2012:

Several of the wishes from 2011 can be reasonably rolled over into the New Year. Let’s keep half: numbers 1 (green spaces), 2 (recycling), 5 (blight), 6 (Montgomery Mall), 7 (live music), and 11 (Maxwell). That means, to get to 12 wishes for 2012, we need 6 more.

Outdoor options. Montgomery needs more stuff to do outside. We need dog parks. The city is building one, but we need more. We were blown away on a recent visit to Albuquerque that showed us what a civic asset these parks can be. That city is using undesirable land (lots next to a freeway, the weird spaces behind circular baseball fields) and turning them into highly desirable spaces for outdoor pet exercise and community-building. Their parks are covered with wood chips, instead of having high-maintenance grass, and they were full every single time we went. Also it would be nice to have bike lanes, especially if they could be part of a large integrated plan to increase walking and bike riding, connecting parts of the city and decreasing reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.

A Good Used Book Store. Trade N Books seems closed, but may, in fact, not be. The one by The Rave, The Book Cellar, is gone. Which is a good thing. We dearly love Capitol Books, but it would be great to have a meaningful used bookstore. Why, with so many colleges in town, can we not sustain one?

West Fairview’s Demonstration Block. The mayor keeps talking about how important changing West Fairview is to his vision of the city. We fully agree. And so did the charrettes held last year. For next year, we’d like to see some more movement on this front. Insiders tell us the next step is a “demonstration block” on West Fairview. That would be a great step, inspiring everyone to imagine the street’s possibilities. The Graetz Neighborhood Association is part of the overall strategy, and we hear they’ve sold the first cute houses over there. That association was formed as a part of the community’s response to the Weed and Seed strategy and has as its area boundaries, Court Street to Rosa Parks Avenue and Fairview Avenue to I-85. Maybe it’ll indeed function as a “seed” for the rest of the area.

• More from Helicity. We loved us some Denied and Underexposed, and want to see more art. We’re very excited about the prospects for the art CSA.

Keep Up the Festivals. Montgomery has a phenomenal set of gatherings scattered across the calendar. We’ve got Jubilee, Greek food,  the Wine Festival, the Dragon Boats, the Turkey Day Classic, Hampstead’s Food to Fork thing, parades galore, pub crawls, the works. Let’s keep it up. It’s so great to get out and see everyone on the town, and we’re hoping for even more in the new year.

Peace on Earth – 2011 will be remembered as the year that two Montgomery rap groups, Fam Bois and the Crescent Road Heroz, had a cross-town shooting war that killed at least three people, injured at least 23 more, and even tarnished the entire city’s image by making people scared to go to Crampton Bowl and Oak Park. Local hip-hop? Awesome. Morons with guns and festering grudges? Not cool. Although in 2011 we lost Heavy D, who crushes his verse in Self Destruction (which is wholly on point for this topic), here’s hoping 2012 will Stop the Violence and Increase the Peace.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jay Croft says:

    Sadly, India Palace has closed and moved to Pensacola. I ate there at least once a week, the five years of their existence.

    I believe that HB 56 was a definite factor.

  2. Jay Croft says:

    Wrong me!

    India Palace remains open!

    Chef Surat Singh and some of his crew will establish a new restaurant in Pensacola in February. But India Palace will remain where it is, perhaps under a new name.

    Whew! I’ve eaten there at least weekly since they opened five years ago–mostly buffet but sometimes menu in the evening.

  3. Laurie says:

    Trade N Books is not closed; it’s open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:30 to 5. The owners are very friendly and will make suggestions for books if you tell them your likes and dislikes.

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