Montgomery Development Preview

A portion of downtown as it is today

In the last ten years, Montgomery has made much progress, mostly focused on the 2007 master plan. Mayor Todd Strange has been criticized for continuing to invest in the city during times of economic recession, but history has taught us that depressions and recessions are actually times of great opportunity. More billionaires came out of the great depression than any other time in history.

On Jan. 10, the Department of Development held a Development Preview where they discussed upcoming plans for the city and touched on the progress that has been made upon existing plans. You can find details of these plans on the Department of Development website.

In the coming months there will be a charrette (an intensive 2 day planning session) for Madison Avenue and one for Atlanta Highway. Atlanta Highway’s charrette will be held Feb. 9-11, addressing the area between Federal Drive and the bypass. It will focus on infill. The Atlanta Highway has good bones – wide, tree-lined streets, diverse businesses and lots of residential neighborhoods. However, the infrastructure has decayed over time, despite the efforts of Montgomery Trees. Too many properties are underutilized and sidewalks do not connect residential neighborhoods with nearby businesses.

March will see the charrette for Madison Avenue, covering the area between Ripley Street and Patterson Field. The focus there will be the new sportsplex at Cramton Bowl. The intent is to extend downtown development to the Cramton Bowl area. The idea is that visitors to some of the dozens of Sportsplex events could stay in one of the hotels downtown and then have access to all that they need without leaving the downtown area. Chad Emerson, the Director of Development, said there would be continued support for the Curb Market and the Armory.

Two properties will become available for construction development, both valued somewhere around a quarter of a million. The RFP (request for proposals) are available online. One property is the surface parking lot at the Biscuits Stadium. The city is trying to move to a parking deck, freeing up valuable land.

The other property is the one that will probably elicit some response — it is the Montgomery Skatepark. Both Chad Emerson and Mayor Strange said emphatically that the park would be relocated when a buyer was found, but as of yet there are no clear plans on where. Emerson even said that they were open to suggestions on the new location, so if you have thoughts, email him. I can’t say that I am surprised about the movement – as the downtown has started to come to life, the property there has become more and more attractive to potential investors. The Development Department is hopeful that the property might become mixed use, filling some of the demand for downtown housing. Still, losing its downtown location will mark the end of an era. The park was built as a compromise between the city and skaters so they would have somewhere safe to go. I hope that they will work with skaters to find a new location for the park.

Bringing more art to the city center is part of the revitalization efforts of the Department of Development. approached the city with the idea of having 25 local artists use Adirondack chairs as their canvas. The funds raised from the competition will help fund three permanent sculptures in the downtown park areas.

The other downtown art project (funded by a grant to the city) will focus on the Downtown Riverfront Bluff Park/ Overlook Park. The city has already begun efforts to revitalize the park. Much of the asphalt will be replaced with grass and green space. The idea is to further connect the park with the farm and Cottage Hill. Right now Cottage Hill doesn’t have its own park, so a more functional and accessible Overlook Park will be a fantastic asset to the neighborhood.

The art project there will have the theme “Rails and River.” The city is partnering with the Montgomery Area Business Committee for the Arts to invite local artists to submit their ideas between now and Feb. 17. Applicants should submit a one-page description of their work and a 24 x 36 representation of their concept for consideration. The winning artist will be announced in late March and will receive a $5,000 award and up to $5,000 for cost of materials and installation. The winning art will become a permanent part of Montgomery’s riverfront.

Ongoing projects include continued development in 2012. Evidently, there will be a new hotel opening downtown in 2012. The Alley extension should be completed soon, connecting The Alley with Coosa Street. It will contain multiple retail bays, some already leased. We should also see a new restaurant called Central Downtown move into the space below 129 Coosa.

The Cottage Hill/ Five Points roundabout project has hit a number of snags in the last couple of years. The city got an initial bid, felt it was too high, and decided to do the project in-house. They ended up with major issues with the utilities, so now they have hired another company to look at the project and determine the financial feasibility. Initially they had intended to spend $500,000, but those initial bids came in closer to $1 million. Supposedly there will be a final report soon and the feasibility of creating the roundabout will be determined at that point.

The West Fairview project is moving slowly. The streetscape is still in the engineering phase, which probably means that it will be at least 2013 before we see any improvements being made. Bids will go out in a week or so. Mayor Strange said the bid date was pushed back because very little can be done during the torrential winter and spring rains.

The Questplex, aka 1 Dexter Plaza, is still slated to house a massive library and Children’s Museum. Alabama State has also approached the city about adding a stop on the Civil Rights Trail to the facility. Strange said the boards of the library and children’s museum need to get together to work on fundraising for the facility. The estimated cost will be around $20 million for the 180,000 square foot facility.

Finally, there’s the Montgomery Mall. The property has been a source of strife on the bypass since retailers abandoned it several years ago. The property is actually three separate properties, one of which has been purchased out of bankruptcy by the city. According to Strange, there has been a lot of discussion on what will go in the space. Currently the plan is to move the fire department out of the trailer across the street and into part of the property. This will allow the fire department to expand to a three or four bay station. It will also be able to provide EMT services. A police substation will be added, similar to the Fairview Avenue presence. Perhaps most creatively, part of the first floor will be turned into an indoor walking track.

Many of the city’s plans depend outside investment, and during an economic downturn it is challenging to find investors. At the same time, the city should be commended for looking toward the future.

“Some people criticize us for doing too much, but you have to seize the moment,” said Strange.

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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