Montgomery in 2015

By on 5 January, 2015 in Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Montgomery signWe don’t make New Years resolutions, we make wishes. Resolutions require planning, vision and, worst of all, determined persistence. Wishes, on the other hand, convey all of the aspiration without any of the work. So here, for your reading pleasure, are several Montgomery things that we’re wishing for (or even more passively, watching) in 2015.

1. The new police chief. No matter how you look at it, 2014 was a year when American municipal police departments attracted national (and even global) attention. There were robust discussions about police budgets, arrest practices, acquisition of military-grade technology and civilian oversight. Our city was fortunate to have avoided the worst sorts of police brutality scandals consuming other cities, but we are amid a serious statewide discussion about prison overcrowding. And more locally, 2014 was a tough year for local cops who were caught up in the horribly embarrassing departure of former MPD chief Kevin Murphy.

We won’t rehash those details here, but eyes are now turned to 2015 and the arrival of our new chief, Ernest Finley He is a former deputy chief from Atlanta. It’s interesting that the hire didn’t come from inside MPD. We’re excited to see Chief Finley’s vision for the department, especially at a time with so much national attention being paid to police practices. We’re all glad to see violent crime rates coming down, but we’re also interested in community relationships with officers, civilian oversight, and how much transparency the new chief allows. We’ve got no reason to be optimistic that the weirdness of MPD’s 2014 is far behind us, but hope that our city’s leaders will continue to ensure our safety responsibly.

2. A new mayor? Speaking of city leaders, the coming year will almost certainly reveal whether Mayor Todd Strange is planning on running again. It seems virtually certain that former Congressman (and gubernatorial candidate) Artur Davis is going to run. And whispers about Joe Hubbard are also persisting. Any candidate might have a good shot of winning, but the key variable is whether there will be a fairly popular incumbent in the mix. We’re looking forward to hearing competing visions for all of the many important issues facing our city. It’s always a good time for getting engaged in your community, but it’s extra productive when there are folks actively courting your support and input.

3. What’s going to happen in Cloverdale’s 5 Points? Everyone has seen the apartments going up on the corner across from Sinclair’s. Those will hold a lot of new residents and will fundamentally change the nature of that intersection. There will be a lot of folks competing for parking spaces and maybe even an infusion of cash into the neighborhood. That casts a new light on the former M. Bagwell boutique, empty for several years now, all the way down to the sold former dry cleaner. The Graham Woods space has remained “pending” for quite some time, and although we know it won’t be called “the Sugrue bar,” we’re not sure when it’ll open or what that will be like. Will the competition lift 1048, Sinclair’s, Tomatino’s, El Rey and Leroy? Or will the parking scrum deter people from the area? We are very excited to find out, and we’ll likely get more clues in 2015.

4. Downtown retail. Speaking of economic development, 2015 will be a huge year for the continued upheaval of downtown. We’ve written before about Foshee and MarJam, but all of that ought to be clicking into place in the coming year. We’ll see some ribbon cuttings, but for what exactly? And will people support it? Details have been a bit dodgy, but we’re certain to see the long-awaited fruits of the city’s intervention into the real estate market. Tax dollars were used to acquire blighted buildings held by absentee owners. The properties were then sold to motivated developers, with the fate of downtown in the balance. We’ll be watching to see whether loft residences fill up (with grocery store options and school zoning as important factors), and also whether the city can bring retailers to town to sell things that people will actually buy. We’re at ground zero of a fascinating chapter in an economics textbook.

5. Whole Foods. While on the subject of economic development and just what people in Montgomery will buy, we’ve got to talk about the coming Whole Foods. It’s not Midtown, and it’s not even downtown, but the new high-end grocery store coming into the east side sprawl. On the one hand, we love the kinds of products that Whole Foods sells, and are willing to pay a higher price for groceries in exchange for vegetarian friendly and organic food. On the other hand, we don’t want to drive way out to that part of town to buy groceries, and would have to be paid to deal with the already-terrible intersection where exit 9 leaves I-85. And on a third hand, it’s important to examine whether there’s an appetite in our city for high-end groceries and whether Earthfare will be put out of business. Our city’s tax base awaits the answers. Will downtown eventually get a grocery store? Does continued eastward expansion implicate that question?

6. Whither the Webber Building? Speaking of downtown, 2014 was also the year in which one of our more historic buildings collapsed. Although some folks said that the renovations were happening “the right way,” evidently either they weren’t or things were so far gone that you start asking questions about responsibility. Owning a building that was built in 1860 is a responsibility, and the folks entrusted with protecting our collective heritage obviously failed at something if things got to the point of collapse and a possible total loss. But that’s all in the past, and we’ve got to spend 2015 looking forward at what can be done. First up ought to be a price tag on just what it’s going to take to save the building. We’ve expressed our gratefulness that nobody was hurt in the collapse, but now it’s time to pull together and ensure that this historic building remains a part of our city for many future generations to come. If the current property owners can’t handle the responsibility, others need to step in.

7. The sports landscape. In case you’ve been living under a rock for all of 2014, our city hosted a college football bowl game. The Raycom Sports Camellia Bowl was held at Cramton Bowl and allowed the folks watching ESPN to get a tiny peek at our city. Birmingham and Mobile have had bowl games for a while, so it’s nice that we joined their company and gathered the economic benefits of traveling fan bases. This year, folks from Mobile came up to cheer for University of South Alabama, while folks from Kentucky came down to cheer for Bowling Green. We haven’t heard much about the economic benefits, but we assume numbers will be released at some point and that leaders are keeping up with this sort of thing. Rumors are that the bowl provided maybe a $5 million to $8 million benefit to the economy. Either way, we’re in it for at least two more years with Raycom as a named sponsor, and five more years with ESPN. So the city will be rolling out the red carpet each December for quite a few years to come. We’re optimistic that local residents remain supportive and that the city is getting a good return on its investments.

2015 will also be the year that Montgomery hosts the AA baseball All-Star game. Longtime readers know that we are big Biscuits fans and that we’ll be in the stands for several games in the coming spring and summer. But the exhibition of some of the game’s best and brightest really is a rare opportunity to see such talent gathered in one place. Baseball fans will be converging on Montgomery this summer, and we’re super excited about that.

8. Civil rights anniversaries. This is one of those things that we’ve heard a lot about, but also should probably be paying more attention to. Three Selma-Montgomery marches. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. We’ve had a half-century now to reflect on what all of this has meant and sometimes it feels like we can’t even begin to agree on where to go from here. In 2013, Shelby County v. Holder undermined the Voting Rights Act, and with protests in Ferguson and elsewhere, it’s clear that the civil rights movement continues in new ways today. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens here. Already the movie Selma (shot partly here in our city) is receiving lots of Oscar buzz, and we hear rumors that hotel rooms downtown are already close to selling out. What will the anniversaries be like? Will there be new momentum for social change? Will it be an economic and social boom for Montgomery?

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, 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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