Spotlight on Etowah & St. Clair Counties
Gadsden’s downtown area is filled with specialty shops and restaurants.
Photo by M. Kay Moore of Downtown Gadsden Inc.
Downtown Gadsden is alive with shops and restaurants and hosts events that bring people in, such as Riverfest, a music festival, and First Fridays, which feature music, food vendors and shopping.
Mayor Sherman Guyton hopes to keep the city vibrant by following a master plan for a picnic area, trails, fishing piers, a bait shop, lighting and other features across the Coosa River from city hall. “We would add things that will tie in with other things we own on the other side of the bridge,” he says.
The city also is looking to upgrade its Northeast Alabama Regional Airport with repaving, striping and extending the runway, Guyton says. An Alabama Army National Guard battalion recently located at the airport, which will help the local economy, provide training and increase airport activity. Officials say that once a quarter the entire battalion of about 719 members will train in airborne operations.
The city has added 20 new police officers and started a “Save Our Neighborhoods” program that has been successful in removing nonworking vehicles in yards and other improvements, Guyton says. And, the city is working on a recycling program.
Gadsden also expects to benefit from a new, 200,000-square-foot retail development, Rivertrace, on Meighan Boulevard that will begin construction in August, says developer John Abernathy of Blackwater Resources. “We’ve worked on this for about two years, and we plan to have about 25 national retailers, with parcels available for restaurants.” It will be located on the former Rivertrace Golf Course, once owned by Goodyear.
The city of Rainbow City is working on attracting more retail and finishing four-laning Black Creek Parkway to Highway 77, says Mayor Terry John Calhoun. The city also has started preliminaries on a new sewer treatment plant that will enable more growth, a $15 million project, and improvements to its sports complex, which already has soccer, football, baseball and softball fields, along with a disc golf course that has been very popular, Calhoun says.
St. Clair County
St. Clair County’s parks and recreation board is working on a $750,000 renovation of the county’s multi-purpose arena facility in Odenville, says Kellie Graff, county administrator. The county also has applied to expand and improve its Canoe Creek Park boat launch to include four lanes. It is the only public boat launch on Neely Henry Lake.
The county also has started a veterans’ court that helps military veterans get the mental health services they need, Graff says. “There are a significant number of veterans who need mental health assistance,” she says. “This helps speed up the process.” The court works with social service organizations.
The county also has finished its countywide water system, which will be able to accommodate growth, officials say. Population in the county has averaged about 30 percent growth per decade, and the infrastructure improvements will ensure that the county has enough water to support growth for the next 50 years, says Don Smith, executive director of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council.
In Pell City, which shares the county seat designation with the city of Ashville, population growth required officials to restructure with a city council and city manager, says the city’s new mayor, Joseph Funderburg.
Pell City is proud of the state veterans home that opened last November. “It is a tremendous asset to the community and for veterans,” he says. The city recently opened a new St. Vincent’s Hospital that replaces the old one, and Jefferson State Community College has a Pell City campus.
The majority of city streets have been paved, and city leaders are considering a bond issue to improve its 1970s-era civic center, along with the possibility of building a recreation and wellness facility, Funderburg says. “There is a lot of demand to build something like a pool and wellness center,” he says. The city also wants to build a new library that also will house municipal offices, the Pell City Board of Education and the chamber. The city has bought an existing building for that purpose, he says.
Housing is doing well in Pell City, especially with the addition of a new Pell City high school, Funderburg says. “We have about 1,000 new homes,” he says. The city is close to Logan Martin Lake, the site of vacation homes and fishing tournaments; 30 minutes from Birmingham and only six miles from Talladega County, where Honda Manufacturing is located.
Springville Mayor William “Butch” Isley says the city is in the second phase of its streetscape project that includes downtown renovations along Highway 11. Phase 1 was completed last year and included curbing, lighting, seating, trees and other landscaping. That will continue another block and should be completed by August. The project is being financed with a federal grant and city matching funds.
“Springville has two interstate accesses, and we want to assure that the retail/commercial development is not centered solely on the interstate,” Isley says. “It also is important to ensure that downtown merchants do well. It’s vital to our citizens to have places to shop.”
The city opened a downtown farmers market in June. Also, the city is developing Big Spring Park that now includes a splash pad, a $500,000 investment that has proved to be very popular. “From May 1 to September 30 last year, we averaged about 1,000 kids per week from all over,” Isley says. “We have purchased additional acreage and plan to add a second walking track designed for walkers and joggers.” Speaking of splash pads, the cities of Ragland and Ashville also have them.
Springville also purchased 60 acres at one of its interstate exits for a sportsplex that is expected to open in August, Isley says. The park will include tennis courts, fields for different sports and more. The city has added retail businesses and restaurants.
Isley says he is proud that the city has received funding to build two community storm shelters that will house 150 people each. One will be at the sportsplex and the other south of town near the fire station.
Moody, the second largest municipality in St. Clair, is benefiting from a new travel center that should bring in significant sales tax revenue, says Mayor Joe Lee. The city also landed three new restaurants and Lowe’s. “Our housing market is doing better, especially some of our older subdivisions,” Lee says. “We are working on a lot of development off the interstate.”
The city of Steele, with at least five major manufacturers within or near its city limits, has a very low unemployment rate because jobs are plentiful there, says Steele Mayor John Wilcox. The city also has applied for grants to build a new fire station.