Spotlight on Houston & Henry Counties
Visitors to Dothan can learn part of the area’s history simply by walking down its streets — murals depict some of the people and items that have had a significant impact, like this one painted by Wes Hardin in 2001 of Tuskegee Airmen instructor Sherman Rose, who was a Dothan resident until his death in 2008.
Photo by Lori Pruitt
In the city of Dothan, where visitors already can enjoy a series of murals and bronze sculptures downtown, the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority has started “The Nest on Foster Street,” a retail incubator, says Jansen Tidmore, director. It has four entrepreneurs currently and is part of the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts.
“It is one of our proudest accomplishments,” Tidmore says. “It’s fresh and new and has sparked life downtown.” The DDRA already owned the building for the incubator, which was rehabbed for that purpose, giving it an historic flavor outside yet modern inside.
“We are fortunate that there is a lot of synergy and energy around here, and we want to keep it going,” Tidmore says.
Other important projects underway or planned include:
- Two libraries are under construction — one downtown and one in Westgate Park. An old library is being demolished, and the new ones will have the latest in high-tech resources.
- The Westgate Sports Complex is undergoing improvements that will include the library branch and more sports fields.
- The Howell School Senior Housing Project will take a former school building and renovate it to provide low-income senior housing by a group of private developers, The Bennett Group, along with government entities. This reuse could provide 19 housing units in the old school building and 42 units on surrounding parcels. City officials hope to assist the $14 million project by providing matching funds from the Section 108 program. Groundbreaking is expected in 2015.
- The East Side Fire Station is undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion.
- Foster Street is undergoing many improvements, helped with a $500,000 economic development initiative grant. The project includes a new park with a clock tower and gathering place. Pioneer Park will honor pioneers of downtown Dothan.
- The Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center will undergo an expansion that will provide room for job training and employment for low-income, disabled people. The project will be bid in mid-summer.
- General infrastructure improvements underway or about to start including repair and resurfacing on South Saint Andrews Street, an area where water mains are more than 90 years old; a partial rehabilitation of two blocks of North Foster Street; sidewalks on Montana Street, and a drainage project on Wilson Street.
- The DDRA has adopted a new logo and slogan, “Shop, Dine, Unwind” to promote the city, and is working on a long-range plan that provides more lofts and retail space downtown.
Many of the projects are part of a partnership with Houston County, says Mark Culver, commission chairman. “The county and city work together on several projects, and that adds value for all of us,” he says. “We try to be a regional partner with our surrounding counties. We try not to look at county lines and help each other, especially if it will benefit everyone.” Partnering on the projects means that no one entity has to bear the entire cost, he says.
The city of Ashford recently received a federal grant to add playground equipment to its recreational park. It also has applied for a grant to add walking trails to the Hugh Summerlin Recreational Park, which includes baseball and softball fields.
The city also received a FEMA mitigation grant to help with flooding and drainage issues, and has applied for a grant to fund water and sewer improvements in low-income housing areas.
Henry County Probate Judge David Money, who also serves as county commission chairman, says the county is trying to coordinate more industrial recruitment among the cities and county. “I want to see us get up a combined committee to work on this,” he says. Much of this is due to the arrival of Commercial Jet to Dothan, which will be only five minutes from Henry County. “We will profit from that, and I want to see us take that opportunity and expand it.”
The county is working on a Leadership Henry program to make people aware of the resources it has, Money says. And the county has applied for a federal grant to hire a school resource officer.
The city of Abbeville has a pretty downtown that has been enhanced by Great Southern Wood Preserving owner Jimmy Rane. Sidewalks, lighting and finished facades even on buildings that are not occupied has made a difference in the city’s appeal.
The city also is working on a comprehensive plan, says Pam Ward, the city’s clerk/treasurer. “We want to look at future uses for our land and recreational areas, and once we do that, we’ll revisit zoning codes to create opportunities.”
The city of Headland has been working on a new streetscape project that includes lighting and sidewalks, says Mayor Ray Marlor. “We have also applied for a grant to make downtown ADA compliant,” he says. The project includes a safer route to school, so that schoolchildren do not have to walk near the railroad tracks.
The city also contracts with Wiregrass Transit to help transport seniors to the doctor and on errands, Marlor says. “I’d like to see us improve on that, because a lot of our seniors do not have a driver to help them.”
The city of Headland will host a Dixie Youth Baseball tournament in July, the city’s first time as host of a major event like this, Marlor says.