CGEDA gets ideas in Decatur

Published 5:47 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2007

By Staff
Several local community leaders recently visited the cities of Decatur and Hartselle in North Alabama.
Both cities have found success in revitalizing their downtown areas with partnerships between private organizations and public entities and, according to Coastal Gateway President Wiley Blankenship, hold a great many ideas that can be applied to local communities.
The trip, sponsored by Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Authority, gave participants the opportunity to see, firsthand, the positive effects of community involvement in the revitalization of a downtown area and the related impact on the economy and quality of life in a successful city.
Participants included: Sharon Jones, Twin Rivers Economic Development Partnership Leadership Team; Faye Cotton, mayor, City of Coffeeville; Linda Vice, director, Alabama Tombigbee Tourism; Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Salter, board member, CGEDA; Mr. and Mrs. Mike Kennedy, councilman, Monroeville City Council; K.T. Owens, president, Monroe County Tourism Board; Emilie Mims, executive director, Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce; Julie Adams, office manager, CGEDA; Tina May, clerk, City of Coffeeville; Joe Skipper, Skipper Insurance, Jackson; Gina Skipper, educator and arts council member, Grove Hill.
After a lunch presentation by Rick Paler, executive director of the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority, tour participants visited sites in historic downtown Decatur including the Princess Theatre for Performing Arts. The Princess, a turn-of-the-century art deco theatre, was recently restored and is now used as Decatur's performing arts center.
Executive Director Lindy Ashwander led a tour through the historic theatre, which originally served as one of the town's livery stables.
Another stop along the tour was the Carnegie Visual Arts Center. This historic building, which served as Decatur's original library, has been newly renovated and converted to Decatur's only visual arts and education center. This building was erected in 1909, and was funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie. It served as the library until 1976 and was subsequently renovated in 2001. Laura Phillips, Executive Director, and Kim Mitchell, vice president of Board of Directors, discussed public, private partnerships and the art center's role in the community.
Next was a brief stopover at the Decatur/Morgan County Chamber of Commerce building to meet with John Seymour, President/ CEO. Seymour accompanied the group to see Rhodes Ferry Park and other new development along the banks of the Tennessee River. The tour stopped at the River Walk Marina as Seymour discussed retail, commercial and residential development on the river.
Tami Reist, president of Convention and Visitors Bureau, met the group at Ingalls shipyard to discuss commercial, residential and recreational development along the river.
She also addressed economic benefits and the impact of tourism on Decatur and Morgan County. Reist provided information on bass tournaments in Morgan County and the importance of the North Alabama Birding Trail in Morgan County. Reist also touched on the one of the newest tourism aspects in Decatur and Morgan County, geocaching.
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers.
The following day, the group came together for a breakfast meeting at their hotel.
Michelle Gilliam-Jordan, director of Decatur's Community and Planning Department, discussed the city's role of planning downtown and riverfront areas as well as city parks. She also touched on grants and funding for projects and ways organizations can work together with the private sector to fund projects.
Later that morning, joined by Squee Bailey of the Convention and Tourism Bureau, the tour wound its way through historic Albany and Old Decatur and stopped over in Delano Park. The group joined Barbara Kelly and Sally Smart to discuss redevelopment of the oldest park in Decatur, recently renovated through private sector driven efforts. The park, named for Franklin D. Roosevelt's mother, features a newly renovated rose garden, splash pond and walking trails.
The group then traveled to Point Mallard Park to see bike and running trails as well as the park's ice skating rink and soccer fields. Parks and Recreation Marketing Director Julianne Lowman also directed the tour through the golf course and RV park.
Tiffany Brightwell, Special Events Coordinator for the Decatur-Morgan County
Convention &Visitor's Bureau, met the group at the Jack Allen Soccer Fields. These lasergraded fields have allowed Decatur to host several major soccer events.
The group departed for home after a visit to Historic Downtown Hartselle. The town is a prime example of how a small, rural Alabama community has developed their main street area with restaurants, antique shops and other stores.
Blankenship said he hoped community leaders were able to apply some of the good things happening in Decatur and Hartselle to their own communities. He hopes local communities will focus more strongly on developing their quality of life.
Blankenship said he was very pleased with the trip and the feedback he received from participants. He added that if asked, another such trip could be planned for leaders.

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