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Let’s unite for downtown Russellville

I love downtowns.

I don’t know when I first became entranced with historic downtowns – old-timey store fronts, quaint courtyards, imposing lamp posts and neatly-trimmed sidewalks. Selma’s is beautiful, as are Opelika and Alexander City. These are the downtowns that are most familiar to me. If you’ve never visited these cities, you’ve missed out on some beautiful examples of downtown splendor.

Downtowns are the heartbeat of any community – or at least, they used to be.

With the modern-day strip malls on four lane highways has come the demise of the classic downtown. Gone are the homegrown hardware and department stores; the old-timey soda fountains and drug stores; the five and dime and the barbershop complete with pole.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

People are learning to value their downtowns again and put real effort into redeveloping them into the community hubs they once were. Russellville is one such town. This week the city will begin the first stages of a downtown redevelopment plan announced in April 2015, in which a focus will be placed on everything from sidewalks and lighting to new retail and restaurants.

Personally, I find this breathtakingly exciting.

I came to Russellville in May and quickly began hearing people’s opinions of the city’s downtown. People are proud of Russellville’s assets – like the Historic Roxy Theatre and Franklin County’s beautiful courthouse. But there’s a prevailing sense that the downtown area isn’t what it used to be. Discontent hangs thick over downtown Russellville.

There’s a truth people already know but might not want to hear: Russellville will never be the same as it was in the past.

But there’s good news mixed in with that. After all, why would we want to return to the past? Why would we want to regress into history? Nostalgia paints a pretty picture, but in reality, it’s time to stop thinking about where we’ve been – while always appreciating and remembering our past – and turn to face the future and think about where we want to go from here.

The city’s downtown redevelopment plan, spearheaded by Mayor David Grissom, is going to take all of us pulling together. It’s going to take every citizen sharing input and joining together in a unified vision to make Russellville what we want to be.

It’s going to take us investing in our community – whether that’s through time, personal finances or other resources.

It’s going to take the right attitude – trading “Ohhhh, well, things aren’t what they used to be” for “Just think what Russellville can become.”

I hope to see you at the downtown redevelopment committee meeting tomorrow. I want to hear your input, and I want to share our mutual excitement about Russellville’ future. I hope you’ll stay with us as the “Franklin County Times” reports on these developments over the coming months and years.

This is our downtown, Russellville. It’s time to own it.