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Citizens weigh in on downtown

Thursday night saw the Russellville City Council chambers nearly full of citizens eager to hear the latest and share their input with Russellville’s Downtown Redevelopment Committee.

This first informal meeting allowed Mayor David Grissom and NACOLG’s Nathan Willingham to lay out some of the vision for downtown redevelopment and touch on a few specifics.

“We don’t want to try to reinvent the wheel. We’ve seen where other people do it really well,” Grissom said. “We just need your input on what you’d like to see going forward.”

Willingham made a presentation

Topics of discussion included what streets should be included in the downtown district; zoning changes; second-story downtown apartments; and the good and bad of what Russellville already has to offer.

“Downtowns are precious places in our communities. They’re sacred,” Willingham said. “They have a lot of sacred entities and cultural heritage and history. We all want to see them thrive; we all want to see them preserved.”

Downtown Redevelopment Committee members, who will work closely with NACOLG, Russellville City Council and the citizens to revitalize downtown, are Cassie Medley, Chamber of Commerce; Councilman Jamie Harris; Matt Cooper, CB&S Bank; Kim Perdue, downtown homeowner and business owner; Heather Willis, downtown business owner, Chase Sparks, downtown homeowner; and Charlie Canida, Russellville Electric Board.

Willingham and Grissom took the opportunity to stress the importance of getting citizen feedback to move forward with downtown redevelopment.

“It doesn’t happen without the involvement of the entire community,” Willingham said, who put the emphasis on planning – which he verbalized as “putting forethought to action.”

Willingham outlined several areas of focus for creating a successful downtown area, including design, organization and promotions (marketing). Revitalization, Willingham said, will also grow out of multiple levels of focus, including a market-retail study to determine what businesses will thrive in Russellville and honing in on what the citizens want and need.

Citizens at the meeting were given a chance to share their ideas of what Russellville needs. Suggestions including everything from a mega-library, to more arts and culture opportunities, to the favorite topic: sit-down restaurants that are open on Sunday and past 5 p.m.

Although several people expressed concern as to where the money will come from for libraries, restaurants, marketing and infrastructure, Willingham encouraged citizens to set those concerns aside – at least for now.

“Money has to center us, but it can’t limit us,” Willingham said. “When you’re thinking about it, don’t let that limit you … Sets your sights on the ideal, and you’ll get an incredible product.”

Main Street Alabama Executive Director Mary Helmer is expected to speak at the next Downtown Redevelopment meeting.