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Redevelopment progresses in downtown Russellville

Since the last downtown redevelopment meeting in the city of Russellville, when Main Street Alabama presented its services and strategies and for downtown revitalization, wheels have been turning toward Russellville’s future.

The public can find out all about recent advancements and future plans at the next Russellville Downtown Redevelopment Plan public meeting, set for April 19 at 6 p.m. at Russellville City Hall. Nathan Willingham, with NACOLG, said discussion will include a review of the research and documentation prepared for the plan as well as discussion of potential recommendations for downtown design, organization, promotion and economic development activities.

“We’ve started in doing some field work,” Willingham said. “A lot of what we needed to do to wait until warmer weather … We’ve been working really hard on figuring out what the relationship is between existing businesses and the vitality of the district.”

As compared to the Main Street program, which primarily focuses on downtown activity and efforts like promotions and publicity, NACOLG’s wheelhouse is infrastructure, design and city services as a mean of catalyst for development, Willingham said. To that end, he has been looking into elements like infrastructure, streetscapes, sidewalks, planning and zoning, design guidelines and architectural features to get some understanding of how downtown as a larger district fits in the civic life of Russellville “and how it really is part of the tax base of this city.”

“We’ve noticed some areas that could use some attention,” Willingham said.

The first step, perhaps, is firmly identifying downtown. Of primary focus is the very heart of downtown, bordered by Montgomery, Green and Lauderdale streets and the railroad tracks.

“It’s a square that is clearly a business neighborhood and is clearly a downtown neighborhood,” Willingham said. “It has the look and feel of what you think of in traditional downtown.”

Moving forward, Willingham said there is still a great need for public input as the city and NACOLG and other stakeholders work together to develop a plan and timeline.

“We’re excited – we think we’ve got a good team in place going forward,” said Mayor David Grissom. Since the last meeting, Grissom said he, building inspector Bill Fuller and fire marshal Justin Green made a trip to Mississippi to visit with their Main Street folks and to visit with Chris Chain, a specialist in downtown loft apartments.

“He owns several loft apartments in Columbus, Miss. He and his company have been responsible for redoing into the hundreds of loft apartments across Mississippi,” Grissom said.

“We’re anxious to see if that’s going to be a part of our plan moving forward … I just wanted to see how it was done right.” Grissom said after touring several of Chain’s loft apartments, he could definitely picture a similar venture in a few of Russellville’s downtown buildings. “We’re not talking about a substantial number of buildings, but we do have several,” Grissom said.

Russellville recently received approval, Grissom said, for additional federal TAP grant funds to improve downtown sidewalk accessibility and aesthetics. The grant is very similar to the grant the city received last year, totaling $256,146 for fiscal year 2016, which will allow the city to address three additional two-block sections of sidewalk in downtown.

Grissom said he hopes for a good turnout for the April 19 meeting.

“People are excited about it still,” Grissom said. “I’m just ready to get it done … But I think we’re going as quick as we can go. I feel like we’ve got it headed in the right direction.

“We just want downtown to be the best it can be.”