Debate stirs over plans for riverfront

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Riverfront development along the Tombigbee was the topic of a special meeting held Thursday afternoon at the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce. As part of the new city strategic plan, a committee was formed to study the potential of the riverfront incorporating the marina, downtown and the old botanical gardens site, said Kathy Leverett, chamber president.

Demopolis City Clerk Vickie Taylor and Mark Pettus of the Parks and Recreation Department presented a development plan they develpoped as part of an application sent October 7 for a $504,000 federal transportation grant. The plan includes a retaining wall and provides a concrete walking and bicycle path from the marina to the city landing and along historic Arch Street and the bluffs to the botanical gardens. There will be a yacht tie-off at both the north landing area and the gardens landing area.

There is a 20 percent matching grant (approximately $100,000) the city would have to contribute.

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“I went over this with ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) officials prior to sending this in,” Taylor said. “They spoke highly of what we were doing.”

Although the city has a lot of property it is already concerned with, “the entire city council is committed enough to growth of the community to where we are not going to let an 80-20 (percent grant) money go by the wayside,” said Demopolis City Councilman Woody Collins. “…I don’t think anybody going to let this slide (if the city wins the grant).”

Kirk Brooker and Amanda Smith had previously presented a plan which does not include a walkway along a portion of Arch Street. Residents have expressed concern to the Beautification Committee about construction on Arch Street behind residential homes, Brooker said. “They’re getting kind of scared.”

The Beautification Committee favors not having a sidewalk go beyond Bluff Hall, he said. “We don’t need to go in butting heads with people that live down there. We need to stop that walking trail at Bluff Hall, pick it up again at Webb Landing and take it on around to botanical gardens.”

“I don’t know how you would tie in a sidewalk that goes one place to another if it’s got a dead spot in the middle,” Pettus said.

“Granted it is public property all along Arch Street but trying to cut through somebody’s yard (might) hurt feelings,” Smith said.

River access to Webb Landing is in both plans. Smith and Brooker envision developing private area around Webb Landing for multi-use commercial use. There might be the possibly of town homes with retail and dining below it, Smith said, “to try to utilize that area and not just let it be empty fields.”

Smith also wants riverfront development to tie into the historic downtown business district, moving people from Webb Landing two blocks into downtown.

Pettus felt the walkway conceived in his plan could be rerouted in the eventual design to satisfy homeowners.

The University of Alabama recently received federal money to help the economic development of the Black Belt region. Leverett wants to have the university use some of that funding to help develop an overall plan for riverfront development. “I think we can get that type of assistance without any cost,” she said.

“We’ve got to have somebody take all of our brainstorming and consolidate it,” Collins said.