Arch Street vote in less than a week

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2005

By this time next week it will be settled. Next week, the Demopolis City Council will hold their second meeting of May to give the proposed Arch Street River Walk project thumbs up or terminate the idea.

The idea for the project has been kicked around for many years. Each time the idea came up it was met with heavy opposition from most residents of Arch Street.

Those in favor of the project feel it can benefit Demopolis heavily in the areas of commerce and recreation.

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Mark Pettus, the city’s Park and Recreation Director, said the project would be perfect for some of the nations most popular recreational activities.

“Walking and jogging are the number one forms of recreation in America today,” Pettus said. “We don’t have many places for that.”

Pettus, who has been asked to represent those in favor of the project at council meetings, said there is potential for the project to benefit the entire city.

“I think this whole project is good for the whole city,” Pettus said. “We have been trying for a long time to compromise and we hope to do what is best for the city.”

Pettus said the idea for a jogging trail first came about in meetings with former mayor Austin Caldwell. Caldwell proposed a jogging trail from the city square up and down the river, which sparked the idea.

Pettus said the idea for the Arch Street Project was not to hurt anyone, rather to benefit the entire city.

Several cities around the south have benefited greatly by taking advantage of their riverfront.

Jay Shows, Executive Director of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce said he has seen similar projects around the south and they have met similar opposition.

“I have traveled to several cities that have either entertained the idea of a river walk project or have one,” Shows said. “Most of the towns have to battle the same things that have happened here where an industry or residential area owns the land up to the river.”

The River has unlimited potential for fishing tournaments as well. Shows said several small tournaments already use the landing during the peak months of the fishing season. Shows added the largest tournaments would also be a possibility with a fee.

“The North landing, as was stated at the last city council meeting, has the potential to solidify Demopolis as an attractive place to host tournaments and could allow us to host some larger ones from time to time,” Shows said. “However, some of the larger tournaments come in and say they will bring in 250 boaters, but they want usually a few thousand dollars to bring them in.”

A proposed river walk would also have the potential to bring positive changes to some existing recreation spots. Through the years the city’s botanical gardens have seen better days, but with the new river walk, Shows felt the gardens could become one of the finest parks in the state.

“If we develop over a period of time the botanical garden area, just think of what a spectacular facility that would be,” Shows said. “You have one of the prettiest potential parks with this riverview and it has great potential to be used by local residents and cruisers.”

The facelift for the gardens would be inexpensive and could include restrooms, a pavilion for family reunions and other additions.

The Arch Street Committee has stated many times it wants minimum impact behind the residents. They said they want an area to be in place where citizens of Demopolis and visitors would have a better venue to enjoy the river in the least invasive way. A small walkway is thought to be the best way to do that.

However, the arguments still stand. One such argument is that the project could have an adverse impact on the natural beauty of the area.

At last weeks Demopolis City Council meeting David Martin, a Tuscaloosa attorney, said he hoped the project would not damage the view that has been in place for centuries.

“A lot of that boat traffic is there because they want to see the white bluffs of Demopolis,” Martin said.

“They want to see the Chickasaw Gallery. They want to envision how the early settlers and colonists who were traveling down the river had to evade attacks by the Chickasaw Indians. They want to experience Demopolis.”

Kirk Brooker, Operations Manager for the Marengo County Historical Society, was also at the meeting. Brooker said, among many other concerns, the materials that could be used in the project had also raised eyebrows.

“The society also has concerns about materials to be used in the project,” Brooker said. “A wrought iron fence is proposed to run along the river bank. While such a fence is more pleasing than a chain link fence, the visual impact it is going to have on the open view is a concern. The only way to see the white bluffs besides a direct approach by boat is to stand along Arch Street and look north and south for a side view. If you look down a fence line of black wrought iron fence you see seemingly a solid black wall.”

The biggest concern of all has been the privacy of residents. Many do not want heavy traffic in their yards and fear what the river walk would do to their community.

For both sides answers will come at next weeks meeting.