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Final draft of plans for revitalization presented to public

Published 6:25pm Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The final draft of a concept plan for redevelopment and revitalization in Wetumpka’s downtown and riverfront areas is complete. During a public meeting Monday the 100-page plan was presented by Phil Walker of The Walker Collaborative and Keith Covington of Third Coast Design Studio.

Implementation is the next step in the process – bringing ideas on paper to life.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis. “This plan is an opportunity for us to see what downtown could look like.

“This is a large, large dream and a lot can happen quickly, but first of all we have to get the infrastructure in place.”

Plan document recommendations include:

•Addition of ornamental trees and other landscape features to both beautify the area and make it more pedestrian friendly.

•Encouraging existing businesses to relocate or expand operations in the downtown area.

•Working to have retail businesses in ground floor space with offices or residential tenants on upper floors.

•Possibility of a low-rise parking deck just off Hill Street where county buildings are in the process of being removed.

•Use of textured concrete, pavers or other materials to differentiate crosswalks from the other portions of streets.

•Installation of retractable or removable bollards at certain locations so streets could be closed for specific events.

•Improvements to downtown intersections.

•Working to help building owners secure grant funds to rehabilitate historic buildings.

•Redesigning the west lawn of the county courthouse to include a fountain, seating and perhaps art or paving to direct observers’ attention to the riverfront.

•Placement of kiosks at several points along the riverwalk.

•Cleaning the bridge, lighting its arches and placing banners on lamp posts.

•Replacing trash receptacles and park benches with vintage-style items.

•Creating landscaping focal points at “gateways” to the downtown area.

•Working toward returning the building located at East Bridge, South Main and Court streets to its original use as a hotel. Study results showed downtown can support a 30-40 unit boutique hotel.

•Leveraging of current attractions such as kayaking and other river activities, promoting Fort Toulouse, etc.

•Continuing to hold special events downtown, such as Mardi Gras, Christmas on the Coosa, Craterfest and River and Blues and exploring the initiation of new events downtown. Suggestions included jazz concerts, Shakespeare in the park, etc.

“The plan we have here is a team effort of all of you – the mayor and council, the planning commission and citizens,” said Walker. “But the real heavy lifting will begin with implementation.”

Audience response to the plan was positive. Only a few attendees took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the presentation.

“What are we going to try to do first?” asked Freddie Lynn.

“Right now we’re in the process of executing a CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) of approximately $1 million for water and sewer improvements downtown,” said David Robison, Wetumpka’s planning and program director. “But we’re also going to be looking for something that can be quickly completed in the short-term.”

Willis said a committee will brainstorm and decide what high-impact quickly-completed project will be worked on first.

“I think Wetumpka has a lot of great potential,” said Covington. “There is a lot here to build on. It’s great now but it can be even better.”

The city’s downtown redevelopment effort began in late 2011 with an overall plan completed in 2012 and adopted in January 2013 which focused on broad planning principals, catalyst projects and precedents from other locations. The current concept plan is the result of citizen input during several public meetings, research data and on-site visits.

“This has been talked about for almost as long as I can remember,” said Willis. “I’m very excited about it.”

The complete plan can be viewed online at www.cityofwetumpka.com. Visitors should click on “Downtown Redevelopment” in the lefthand bar, then click on Wetumpka Downtown and Riverfront Redevelopment Plan (Final Draft) under the Documents heading.

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