Alabama town looks to Georgia for downtown inspiration
Oct. 21, 2017
PRATTVILLE, Ala. (AP) — People working to revitalize downtown in the Alabama community of Prattville are looking to a Georgia city for inspiration.
Prattville's iconic landmark, the "gin shop," is the foundation for ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown historic district.
But already plans are being made to branch out in the revitalization plan.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that backers of the effort see more businesses locating downtown. More pedestrian and bike traffic. Even a zip line across the mill pond. It's all on the wish list.
The inspiration is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east, in Columbus, Georgia.
The consolidated Columbus-Muscogee County is bigger than Prattville, with an estimated 200,000 residents versus an estimated 35,317 for Prattville. And Columbus' downtown, dubbed "Uptown" 34 years ago, has a far larger footprint that downtown Prattville.
Still, there are similarities, said Tom Newton, chairman of the Historic Prattville Redevelopment Authority, the group spearheading the local revitalization effort.
"Actually, Prattville now is a little ahead of us when we started in 1983," said Richard Bishop, who recently retired as chief executive officer of Uptown Columbus. He's credited with getting the effort started over that over the past three decades has nurtured Columbus' downtown to develop into an economic powerhouse. "As far as infrastructure goes, Prattville is in very good shape. Prattville's potential is unlimited."
Prattville is looking at what other cities and communities have done partly because "there's no need to reinvent the wheel," Newton said.
The wheel started rolling in Columbus in 1983, when the usual suspects, the Chamber and 10 to 12 downtown business and property owners came together to do something.
"Our downtown was deplorable," Bishop said matter-of-factly. "It's not where people wanted to go. It's not where families wanted to go."
But, there was potential there. Several old mills, dating back to the early to mid-1800s, dot the riverfront. And there's the Chattahoochee River, the shallow, rock-strewn waterway that forms the southern border between Alabama and Georgia.
In 1994, the Georgia Legislature passed a law that forced municipalities along the Chattahoochee that dumped treated sewer effluent into the river clean up the stream. Brush-choked banks disappeared in Uptown. The river walk was created.
The "right kind" of businesses started coming in, first at a trickle then at a steady flow, Bishop said. Public art started showing up on the tree-lined streets. There are now 200 apartments in the old mills and a groundbreaking is coming soon on a $54 million project to put 200 more apartments in another old mill.
A wide range of business, including many independently owned shops, line the main drags of Uptown in Columbus.
Residential growth is key, said Ross Horner, current chief executive director of Uptown Columbus.
"You simply must have a thriving residential base," he said. "You must have people living Uptown. That's what brings the retail; businesses, restaurants, bars. We have three gyms Uptown. That wouldn't be possible without the residential base.
"There is always something going on Uptown."
In Prattville, a real estate firm is working to finalize the deal to purchase the Continental Eagle complex that makes up Prattville's gin shop. The company is planning a $20 million project that will put about 146 apartments in the five historic masonry structures that make up the mill. The oldest building dates back to 1848.
The final details of the deal are being worked out now, Newton said.
Bishop toured Prattville's downtown about three months ago and came away impressed, very impressed.
"I love the old mill, the dam, everything," he said. "The mill pond is just amazing. Any city can build a Bass Pro Shops, can get the chain big box stores. You can count on one hand, maybe two, cities and towns in the country that have what Prattville and Columbus can offer.
"We have the river, Prattville has the creek. We have mills, Prattville has their mill. You can't build a river. You can't build mills like these anymore. Again, Prattville's potential is unlimited."
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com