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ACE plan emphasizes infrastructure upgrades

The need for transportation infrastructure upgrades, a stronger community identity and workforce development are listed among the top issues facing the future of Hartselle, based on input from more than 25 community leaders who are working to have the city designated as an Alabama Community of Excellence (ACE).

A strategic plan reached draft form two weeks ago at a fourth ACE meeting, at which time an executive steering committee was suggested to speed up its implementation.

“The committee should have eight to 10 members and take responsibility for identifying individuals or organizations to play lead roles in determining cost estimates and finding solutions to problem areas,” said Mike Easterwood, a representative of the Economic Development Institute at Auburn University.

City Planner Jeremy Griffith said he has contacted 10 people to serve on the committee and has called for an organizational meeting on June 23 at 2 p.m. at The Depot. Afterwards, the plan will be used as a resource for updating the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan.

The ACE plan calls for city officials to work with the Alabama Department of Transportation to make various street and highway improvements during the 2011-2016 time frame. Support should come from the Hartselle Planning Department, Hartselle Development Board, Alabama Development Office (for I-65 interchange development) and Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce.

Specific needs are listed as follows:

• Install better lighting at I-65 interchanges on Highway 36 and Thompson Road.

• Widen and realign Highway 36 (phases 2 and 3).

• Widen Thompson Road.

• Make turn lane improvements and widen medians at selected intersections in the city.

• Develop plans for both I-65 interchanges that will help guide growth for the two locations in cooperation with property owners.

The improvement of aesthetics at the gateways of the city (Highways 31 and 36) was one way recommended to improve the community’s identity. Others included the implementation of upgraded signage, the use of billboards, brochures, etc. to promote the “City of Southern Hospitality,” improve the beauty and aesthetics of the community by stronger enforcement of zoning and landscape ordinances, create a community landmark and/or events based on murals, water towers, community historical play, Depot Days, Homecoming or by celebrating famous persons, promoting the community with the use of the ACE designation and promoting the city’s high educational attainments and sports achievements.

The “resolution of the legal sale of alcohol beverages” as a key factor in growing new retail and entertainment businesses. Another target is strengthening the retail development capacity of the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce.

Recommendations for accomplishing the latter include increasing chamber staffing, conducting additional planning and marketing initiatives, improving relations and communication with, and among, downtown merchants and property owners and encouraging consistency in downtown store hours.

Eight recommendations are listed for bringing more retail development to the central business district and along major corridors, as follows:

• Created a strategy to fill market gaps as identified in the Buxton study (e.g., upscale clothing, shoes, electronics and grocery stores).

• Create a marketing place for retail development.

• Create a common marketing strategy for downtown businesses (involve the Downtown Merchants Association, Chamber of Commerce and property owners.”

• Develop a link on the city’s website that features retail development, listing available properties, existing commercial buildings, incentives and other advantages.

• Attempt to utilize existing buildings for new retail enterprises, especially downtown.

• Target the Alabama 36 and Interstate 65 interchange for new retail development; create gateway/highway commercial center.

• Target the U.S. 31 gateway for new retail developments and redevelopment of existing buildings and centers.

•Work with local property owners and potential developers to bring in new retail and entertainment businesses (Hartselle Development Board working in cooperation with the city, the Alabama Development Office and Chamber of Commerce.”