Tuesday, September 8, 2009

City Leaders Compose a Downtown Wish List

By Brian Hughes
Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, August 29, 2009

FLORENCE - Some downtown leaders made their Christmas lists early this year, as they've compiled what they most want regardless of cost.

At the urging of Councilman Dick Jordan, downtown groups and members of Downtown Florence Unlimited (DFU) and Florence Main Street sent him their top priorities for the evolution of the downtown scene.

They range from bank-busting projects - downtown trolleys, a new science building at the University of North Alabama and replacing College Street with greenery - to philosophical changes - easing up on parking tickets downtown, encouraging more street parties and taxing buildings that remain vacant for a prolonged time.

As with almost any Christmas list, however, respondents acknowledge they can't get all these requests.

"What we're trying to do is distill a whole lot of suggestions and pick one or two things to focus on," said DFU President Van Morgan.

The thinking is it will give Jordan more authority when he tries to get funding for projects during a time when there is less money to spend on such ideas, Morgan added.

For Morgan, however, plenty can be done without spending a dime.

"The state of empty buildings downtown needs to be addressed," he said. "I'm not sure the city is enforcing the current ordinance."

A city ordinance sets standards for the upkeep of empty downtown buildings.

In addition, Morgan said they still need to evaluate whether it is in the city's best interest to have parking meters downtown.

For Ashley Winkle, director of Florence Main Street, a major necessity is the renovation of Mobile Street Plaza.

Redone more than three decades ago, she said the stamped concrete is breaking apart and causing problems for pedestrians and vehicles. Winkle also wants to eliminate the curbs to enhance accessibility.

"We want to be sure that the plaza gets taken care of," she said.

Jordan said money has already been set aside for that project and he anticipates work there in the near future.

Winkle also tossed out the idea of setting up automated machines downtown for parking so drivers without change could swipe a card to pay.

Additional suggestions from the groups include: revamping Wilson Park, establishing entrances to UNA's campus from Pine or Court Street, offering free parking in the downtown deck and connecting McFarland and River Heritage parks to downtown through walking trails.

City officials are still forming the budget for the next fiscal year.

Without reservation, Jordan said he felt the downtown area should receive more funding for projects than other districts.

"The downtown affects your whole city," he said. "You've got to keep a viable downtown. That's your first impression and that means so much to the direction of a city."

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or brian.hughes@TimesDaily.com.

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