HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Revitalization efforts are still going on along North Parkway in Huntsville as city leaders approved the purchase of one more property last week in their effort to reduce blight.
Overpass construction took its toll on some businesses along Huntsville's North Memorial Parkway years ago, and the city of Huntsville is still working on eliminating vacant properties and blighted parts of the community with the hopes of creating something that community can again be proud of.
In 2015, the city bought the former Terry's Pizza property. It also tackled a former hardware store as part of the mayor's plan to revitalize. Now it is targeting another building adjacent to that vacant lot.
Council President Devyn Keith said he has joined that cause. Last week, the city council gave its approval for the city to buy the former Rose of Sharon Soup Kitchen property. The soup kitchen is moving to Arcadia Circle. Keith said the building will be razed, possibly before the summer's end.
Shane Davis, Huntsville's Urban Development Director, told council members that the city will spend $55,000 for the Rose of Sharon property, and they would wait to close on that sale until the soup kitchen has vacated the premises.
"We are in no rush," Davis said last week. "Once this has occurred on their timeline, we can close and we can continue to clean up that area. I would suspect that before the end of the year we will have that portion down and really start cleaning up and putting that landscape back, and really making a difference."
Keith said this is another positive step forward for that community.
"We are working our way up the Parkway," he said. "We have really been aggressive."
Keith wants to keep the excitement around what could come to that part of North Parkway alive as the city continues the effort to acquire properties and transform them.
"I think places like this not only have a social use, if we do a park," he said. "Overall, it's an opportunity zone. So if the private market sees foreseeable use for it, which they could, then the city has leverage to offer that opportunity back to the private market."
Keith said plans are in the works to build a mural on the far corner of the lot that's already been razed. He talked publicly for the first time about the project in the interview with WHNT News 19.
"We want to bring something that is a viable, unique, creative opportunity," he said, "that can be seen from the Parkway. Can be seen from Lantana [Way], and we want it to be something that, though we own the property, we want it to be something nice for the community and all of Huntsville."
He added, "It will be something that has never been done in North Huntsville, but specifically unique to Huntsville and join the mural pathway we are investing in around the community." He likened the mural, which has not yet been designed or conceptualized, to popular sights in Nashville. He said his number one priority in the project is putting together a team to work on it and reveal more information later in the summer.
Keith said the plan is to use the public space to attract attention to the area, turn it around, and help businesses and developers find a home there to return the city's investment.
"This is a unique place that if done correctly, and built on this property, we have a leverage point back to potential developers and investors," he commented.
To those who may question the city's intentions in buying up these properties, Keith said it's something they'll understand soon enough.
"If we do it now, in 5-6 years I think the community will be thankful," he said. "I am glad the city is taking this opportunity to seize the moment so in the future, when we make an announcement of something you'd enjoy going to or seeing, you'll understand your money is being spent in an effective and efficient manner."
Especially as the new overpass planned at Mastin Lake Road goes in, Keith said the area will need help continuing to attract people during the construction. It's part of the Restore Our Road projects. He said time is of the essence.
"We are also getting ready for the overpass. We want people to have a reason to get [off the Parkway] here at Lantana, Oakwood, and other spots," he stated.
The city has been working on this kind of revitalization for years, and Keith said it just takes time.
"I call stuff like this planting seeds. These seeds will grow in due time," he explained. "We are playing the long game here."