Mayors update goals and challenges for 2020 at luncheon

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – Mayors from across Shelby County gathered at the Pelham Civic Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 26, for the annual State of our Communities luncheon hosted by The Shelby County Chamber.

During the two-hour luncheon, each mayor stepped to the podium to update what has been accomplished in the last year and what their biggest goals and challenges will be for 2020.

Each mayor’s remarks are below:

Mark Hall – Mayor of Helena

Hall said everybody knows what his challenge is in Helena—traffic and highways.

“The highway department finally talked about giving us $30 million to four lane Highway 261 from about Pelham High School,” he said. “We entered a partnership and the catch with that is that we put up some matching money. So probably another $6 million will come from local entities.”

Hall said he hopes to see progress on that in late 2020 or sometime early in 2021 mentioning that highway projects aren’t the fastest.

He also eluded to Jefferson County helping widen Morgan Road, which effects his residents.

Hall also touched on the growth of the city and the challenges that come with a lot of new people wanting to move in.

“We have to control the growth and make sure the people already living with us aren’t put back by that phenomenal growth that is heading our way,” he said.

But with that growth, Hall mentioned new opportunities and said he’s excited that the Chick-fil-a coming to the city is expected to open by the end of the year, which will be part of a new business district in the city.

“We’re having to do some modifications to that intersection because it’s such a busy one,” Hall said.

Lee McCarty – Mayor of Wilsonville

McCarty started his time off by talking about the quality of life in Wilsonville and his hope for the new census to make them an official city instead of a town.

“We want to preserve the quality of life,” he said. “Our downtown is being completely redone. We’re updating sidewalks and we have a bridge project going over the creek on Alabama 25 between Wilsonville and Columbiana.”

McCarty knows his town is smaller, but said there is a lot being done to help sustain the quality of life, while also trying to get new people to enjoy it as well.

“We have a brand new subdivision that is lake front property and is fixing to go on sale,” he said. “If you want that small town, community, no traffic, no hassle, lake front living on nice sized lots with lots of amenities take a look at what’s coming.”

He also put an emphasis on education for the city and mentioned that the council recently voted to award scholarships for elementary students wanting to take art or music lessons at the Shelby County Art’s Council.

“I hope that program goes over extremely well,” McCarty said.

Gary Waters – Mayor of Pelham  

Waters, after saying welcome to Pelham home of the Birmingham Bulls, talked about an exciting development coming to Pelham with the recent news of Campus 124.

The new structure, which will take over the former Valley Elementary School while preserving much of the original building, will be the “cornerstone” to Pelham’s entertainment district.

“Valley school was built shortly after we incorporated and we have very few historical buildings in Pelham,” Waters said. “Every developer that came to us with a plan wanted to tear it down the entire facility except the one we went with. To repurpose a school that was historically significant and has historical value is very important to me.

Right across the road, Waters said the city is hoping to get started on the Canopy which will be the city’s first ever mixed use area that is projected to include retail, entertainment, office space and residential all in one.

Waters also addressed the future growth for Pelham saying they can’t grow out but instead have to grow in. He talked about commercial growth and how important that will be for the city moving forward.

“We have to be deliberate and forth right about growing in,” he said.

Larry Riggins – Mayor of Westover

Riggins led off his allotted time by mentioning the need for improved communication throughout the city.

“We have a serious need for improvement in communications and that includes broadband and cell service,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this, meeting about this and contacting different companies to get improvements.”

Riggins said in Westover they are dealing with a work-at-home generation and not having access to broadband service is hurting home and property sales.

He also mentioned the amount of acreage that is in Westover that can be developed.

“We want it developed correctly and want things out there that people want,” Riggins said. “The growth is headed our way, but we have to be smart about it.”

He said the city needs a restaurant, bank and gas station and that they are willing to talk to anyone interested.

“We want growth to come,” Riggins said. “Our citizens don’t need to have to drive over the mountain or across the river to get what they need. We want to be a ‘wow’ place and ‘wow’ city.”

Hollie Cost – Mayor of Montevallo

“Over the past five years, if you’ve been to Montevallo, you’ve probably noticed that Montevallo has experienced more progress than we have in the last 50 years,” Cost said of the growth and revitalization in Montevallo.

Cost also mentioned that she is proudly that Montevallo is the most diverse community in Shelby County.

The city is also a Main Street city, which has helped with the rejuvenation of Montevallo’s downtown area.

“While we’ve been able to completely revitalize our downtown, including a main street renovation, a new city hall, paving projects, new athletic fields and facilities as well as recruiting a number of new businesses to town, we still have a long way to go,” she said.

One of those projects she hopes to accomplish moving forward is the Highway 25 business distrect, which Cost said is in “dire need of boulevard upgrades.”

She wants to develop a pedestrian infrastructure that allows residents to maneuver the area, while also being able to connect with downtown, which is currently a challenge.

John Graham – Mayor of Calera

Like Montevallo, Graham said Calera is proud to be a Main Street Alabama community as well.

Two of the biggest topics in Calera right both have to do with a bridge.

Graham first mentioned the proposed toll bridge that will be known as the Coosa River Express. The bridge would connect Shelby County and Talladega counties, and Calera would connect to that roadway at I-65.

“The city of Calera has passed a resolution to support the toll bridge over the Coosa River,” he said. “That to us seems like an economic development. It’s opportunities. We hope the right decision is made. We are all about growth for the city of Calera.”

Graham also mentioned the U.S. 31 bridge currently going over Interstate 65, saying he is hopeful the bridge will open soon.

“The bridge has been constructed and pavement has been going on for a while now. We keep wondering why the state won’t open the road. We’re being patient and we do think that area will develop and have a lot of retail opportunities. It will also help relieve traffic congestion.”

Allan Rice for Mayor Frank Brocato – Hoover

Allan Rice was in attendance for Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato, who was in Washington D.C. to visit with the secret service to try and double the capacity for training at the Secret Service’s National Computer Forensic Institute on Valleydale Road in North Shelby County.

“All of the FBI performed 48,000 investigations on electronic devices last year,” Rice said. “Graduates of NCFI on Valleydale Road performed 70,000 investigations on electronic devices. What Shelby County has done monetarily has put 11,00 graduates out around the United States, who now are computer forensics examiners. There are crimes that are solved and prevented because of them.”

Rice then also mentioned the hope for a new interchange on Interstate 459. It was a project that started during the former mayor’s administration, but never went through.

“Mayor Brocato said that if we had followed through, we would be driving on it right now, so he’s resurrected that project and put it back on the drawing board,” Rice said. “It will be in Hoover, but will benefit parts of Shelby County, especially the Helena area. That’s at the forefront right now.

Rice also mentioned the hope for reinventing the Riverchase Galleria for the next 35 years because it’s the heartbeat of the city.

“That is our downtown. We have some very exciting plans that have been in place for about two-and-a-half years to transfigure the experience you have there,” he said. “The retail footprint will shrink so the rent goes up so that the owner can be more selective about who can be there and greatly expand the entertainment and lodging opportunities. It’s going to be a different place in the next few years and it’s been several years in the making.”

Ray McCallister – Mayor of Vincent 

Vincent has seen more happen this past year than in the previous 10 years according to McCallister thanks in large part to the downtown revitalization with new sidewalks.

“We’re going from one end of downtown to the other putting in new sidewalks,” McCallister said. “Vincent is unique in that we have a lot of raised sidewalks so that’s all having to be torn out, redesigned and rebuilt with new lamp posts added.”

He also mentioned streets in the city being paved saying some haven’t been paved in 40 years, but with this new project, six have already been done and two more will be done this year.

McCallister also added that Vincent Middle High School is in the process of a new athletic facility.

“We put $75,000 into that plus committed another $30,000,” he said. “The elementary school also completely remodeled its gym. That’s for our kids That’s our future.”

Vincent also recently remodeled its library for the first time in 50 years and will have a new pharmacy opening the week of March 2.

In the city, Vincent’s main park will now have a new pedestrian bridge going into park this last year thanks to the help of Shelby County.

McCallister also mentioned they were in the process of buying a new firetruck, which is a pricey purchase with a small firetruck costing $250,000.

Marty Handlon – Mayor of Alabaster

Handlon started by talking about Thompson High School’s success with five blue maps during the current school year behind state championships from the football team, boys’ bowling team, E-Sports team and wrestling team, who won two championships.

“We want to capitalize on success of economic driver which is our school system,” Handlon said. “But everybody wants to move in when the school is doing well. That means subdivisions for more people and more roads for those people. Finding a balance is our biggest challenge. We have to protect the quality of life, but also have to flex when the times change.”

Handlon mentioned that online sales tax has gone up, while brick and mortar has gone down, which impacts the economy and the city.

“We hope people will still be social and go out to restaurants,” she said. “Like most cities, we depend heavily on sales tax. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to survive.”

Handlon also mentioned the updates coming to both Veteran’s Park and Abbey Wooley Parks in Alabaster.

“We’re finally going to update our entrance to Veteran’s park by moving it and we’re working on new fields and a walking track with lights,” she said.

She added that Abbey Wooley is in desperate need of upgrades and hopes dirt will move soon on that project.

Tony Picklesimer – Mayor of Chelsea

Picklesimer opened by talking about the approval of a 1 cent sales tax in Chelsea a year ago that has made a big difference in local schools.

Early on, after the approval of the tax, a local dad wanted to make sure that the funds went to more than just athletic projects because of the help several academic programs. From that point, the allocated funds from the sales tax became known as the Nick Grant program.

“We wanted to do more for our local schools,” Picklesimer said, before listing off the number of different schools to already benefit from new equipment like Chromebooks and musical instruments.

He also talked about the new homes coming to Chelsea with its constant growth, saying that 400 homes will come to a new neighborhood known as Chelsea Acres.

The neighborhood will be located between Liberty Road and Whisenhunt road that will surround a lake.

In addition to that, Chelsea park is at 50 percent build out according to Picklesimer with 1,200 homes built and another 1,200 homes to go.

Now, with residential growth, Picklesimer has turned his focus to getting more jobs to the city of Chelsea, which led to the announcement in 2019 of a new business park in the area with construction starting soon.

The community center will also soon be adding a splash pad and an amphitheater to host events, while phase two is under way at the athletic facility.

At the athletic facility, Picklesimer said the city will be able to restore a piece of city history by building a pavilion from wood preserved from the Old Weldon Store.

“We said we were going to preserve the wood from that store to use it on a project, so I’m glad I can keep that promise,” he said.

Don Greene – Mayor of Harpersville

Greene opened by talking about money being a problem for Harpersville and many municipalities.

“We have less resources than some of the bigger municipalities have,” Greene said.

One of the big things Greene hopes Harpersville can get some help on is improvement to roads from the gasoline tax, which he said the city doesn’t see a lot of.

“Our residents travel on 280 to get to work, but when they come home at night, they’re driving through mud puddles and on poor roads,” he said.

Greene did mention that a new developer has taken over a residential property and 11 houses have already been built, while two more are going up and they just closed on 46 more acres.

“They’re planning on filling those up as soon as possible,” he said.

Stancil Handley – Mayor of Columbiana

Handley took the podium last and opened by talking about how special it was for Columbiana to be a part of the Main Street Alabama initiative along with Calera and Montevallo.

“We’re the only county to have three cities as Main Street communities,” he said. “That’s what makes Shelby County special. We’re like one big town and one big family. We have a collaboration of all the municipalities.”

Handley wants to make sure that Columbiana becomes an entertainment destination for central Alabama, mentioning the new Art’s Council building as a big step for that success, as well as the new walking trail and subdivision in the city.

He also mentioned that a developer came in a week earlier to talk about the possibility of 2,000 new homes.

“That would double our population,” Handley said. “It hasn’t happened yet, but we already have that first neighborhood in 20 years being built and they’re being bought faster than they can go up.”

Handley mentioned the biggest challenge for him and all of the mayors this year is handling the election year.

“Make sure your elected officials have a vision that can keep the current vision moving forward,” he said.