Spotlight on Autauga & Elmore: Community Development

Downtown improvements abound in Prattville, Wetumpka, Millbrook and Tallassee.

Downtown Wetumpka.

Autauga County

The Autauga County Commission is considering a 15-mill property tax increase that will be used to finance several capital improvement projects for Autauga County schools, including new schools and replacing aging buildings. If approved by voters — possibly by early this year — about $17 million will be raised yearly for capital funding. A new Prattville High School is on the list of projects, and school officials say every school would receive improvements.

Unrelated to the possible tax increase, Autauga County schools are finalizing plans for a new wing and four labs at the Autauga County Technology Center. The center offers career tech and dual enrollment programs, including agri-construction, automotive, IT, cosmetology, health and business courses. The school system also is adding nine classrooms to Marbury High School for its agricultural tech programs.

Prattville, the county seat, recently adopted its latest comprehensive plan, Project Prattville 2040, which will map out elements of the city’s future, city officials say. The plan recently won an Outstanding Planning Award from the Alabama Chapter of the American Planning Association.

The plan shows the overall strategy of how the city will make decisions on capital improvements, city services, growth management and economic development efforts, and it aims to help merchants, residents, property owners, builders and developers — all of whom had input into the plan — have a reasonable expectation of the city’s future.

Big news for the area is Central Alabama Community College’s plan to move its Prattville campus from the Pratt’s Mill Shopping Center to a much larger site at the former East Memorial Baptist Church property. The building is 50,000 square feet and the entire property is 124 acres. The college plans to expand programs, as well. To enable the project, the Prattville City Council and Autauga County Commission contributed a total of $4 million.

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Prattville’s airport has an annual economic impact of $3.3 million, according to an Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) study, and the city recently purchased land for approaches. In 2020, the airport received $1.1 million in FAA grants for runway and taxiway improvements.

The city also has plans to make $10 million in improvements to the Stanley Jensen Stadium, which will include new home stands, restrooms, locker rooms and concession areas. The money will come from the city’s renewed 1-cent sales tax.

Park improvements are also underway including new tennis and pickleball facilities in Newton Park and new playground equipment, more greenspace and improvements to trails and splash pad.

Downtown Millbrook.

Elmore County

In 2020, the Elmore County Board of Education broke ground on three projects financed by a $50 million bond issue. In August 2021, Stanhope Elmore opened its $1.65 million band room and music complex. The hallways, cafeteria, the old band room and gym are all being improved to support growth in the arts and theater.

Elmore County Technical Center is undergoing a $9 million expansion, expected to open in 2022. The new building will house the construction, plumbing and pipefitting, HVAC, welding, electrical, aviation, medical sciences and public safety and law programs. Once that building is complete, the district will begin renovating the current facility for hospitality and tourism, automotive, computer technology, pre-engineering and drafting and design programs.

In addition, a new middle school — Redland Middle — is expected to open for next school year. The $26.6 million project will include 32 classrooms, storm shelters, gym, media center and more on 50 acres donated by a county resident.

Wetumpka, the county seat, has had great success as the choice for HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover,” which aired in spring 2021. Wetumpka prevailed over 2,600 other small towns to be chosen. Popular hosts Erin and Ben Napier of the show “Home Town” worked with the city, other HGTV personalities and local contractors to revamp six homes and six commercial spaces. The TV exposure has attracted increased tourism.

“The impact has been amazing,” says Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis. “Things have not slowed down yet. We worked well together as a community, and it has paid off.”

The city already had embarked on several improvements, including a sports complex, and is adding more. The success has attracted many unique shops and restaurants, and ALDOT has a Rebuild Alabama project going on downtown. Downtown also is in the process of adding lofts and more retail space. And the city is looking to extend its Riverwalk that will eventually lead from downtown to the sports complex.

Lynn Weldon, economic development director for the city of Wetumpka, says improvements have been designed to offer an arts experience. The city began focusing on the arts 13 years ago, resulting in several art galleries and arts experiences that attract tourists and residents. The city also offers special events, such as Christmas on the Coosa, A Dickens Christmas and holiday open house.

Ivy Creek Healthcare, along with the city and county, added a medical complex in Wetumpka. Ivy Creek is operator of the Elmore Community Hospital. The city’s airport has a $2 million economic impact, and the city has applied to the state for a $560,000 grant to rehab a taxiway, Weldon says.

A rendering of the field house at Fields at Seventeen Sprigs, a $50 million project in Millbrook.

In nearby Millbrook, the big ongoing project is the $50 million Fields at Seventeen Springs, a partnership among the city of Millbrook, Elmore County Commission, Elmore County Board of Education, Grandview YMCA and Elmore County Economic Development Authority.

Phase 1 will include tennis courts, pickleball courts, four multi-purpose fields with turf, parking, walkways and more, says Ann Harper, Millbrook director of economic development. That phase should be done by fall 2022. The second phase will have a 100,000-square-foot space for indoor sports and small trade shows. It also includes a new stadium with a track and several ballfields. The YMCA will be offering programming, as well. The project also includes a new field house.

“This will attract a lot of cars, and will attract a lot of restaurants, hotels and more,” she says. “We are creating an experience for families and others to come to this area.”

Millbrook’s signature park, Village Green Park, is a focal point for the community, with city hall across the street and a new senior center being built. Millbrook has attracted unique shops, and the city will add murals, as well.

Many homes are going up in the city to house people who work in nearby Montgomery or, since COVID, work from home.

The city of Tallassee, an Alabama Communities of Excellence member, is working on sidewalks, sewers and parks. Despite the pandemic, downtown Tallassee is still attracting new businesses. New murals are coming to downtown Tallassee, and a new park has been named Payne Park after a former Tallassee mayor.

Tallassee City Schools is building a new $21 million high school next door to the current 100-year-old high school, school officials say. The new school will be financed by a city sales tax approved several years ago, a city bond issue and a state bond issue. The new building will have a 650-seat auditorium, a band and fine arts complex and science labs. Plans are to be move-in ready by fall 2022.

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