Spotlight on Butler, Covington, Crenshaw & Lowndes: Community Development

These four counties are improving downtown areas, developing parks and supporting local schools

The restored depot in Opp now hosts events and tours.

Workforce development for K-12 and adults is a priority in these counties. Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, based in Andalusia with campuses throughout the region, recently broke ground on a center to train building construction workers. Also, the Alabama Aviation College in Andalusia added more courses for aviation training. And CDL classes are available in more locations.

“Like many counties, we are working to find a skilled workforce who are able to work,” says Kathy Smyth, Luverne city council member and rural workforce coordinator for Region 6 of Southeast AlabamaWorks, representing Butler, Covington and Crenshaw counties. “There are real concerted efforts in K-12 with added career coaches to help develop work skills, and programs that allow students to earn credentials.”

Butler County

Butler County is renovating facilities to better house its departments, says Kaye Lightfoot, county administrator. The county is renovating a former EMA building for the revenue department, partially funded through a grant. The county also installed an elevator and handicap restrooms in the courthouse.

“We’re really trying to get all of our offices out of the attic, which was remodeled before but is not efficient to cool,” Lightfoot says.

The county also received a grant for community purchases, made possible with the assistance of the South Central Alabama Development Commission.

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Greenville, the county seat, plans to develop an entertainment venue in the former The Edge Theater building, says Mayor Dexter McLendon. Plans so far are to reduce the number of screens from eight to four or five, have a restaurant and activities for children. “This could be a great place for birthday parties and other events, and the person who operated the theater is now working for the city’s parks and recreation department who will also work with the project,” he says. “It’s exciting to have this opportunity.”

A developer is interested in building 125 apartments on city-owned property near the theater, McLendon says. “We have a shortage of housing,” he says. The city also is in talks with a developer for a welcome center that would include other amenities and electric vehicle charging stations.

The city also is building two cabins at Sherling Lake, where there already is a lodge and the Robert Trent Jones Cambrian Ridge golf course, McLendon says. If rentals are successful, the city will build more cabins and add more amenities, he says. The area also is near Forever Wild property.

Future plans for the city include a new downtown park across from the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, and a steakhouse, McLendon says. “We have a lot of amenities on our interstate exit, but we also have so much to offer downtown,” he says.

In Georgiana, the Main Street Alabama organization worked with local volunteers and city workers to beautify downtown. Georgiana is the childhood home of Hank Williams Sr., and his boyhood home and museum attract fans from all over. It also hosts a Hank Williams Sr. Festival at the end of May, the 45th year of the celebration.

The city also recently received grants for water improvements, and a grant for LED lighting, officials say. The grants were secured with help from the South Central Alabama Development Commission.

Butler County schools have a robust career technical education program that provides students technical and leadership skills. The system offers dual enrollment with higher education, credentialing programs and more. Greenville High School has a new football stadium that opened in 2023, and a new gym is underway at McKenzie School.

In May 2023, the Butler County Commission designated 25% of sales tax from online purchases for the schools.

Lowndes County

Lowndes County commissioners are applying for more road grants under the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program-II. The county was awarded a $400,000 grant in 2023 that is being used to complete work on three other roads in the county.

The town of Hayneville recently launched a $10 million sewer repair and upgrade project, paid for with federal funds. Alabama Department of Environmental Management also has awarded the town a $2.9 million grant for drinking water system improvements.

Hayneville Telephone Co. was awarded a $25 million USDA grant to fund broadband services in the county. It will be used to build 279 miles of fiber cable over about 216 square miles, giving service to about 4,646 residents.

The town of Fort Deposit recently received a $2.5 million HUD grant through the Lead Hazard Reduction Capacity Building Grant program for educational programs to alert communities to the risk.

Life Changing Ministries has added a restaurant to its beauty supply and thrift shop operations and a new Family Dollar is coming.

Lowndes County schools have an active career technical education program with a mix of academic and work-based learning in fields such as business, masonry, welding and JROTC. It also has dual enrollment with Trenholm State Community College.

Covington County

The city of Andalusia, recently named as one of the 10 small Alabama towns with great livability by the Alabama Association of Realtors, also is a regional retail destination. The Shoppes at Covington is a complete renovation of Covington Mall and is completely leased with national retailers, officials say. New retailers include Marshalls, Big Lots, Burke’s, Harbor Freight, Five Below, Verizon and Firehouse Subs.

Big Mike’s Steakhouse is an integral part of downtown renovation, and Lost Pizza has opened on the historic Court Square as part of the renovations of the Prestwood Building. A new park downtown, Heritage Park, is underway, being built in the former railyard on South Cotton Street. The park will include a pond, a concrete walking path, a multi-purpose asphalt trail and an amphitheater. The city also plans to add a gazebo, pavilion and carousel.

A hotel company is interested in locating in the Timmerman Building downtown.

In the city of Opp, the Cameron Road sports complex has been undergoing renovations and improvements, says Jason Bryan, Opp city planner. Recent projects include renovations to the concession stand.

Opp has renovated its municipal building’s second floor for a larger public room and courtroom, and the first floor will be devoted to the court system, he says. The city moved the police department to another building. The city also has remodeled its fire department, with the second floor becoming a training space and doubling as a distribution point for services as needed, he says. The police department will be housed in a newly acquired Wells Fargo bank building.

Downtown, the city finished an open-air farmers market and moved its recycling center to another location. Most of the space available in the heart of downtown on Covington Avenue is occupied, Bryan says. Sidewalks are completed around the city’s middle school and stadium leading to the rest of the sidewalk system, he says. A splash pad recently opened, also.

As for new businesses, Tractor Supply and a farm supply business have opened, as well as a Jack’s restaurant. “We have had a lot of private investment and that has been a benefit,” he says. The Wheelhouse has brought fine dining to the city, offering coastal comfort cuisine.

A project to upgrade the water and sewer system is underway, he says.

Opp City Schools recently moved its central office into a former bank building, and have made security improvements in schools, Bryan says. The system also has an upgraded fiber optic network, he says.

Covington County schools have added a new auditorium at Straughn School, an $8.2 million project that will seat about 900 people.

County and city schools offer an array of career technical programs.

Luverne is working to be named an Alabama Community of Excellence.

Crenshaw County

The biggest project in Crenshaw County’s history, officials say, is a $15 million sports complex, underway on Highway 331 in Luverne. The complex will have eight baseball and softball fields, two soccer fields, a track and field area, an RV park and a lake. It is expected to be finished in a couple of years and is being paid for with tax dollars. “We hope it becomes a regional destination,” says Kathy Smyth, a Luverne city council member.

The city is working to be named an Alabama Communities of Excellence, Smyth says, and it has developed a strategic plan, a leadership program, participating in the AIDT leadership program for business/industry and adults and working on a long-term comprehensive plan.

The city has worked on several projects to improve infrastructure. The city hopes to open a splash pad by mid-summer at Turner Park. It has an updated and expanded Dollar General Market, and downtown has experienced rejuvenation.

“I just feel like there’s a sense of momentum in the city,” Smyth says. “We’re excited about the things happening large and small.”

In the town of Brantley, officials anticipate the opening of the South Central Alabama Mental Health Crisis Diversion Center. It is the only rural center in the state plan and will serve Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw and Escambia counties, says Brantley Mayor Bernard Sullivan.

“We are 4.2 miles from the Crenshaw Community Hospital and they have a mental wing there,” Sullivan says. “We received so many letters of support along with our application.”

Grant funding will provide the water and sewer services for the facility. It is being built on five acres that is part of the city’s new light industrial park. It is expected to create at least 65 new jobs. The industrial park also has attracted a couple of new light industries, Sullivan says.

Shoppers will have the opportunity for more grocery shopping, as the Gin Creek Country Store in Brantley is undergoing an expansion.

Crenshaw County schools have active career tech programs and a career coach.

This article appears in the April 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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