Spotlight on Calhoun & Talladega: Community Development

Calhoun and Talladega counties are improving parks, trails and other attractions for visitors and residents alike

The new U.S. District Courthouse in Anniston opened in May.

Calhoun County

Calhoun County is the home of a new federal courthouse. The much-anticipated $42 million structure opened in May and is home to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and the Bankruptcy Court of Northern Alabama. It provides workspace for the U.S. Marshal Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The new structure, featuring Sylacauga marble, will be in contention for LEED Gold and SITES Silver certification.

At Chief Ladiga Landing, the access point to Chief Ladiga Trail, improvements are ongoing to make the site a showcase for the area, says Mark Tyner, Calhoun County manager. Brown Bridge, a historic truss bridge, was removed from its original location and reconstructed on-site. New landscaping features species native to Alabama. When finished, the park will include two pavilions and will be maintained in cooperation with the city of Jacksonville, he says.

The county also is working on the Calhoun Agri-Center — a multi-function facility with a livestock arena, office and meeting space and a nature trail. County officials hope the new center will be a tourism draw, Tyner says.

And the county is working on developing a 900-acre tract into an equestrian park at Fort McClellan, Tyner says. The McClellan Development Authority conveyed the property to the county. When completed, it’ll have about 12 miles of trails, RV hookups and campsites.

The Calhoun County Commission has partnered with Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA), McClellan Chapter, to help create about 30 miles of riding trails. A pavilion and stables area has been constructed and a general store is partially complete, Tyner says. Water and power are now being installed at this site and will culminate in 100 RV and 50 primitive camp hookups. The BCHA also conducts a program called Sassy Tails on this site for children with disabilities.

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Downtown Anniston.

The city of Anniston is working on a comprehensive plan and on new capital projects. Current plans call for using $7.5 million in municipal bonds for projects ranging from Chief Ladiga Trail improvements — expected to bring 35 construction jobs and $4.5 million in economic impact — to a new city hall and an open-air downtown market.

“We are excited our city hall will be back downtown,” says Toby Bennington, Anniston director of planning and economic development. “We will be moving into the former federal building in the summer or fall.”

City leaders recently announced that Anniston saw more than $39 million in commercial and residential construction investments in 2021, a 73% increase from 2020 and a record investment year.

The city has rebranded, using a “We Are More” slogan that represents a big push toward widening the array of city events, says Karla Eden, Main Street Anniston director. Recent events included a professional BMX team, a luau with authentic dancers, a restaurant competition, carnival and more.

“In 2021, Main Street Anniston hosted 23 events, had a total estimated event attendance of 26,000 and created an economic impact of $6.2 million,” she says.

Anniston has upgraded street lighting, added a mural and won grants for businesses to repair or improve their buildings. Plans include a new park at 11th and Noble Street, where a parking lot will be converted into a public green space for downtown events. An Aldi supermarket will open soon, along with more restaurants, and a major residential development is in progress off Choccolocco Road.

Also in Anniston is McClellan, once an Army base and now a 10,000-acre master-planned community offering residential, commercial, industrial, retail, education, technology and research development. It is managed by the McClellan Development Authority, a non-profit corporation charged with future economic development.

Anniston Regional Airport recently passed the FAA’s inspections and is state-certified as an unlimited general aviation airport, the first time in the airport’s history that this certification has been obtained. The airport currently averages 63 operations per day and provides hangars, tie downs, flight instruction, jet fuel and more. The airport’s 7,002×150-foot runway can accommodate dual wheel aircraft up to 500,000 pounds. Officials are looking for even more development at the airport and the accompanying land. According to an Alabama Department of Transportation economic development study, the airport has a $4.5 million annual economic impact.

The city of Oxford has redeveloped its historic downtown with streetscaping, traffic changes, murals and improvements to Simmons Park, says Lorie Denton, city spokesman. Plans call for widening Leon Smith Parkway, a major artery in the city.

A new hotel is coming to the city, and efforts are underway to bring more hotels and an event center to the parkway. Several restaurants have located in the city recently.

Oxford’s Choccolocco Park-Oxford Sport Complex hosts sports events, especially college softball and all levels of baseball. This summer, the Choccolocco Monsters, a new summer collegiate wood bat team in the Sunbelt Baseball League, will locate in Oxford.

The Oxford City School district recently appointed Dr. Shannon Stanley superintendent, and she is creating partnerships between industries and the schools.

The city of Jacksonville recently released its free app to help organizations and residents connect. It provides the city calendar, department information, a full staff directory, community education information and more. The city is also working on a strategic plan for downtown.

Jacksonville City Schools recently added to its partnerships with higher education to provide career and academic opportunities for its students, says Ben Nunnally, spokesman. The district already works with Jacksonville State University and has partnered with Gadsden State Community College for several dual enrollment programs.

All area schools offer a variety of career technical programs.

A plaque commemorates Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the Talladega Walk of Fame at Davey Allison Memorial Park.

Talladega County

The city of Talladega, which named Seddrick Hill city manager in 2021, is on the move with a series of special cleanup and repair initiatives, including more landscaping and recycling.

The city recently restored the Talladega Walk of Fame at Davey Allison Memorial Park, dormant since the 2013 season. In April of this year, the city inducted two-time Talladega Superspeedway winner Clint Bowyer and park co-founder Ken Allen Sr. in a festive outdoor celebration.

Talladega’s city airport has a $12.4 million annual economic impact.

The city of Sylacauga, named The Marble City for the marble quarried there for artistic and commercial applications, points to its school system as the reason many want to annex into the city, says Mayor Jim Heigl. A new city schools superintendent, Michele Eller, has made many improvements. In just one year under her leadership, the district has had significant gains in student achievement, in both literacy and math.

“We have added several businesses here and others are underway — Publix; Circle K, which has added several bays for 18-wheeler trucks; Lloyd’s Restaurant is opening a second location here; The Wharf, a seafood restaurant and more,” Heigl says.

The city also has a new parks and recreation director who is working to update parks and the city has plans to build a new indoor recreational swim center, Heigl says. Sylacauga’s airport has a $2.3 million annual economic impact.

The city of Childersburg has hired an architect to proceed with the design of a new police/judicial building downtown, officials say.

In the city of Lincoln, Mayor Lew Watson is excited about the activity at Lincoln Landing, which opened two years ago and is booked each week through 2024 with fishing events of all kinds.

“First, we wanted to build public access to Logan Martin Lake, which was sorely needed,” Watson says. “This complex should bring even more economic development into our city, and we want to attract hotels, restaurants and more.”

Lincoln Landing includes 10 boat launch pads, built for year-round use for different water levels. The growth in the city has resulted in about 150 homes under construction this year, with more to come, Watson says. A major development, Anglers Point, is next to Lincoln Landing and will offer different types of housing, including tiny homes.

Talladega County schools were recently recognized as an innovative school district through the League of Innovative Schools. Recent new programs include a Modern Manufacturing Program, an after-school certified nurse assistant program and a summer program, says Kim Knight, career technical advisor.

The manufacturing program began as a collaboration between East Alabama Works, Talladega County schools, Oxford city schools and Pell City schools, and now Honda is the host site for the MMP coursework.

Students also have converted two school buses for virtual reality content on the go, and built and sold a tiny house, with a second slated for completion this fall.

Talladega City Schools currently serves approximately 1,953 students in its six schools and career technical center.

This article appeared in the July 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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