Spotlight on Coffee, Dale & Geneva: Community Development

These three Wiregrass counties are improving schools, parks and downtown areas

A rendering of the new Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins State Veterans Home.

Coffee County

In the city of Elba, the county seat, residents have a new medical clinic, Elba Health Care, operated by Mizell Memorial Hospital in Opp. The facility brings several services closer to home, says Sally Bane, city clerk.

The Elba Theatre is in its second phase of renovations and is already being used for numerous events, including a Smithsonian exhibit, she says. Much is being done via grants from the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

By the end of this year, the city will have completed more than $11 million of water and sewer projects through the USDA program, she says. More roads will be resurfaced, she says, and noted that a project that four-laned U.S. 84 from Andalusia to Dothan has helped the city of Elba also. The city also is collaborating with the National Park Service and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to determine further uses for Pea River Whitewater Creek to enhance tourism and for residents.

The city is renovating its recreational center, with help from Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Bane says, and plans to add amenities including pickleball and volleyball courts.

The new City of Enterprise water tower.

The city of Enterprise is progressing with several capital projects, including a multi-million-dollar recreation and aquatics center. Ground was broken in early January at the site of the now-demolished Rec Center building that served the city for 64 years.

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Features of the new 110,000-square-foot complex include a competition-ready swimming pool, a kiddie pool with beach entry and play structure, indoor sport courts, activity rooms, locker rooms and more.

“After years of preparation, we are beyond excited to start this project for the citizens of Enterprise,” Mayor William Cooper says. “We know this will be a place for families to not only work out, but to gather and play. We also look forward to the potential to bring people in to utilize the facility, whether for a swim meet or basketball or volleyball tournament. This new space will allow for several uses, and we know it will serve us well for many years to come.”

Comprehensive improvements within the Enterprise Parks and Recreation Department are taking place in other parts of the city as well. Through a collaboration with Enterprise State Community College, the city will add a $4.5 million multi-purpose sports complex. The 25-acre addition will connect to the existing 23-acre Peavy Park and will include multi-purpose fields, sand volleyball courts, walking and biking trails and support facilities. Peavy Park also is slated to receive a makeover with more multipurpose fields and other features. The city hopes these improvements will increase the ability to host sports tourism.

The city’s new disc golf course is drawing enthusiasts from throughout the Wiregrass and has already hosted several tournaments. Pickleball courts also are in progress, in partnership with the college.

The city and the college also will add a $10 million workforce development center to meet business and industry needs. The 20,000-square-foot facility will train students in fields such as automotive, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, composites, nursing and welding.

“This facility, on the ESCC campus, will create a robust pipeline of skilled workers in high demand positions,” Cooper says. “Everywhere you look you see ‘help wanted’ signs. Having the skills and trades that employers need is critical, and we are proud to offer that training in Enterprise.”

Enterprise continues to see steady growth. More than $42 million worth of residential dwellings were permitted last year. There also are many new commercial projects underway, including restaurants, car dealerships, banks, doctor’s offices, a grocery store, a hotel and a storage facility.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins State Veterans Home.

In a proactive measure, and due to commercial and residential growth in northeast Enterprise, the city replaced its 500,000-gallon water tank with a 1.5 million-gallon water tank.

To allow for more traffic at the Enterprise Municipal Airport, the city is working with the FAA toward expanding the existing runway. Traffic on major thoroughfares through Enterprise are also being addressed. ALDOT resurfaced the state highways that form Main Street and two other major arteries into the heart of the city and started a long-awaited five-lane project on Highway 167 North, a heavily traveled entryway into Enterprise from the northeast. The city has more than 200 miles of street repaving and has emphasized staffing its police force and fire department.

Downtown Enterprise continues to be a popular destination for residents and visitors alike, with a variety of restaurants, shopping and entertainment options. Main Street Enterprise has received 10 major Main Street Alabama Awards of Excellence in just three years.

The Enterprise Chamber of Commerce was awarded 4-star accreditation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and is one of only five in the state to be accredited.

Weevil Way, the public art program comprised of fiberglass Boll Weevil statues, continues to garner local, national and international attention, including a feature on CBS Sunday Morning.

City and county schools offer a variety of career technical programs.

Fort Rucker headquarters.

Dale County

Dale County is home to Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence. Fort Rucker is one of the largest military installations in the state and is a primary helicopter training facility.

Dale County schools were named again as the only county school system in Alabama to earn an “A” on the State Department of Education report card, while also offering a variety of career technical options and championship-level athletics.

In the city of Ozark, Mayor Mark Blankenship points to the progress in the downtown area, recently breaking ground on a new Farmers Market.

A nearby shopping center is getting new life as well. Using USDA funding, the city has renovated it and a steakhouse restaurant, Jamison’s, will open soon. Next door, the city built six indoor pickleball courts and will add two more, Blankenship says. The city also is refurbishing its outdoor tennis courts. The library moved into a renovated space, and another building of the shopping center is available for development.

The city also entered into an agreement with other cities in the county to provide EMS services, Blankenship says.

Participants in the Southeast Alabama Highland Games in Daleville.

The city of Daleville, home to the Dale County Fair, which is now in its second year, has also welcomed new businesses. Daleville also has hosted a variety of events from the Native American Powwow to the Southeast Alabama Highland Games and the Dale County Relay for Life.

The city also opened its countywide storm shelter a few times this past year for some hurricanes and as a warming station in December. When the shelter isn’t needed, it serves as a cultural and convention center that is available for rent. The center has hosted several events, including Paranormal Con and gaming convention Tezalcon.

School systems emphasize career programs as well as academics.

In the Dale County system, students can work in the student-operated bank, in new health science labs, or in programs in aviation maintenance, welding, EMT, criminal justice and mechatronics. The system also offers agri-science options.

Ozark City Schools offer students options from drafting to cosmetology, business to TV production. The Ozark schools also partner with local industry — from Alabama Power to Bean Brothers Coffee — and with the city police, to help students learn about many options.

“We are also excited to announce that Ozark City Schools will be opening a Career Exploration Center on the D.A. Smith Middle School campus,” says Casey Moore, career and technical education director. “The Career Exploration Center will expose students in middle school to opportunities for career awareness, exploration and early preparation. Students will receive hands-on experiences in STEM, computer science, construction, manufacturing, business and more.”

Geneva County

Infrastructure is getting a lot of attention. The county resurfaced 18 miles of county roads through the Rebuild Alabama program at a cost of $3.2 million and will resurface 7.5 more miles by fall 2023, says Toby Seay, probate judge and Geneva County Commission chairman.

Other road work is planned this year. Gov. Kay Ivey has prioritized a four-lane expansion project for Alabama Highway 52 in Geneva County, running from the city of Malvern to the city of Hartford, which will add 12 miles of four-lane access in and out of the county, Seay says.

The county built a new jail in 2020, and using $2 million of ARPA funds, the county plans to do critical upgrades and repairs at the Geneva County Courthouse, a project that will begin in fall 2023. Other grants will help fund sidewalk and parking upgrades at the courthouse.

The county already completed a circuit courtroom renovation project, removing its former jail dome. The parking lot was expanded, he says.

In the city of Geneva, Mayor David Hayes points to upcoming new soccer fields, a project that was halted due to COVID-19. The city also is developing a park downtown that will include a splash pad, amphitheater, all-accessible playground and walking trails.

The new park will also offer EV charging stations, hoping to encourage people passing through on the way to the beach, to stick around for a while.

“We think the stations will be a benefit for travelers, and that they may be able to eat here and take time to visit,” Hayes says. The city also has another park that it is developing for campsites.

The city also has started planning for a new city hall. The current one was built in the 1960s and there is a need for more space and updates. A firm is working on the design, and bids will soon be taken, he says.

The main thoroughfare from Geneva to the Florida state line has been resurfaced, Hayes says.

Geneva County schools, Geneva city schools, industry partners, the Alabama Community College System and the Alabama National Guard converted a former armory in Geneva County that houses the guard and the school systems’ career technical programs. The Geneva Regional Technology Center, or G-Tech, offers career tech programs where students can earn college credit and industry certification in automotive, aviation, health science, IT and welding, among others.

This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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