Spotlight on Etowah, St. Clair, & Blount Counties: Community Development

Coosa Landing

Etowah County
Etowah County recently purchased the former BB&T bank building on Broad Street, which will be the new home of the Etowah County Board of Education later this year. The building also may house other county services. And despite the pandemic, county revenues have been stable, officials say. 

Gadsden, the county seat, has been busy on several projects, says Mayor Sherman Guyton. For example, transportation and police are now housed in the new Alabama City Center; a new East Gadsden Community Center is under construction; sports facilities are being added along the riverfront; river access has been improved near Coosa Landing; and botanical gardens have been added at Noccalula Falls. In addition, the city has added a dog park, hosted fishing tournaments and improved streets and airport facilities.

Downtown Gadsden Inc. has been busy despite the pandemic, says Kay Moore, director. “During 2020, there were five property sales totaling more than $1.7 million,” Moore says. “These sales, along with another $1.4 million in renovations, have provided remarkable improvements in our historic district.” 

Currently there are 25 loft apartments located in downtown Gadsden, with 16 in progress, she says. Downtown also welcomed 10 new businesses. 

A new bowling alley and entertainment venue opened, along with a restaurant, a clothing store and a new supermarket, says Lesa Osborn, director of Gadsden Commercial Development Authority. “We have had success in backfilling locations that have closed with new and expanding businesses,” she says. 

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In Rainbow City, the 139-acre Etowah County Mega Sports Complex is nearly complete, and the city is about to pave a road to it, says Mayor Joe Taylor. In addition, the city is working on more upgrades to the Vivian Lee Maddox Sports Complex.

Etowah County Schools and city districts in Gadsden and Attalla all offer career tech programs and dual enrollment options that allow students to earn college credit during high school.

Dinner in downtown Gadsden.

St. Clair County
St. Clair County has two county seats in Pell City and Ashville. Recently, Pell City was chosen as the site for the new St. Clair County 300-person jail, to be built downtown at a cost not to exceed $25 million.

The county commission, in partnership with the St. Clair County Economic Development Council (EDC), kicked off its new tourism initiative named Visit St. Clair: Known for Our Good Nature in fall 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking to invest time in the outdoors, and the county has lakes, creeks, mountain trails, nature preserves and other wide-open spaces, says Blair Goodgame, EDC tourism director. The county is continuing to work toward the opening of Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve, a 422-acre Forever Wild park in Springville that features nearly 30 miles of trails. 

Alabama Gift Co. in Gadsden

The county and cities already have been hard at work helping businesses affected by the pandemic, but this year, the EDC is starting a new small-business support initiative, a program made possible by a Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham grant. 

The city of Pell City is looking ahead on several projects, says Brian Muenger, city manager. The county handled 150 new home permits in 2020 and expects more this year, and new retail is locating here. “We have continued to recruit, but we also have worked to support our existing businesses,” he says. “As a result, our unemployment rate is back to nearly pre-pandemic levels.” 

The city opened a tennis complex with pickleball, exercise programs and pavilions near the boat ramp at Lakeside Park. It also purchased an abandoned petroleum tank site downtown and is working with Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Auburn University on site cleanup in hopes it can be redeveloped, Muenger says. The city also will be redoing its sidewalks with a $800,000 grant. 

Also in Pell City, a travel center with fuel and convenience store is planned at the Eden exit off Interstate 20, Muenger says. The city has expanded its sewer service and capacity there, which will be a plus to attract more development. 

The city also has demolished a hospital building off I-20 and is getting the site ready for redevelopment, Muenger says. 

Both the St. Clair County school district and the Pell City district offer strong workforce development programs and options for students to earn college credits while in high school.

Fishing in Gadsden

Blount County
Blount County has a branch of Wallace State Community College in the county seat of Oneonta. Campus facilities continue to grow and the county also has a new DHR building.

Blount County schools offer career technical programs through its career technical center and dual enrollment. The Oneonta school system has finished major renovations on its schools, says Mayor Richard Phillips. 

The city is closing on a $10 million bond issue to overhaul its parks system, Phillips says. The city will be working on improvements and additions to its aquatic center, parks and sports fields over the next three to four years and plans call for a new amphitheater.

Robbins Field in Oneonta, a general-use airport, received Federal Aviation Administration money to rehabilitate a taxiway and airport ramp area. 

The city also started a recycling program.

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