Spotlight on Fayette, Lamar & Marion: Community Development

These three counties are improving downtown areas, developing sports and tourism venues and supporting local industries with workforce development programs

King Kutter, in Winfield in Marion County, makes farm equipment.

Marion County

Marion County is building a $17 million jail in Bedford Industrial Park in Hamilton. It is expected to house about 220 inmates. The county also upgraded the courthouse entrance.

The city of Hamilton, the county seat, has completed Phase 1 of a 47-acre development that includes a cross country track, three soccer fields, a nature trail and more, says Mayor Bob Page. Phase 2 will include an amphitheater, he says. The development is on the former Munsingwear textile site, he says.

“The (Marion County) school system gave us $1 million to help with the project since their students also will use the track,” Page says. “We really believe we will be able to help the economy and have more tournaments and events here.”

The city also has opened pickleball courts connected with the city park and recreation center. And the city is busy with its downtown, which continues to attract retail and other shops.

In the city of Winfield, the police department and court facilities moved out of city hall and into a former National Guard armory building purchased by the city. The renovated building also has a large room that will be converted into two floors of training classrooms and more.

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In the city of Guin, the Holiday Inn near I-22 just renewed its agreement with franchise company IHG for 10 more years, and there is a major remodel planned, says Mayor Phil Segraves. The city will be upgrading the landscaping with sidewalks and water control improvements near the hotel.

The city also received a Tesla charging station and four universal stations to recharge electric vehicles, located at the hotel, he says. And sometime next year, a former medical clinic will be remodeled and reopened as a medical facility, he says.

Guin is on the Alabama Mural Trail and has a patriotic mural with a 40-foot eagle, with a new “Welcome to Guin” mural on the side of the post office designed by Marion County High School student Gracious Webb and painted by artist and master mural painter Missy Miles.

The Marion County School System has career technical programs at its five high schools in fields including agriculture, business, health science, human services, STEM, transportation and logistics and diesel tech.

Winfield City Schools are renovating the old Sitel call center for career tech programs in fire college and cosmetology, says Randy Thomley, superintendent.

“One room is ready, and we will be opening soon,” says Stefanie Weeks, career technical director. “Our students will be bused back and forth, and we are inviting Marion County High School, Brilliant High School and Fayette County High School students to participate as well.”

The school system also partners with Bevill State Community College to offer dual-enrollment classes.

The system also plans to move a primary school (PK-1) into a wing of the building to allow high school students in child development classes to visit these students, Thomley says.

“We also are in the early planning stages of a new football stadium with a track and banquet room for graduating classes/first responders/military,” he says.

Built in 1911-1912, the Fayette County Courthouse was constructed by Little-Cleckler Construction Co. of Anniston. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fayette County

Fayette County has a multipurpose complex, which can host several different events, says Shane Hughes, vice chairman of the Fayette County Commission. The county has welcomed some new homes, but is working toward many more, he says.

“We are hoping to get more people to call the county home,” he says. “We want to take advantage of the growth in nearby Tuscaloosa County. We have a great quality of life and low property taxes and a low unemployment rate.”

The county was instrumental in pushing Aniah’s Law, approved by Alabama voters in 2020, Hughes says. It is legislation that came about after the death of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard. The law allows judges to deny bond for people suspected of committing violent felonies. “Both her grandparents live in Fayette County,” he says.

The city of Fayette, the county seat, is still anticipating the four-lane West Central Alabama connector from Fayette to Interstate 22, says Mayor Rod Northam. “The project is still active, and it is huge for us,” he says. The road initially was proposed in 2022 to connect Fayette with three industrial parks from the interstate but there will be much more benefit from it, he says. Another project that will be underway soon is improvements at Alabama 18 and Alabama 171 to make it easier and more efficient for large trucks to turn. And the city will begin a $3 million upgrade of its wastewater treatment plant.

While the city has attracted chain restaurants and other businesses, it also has more local businesses locating in the downtown area, Northam says. And the city has a new neighborhood underway.

Fayette started a Fayette Junior City Council for 9-12 graders who meet every other week to determine ways to engage young people. The city also reinstated its Leadership Fayette program.

A new transportation program, created with the help of an Alabama Department of Transportation grant, will provide transportation for those who need it for doctor’s appointments, food and more.

Broadband has been a priority, and Freedom Fiber expects the county to be 90% covered by the first quarter of 2024, officials say.

The town of Berry has a DCH medical clinic that reopened last year, officials say. With Warrior Met Coal’s ongoing project in nearby Tuscaloosa County and a portion of Fayette County, officials expect more growth there.

Fayette County schools offer several career technical programs, says Dr. Rene Nichols, career technical and attendance supervisor. Programs offered include HVAC/electrical, health science, business education, family/consumer sciences and agriculture. In addition, the system has partnered with Bevill State Community College for dual enrollment.

“Each year, we send out surveys to determine what our students want and what the needs are,” Nichols says. The system also has partnered with Phifer Wire for students who want to enter the workforce quickly.

Welders are in high demand in a number of industries in this part of the state.

Lamar County

In Lamar County, officials have several road projects underway. The county commission recently purchased a new building that will become the new courthouse annex, and many offices will be located there until officials decide what to do with the existing courthouse, says Suzanne Ives, county administrator.

“There are some issues that would have to be addressed with the old courthouse,” she says. “We’d love to be able to do a complete overhaul, removing the third floor and putting the courthouse dome back up.”

In Vernon, the county seat, the city has completed a zero-entry pool that is part of the city park’s splash pad, baseball, T-ball and softball fields, says Don Dollar, city administrator. The city also has added a nine-hole disc golf course and is looking to add nine more holes. The city has added a new tennis court and a new outdoor basketball court.

The region is very active in genealogy and Vernon has its genealogical society, which has a wealth of information, located in a new building, Dollar says. The city has added an employee to work there twice a week. The building also can host various events and will host three gospel singings this year, he says.

In the city of Sulligent, federal funds will help pay for sewer system improvements on the west side, a $2.1 million project, says Bradley Long, city administrator. The city also will be addressing drainage issues.

The city continues to attract retail, with a Dollar General coming online soon.

The town of Millport has received a $1.1 million grant from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to update part of the water system and to replace its oldest water tower, which is 75 years old, says Linda Ferguson, town clerk.

Millport also received a grant from the Tombigbee RC&D, which partnered with Weyerhaeuser, a major employer, to build a pavilion, basketball court, a playground, a senior adult exercise area and a track area.

Lamar County schools have their own school of technology serving about 150 students, says Matthew Byars, principal. Courses include cosmetology, precision machinery, automotive, welding and health sciences. Dual enrollment classes also are offered.

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

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