Spotlight on Houston & Henry: Community Development

These two counties are enhancing cultural options, improving downtowns and more

Home to museums, entertainment venues and niche retailers, Dothan’s downtown is undergoing a revitalization.

Houston County

Plans are in the works to revitalize Dothan’s city center. The project will include a new 6,000-seat arena to replace the current civic center and a new culture and arts center for art exhibitions and theatre productions, an outdoor amphitheater and a new “Events Street” between St. Andrews Street and Museum Avenue that could be closed off for outdoor events.

The first phase of the project began recently with the demolition of the old Dothan Utilities building that is next door to the historic Dothan Opera House. The Opera House, under the plan, will eventually get an upgrade that will include a new lobby and south wing.

Colton Cureton, vice president of economic development for the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, says the revitalization of the city center will help attract young people, like him, and families to live and work in Dothan.

“The work that the city leaders are doing to revitalize downtown is going to be super important as we continue to recruit individuals to come to Dothan to live here and continue to increase our workforce base,” the 28-year-old Cureton says.

Besides revitalizing its downtown, the city of Dothan is also working to boost research and economic development.

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The city partnered last year with the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology to establish a public-private partnership for the creation of HudsonAlpha Wiregrass. This new institute will foster agricultural research and economic development, as well as educational opportunities.

“The thing that we’ve always wanted to do is to have an opportunity to do more research and development,” says Matt Parker, the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce president. “And obviously we’ve got a strong agriculture backyard here that creates a lot of opportunities to enhance economics and plant life. So that unique partnership is already in motion, and its already impacting our classrooms.”

Parker says HudsonAlpha is already instructing some local school children in Dothan on several science projects.

“It’s opening up a whole new door to science, technology and research and creating new opportunities that these kids probably wouldn’t have if we didn’t have this partnership,” Parker says.

In Taylor, the city council broke ground for a new wastewater treatment plant. The project will be paid for through a bond issue and grant monies from the Houston County Commission and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. The plant is estimated to cost $6.2 million.

Also in Houston County, in the town of Cottonwood, a new clinic called Modern Health Family Care Practice opened its doors in February. Jessica Jones is CEO of Modern Health Family Care, which provides both in-person primary and urgent care, as well as televisits. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Troy University, a master’s nursing degree from South University and her Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama.

Meanwhile, last year the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry announced its plans to open a dental clinic in Dothan to address the state’s shortage of dentists. UAB faculty and staff members will operate the clinic. And in a plan to provide more mental health services to the region, SpectraCare Health Systems Inc. has received $7 million from the state government to open a behavioral health crisis center in Dothan. The SpectraCare Diversion Center will provide mental health and substance use care and will be a place where police and emergency medical personnel could bring patients suffering from a mental health crisis.

Efforts also are underway to provide more housing options in downtown Dothan. The Town Terrace Inn on North Oates Street is being renovated into a gated apartment community with upscale, one- and two-bedroom units.

In addition, developers have been refurbishing the historic Malone Motor Co. building on South St. Andrews Street to turn it into upscale apartments in downtown Dothan.

Also, the Dothan City Commission this year approved a contract with Lewis Construction Inc. for close to $11.7 million to construct two new fire stations. Construction of both building projects will take place on Main Street and Wheatley Drive and are expected to be complete by next summer.

Starting this school year, Dothan City Schools students will have equal access to school meals through a federal Community Eligibility Provision for free breakfast and lunch meals. Dothan City Board of Education recently approved the move that will provide free breakfast and lunch to students in the school system for four years, starting in 2023-2024. CEP is a free meal service option for schools and school districts with many low-income students.

Also, this year, Dothan Tech held an open house to showcase recent renovations to the school. The upgrades cost $7.5 million. Dothan Tech, which is part of the Dothan City Schools district, specializes in workforce development with a host of career technical courses ranging from welding, automotive technology and building instruction to biomedical science and pre-engineering. The total upgrade at Dothan Tech included new equipment such as a new kitchen layout for the culinary arts program and supplies for the health science program.

The annual Abbeville Christmas Parade attracts residents and visitors to the area.

Henry County

In neighboring Henry County, the County Commission approved a 20-year tax abatement for a solar project owned by Hecate Energy. The renewable energy company, headquartered in Chicago, will construct a ground-mounted, 80-megawatt solar facility on property located northwest of the city of Headland near County Roads 12 and 45.

Also, a federal FY23 omnibus package is providing $13 million to the Abbeville Municipal Airport to lengthen a runway by 1,600 feet to become a 5,000-foot runway.

The city of Abbeville’s Mayor Jimmy Money says the municipality is also looking at revitalizing its downtown.

“We’re in the process of looking at doing some things that have been badly needed downtown in the recreation end of it,” Money says. “The state was kind enough to give us the old National Guard Armory, which we are turning into a recreation center and gym complex and for all kinds of activities like dancing and basketball. We have martial arts classes and dance classes that have already started there.”

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

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