Spotlight on Jackson, Marshall, DeKalb & Cherokee: Community Development

Jackson, Marshall, DeKalb and Cherokee counties are developing schools, retail, downtown areas and more

City Harbor in Guntersville.

Marshall County

Marshall County, with Lake Guntersville, is a top vacation home destination.

The city of Guntersville, the county seat, already known for its beauty and tourism, is promoting its new City Harbor project, a $30 million mixed-use development with restaurants, brewery, a waterfront event venue and short-term-rental condos. Projects now underway include a $15 million, 88-room Hilton brand hotel plus additional privately owned condos.

“City Harbor is driving the traffic here,” says Matt Arnold, president and CEO of the Marshall County Economic Development Council. “Downtown is packed on the weekend. It’s so popular, the city is working on more parking.”

One of the most high-profile success stories for Guntersville is the HydroFest boat race event. Completing its fifth year on the national boat racing circuit, the event is sponsored by Marshall County Tourism and Sports with the city of Guntersville serving as host city. It brings thousands of visitors to Lake Guntersville and is a huge economic impact for the county.

Guntersville offers an extensive network of park areas, lakeside and others, currently being expanded with a $10 million-plus upgrade project. Recreation facilities include baseball fields, soccer park, a community gym and swimming complex, and miles of lakeside multi-purpose trails for walking and biking.

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Guntersville’s tourism draw also includes the 68,000-acre lake’s long-standing position as one of the most sought-after fishing destinations in the world and hosts Bassmaster, Major League Fishing and other pro tournaments, as well as everyday fishing enthusiasts.

In the city of Albertville, the Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheater is a huge success, Arnold says. Two new hotels are in the works and new restaurants and retail have been successful.

The city of Arab also has welcomed new retail.

The county’s one-cent sales tax increase is in effect, benefiting all five city school districts within the county and the county district.

Marshall County schools have new equipment, new STEM programs for elementary and middle schools, and an established technical school.

And a new development that will benefit the entire county is the Workforce Skills Training Center, a Snead State Community College project that will be located next to Marshall Technical School. The land was donated by the Marshall County Board of Education and Superintendent Cindy Wigley.

Guntersville City Schools are building a new $53.5 million, 140,000-square-foot high school off U.S. Highway 431, which will include engineering and robotics labs, fine arts, career and technical development and more. It replaces the system’s 50-year-old high school.

The Albertville High School Aggie Band was invited to participate in the 135th Annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day — the third time the band has marched in this parade.

Little Ridge Intermediate School, part of the Fort Payne City School System.

DeKalb County

DeKalb County is about to start a new community storm shelter in the Kilpatrick community and just finished a trail construction project at High Falls Park, says Ben Luther, county engineer. The county will do some courthouse remodeling to accommodate a new district judge seat, he says.

This summer, the DeKalb County Entrepreneurial Center in Rainsville opened. It is a business incubator that offers space and resources for those who want to open their own businesses, civic organizations, students or others who want to incubate a business or idea and more. It has flexible workspace, an online digital network, office spaces and a 720-square-foot space available for light manufacturing.

In the city of Fort Payne, the county seat, the city is remodeling its sports complex turf on all its playing fields, along with painting and new fencing, says Mayor Brian Baine. The city also is remodeling its police department building downtown, a $4 million project that should be finished in July 2024.

New retail includes Food City, which is underway. The city is rehabbing its sewer line on Airport Road, an $8 million project, and is working to get a railroad overpass built for tracks that run through the city, Baine says. The city also is working on a comprehensive plan.

Main Street Fort Payne, very active in the community, recently was honored at the 10th annual Awards of Excellence banquet. Mayor Brian Baine was awarded the Community Hero Award, and the group also won an award in Placemaking for the Pete the Cat mural downtown, and a reinvestment award for its $5 million in improvements and investment downtown, says Connie Fuller, Main Street Fort Payne director.

“We work well with the city, and we have a shared vision,” Fuller says. “We’ll be starting sidewalk projects soon.” A developer also has bought the rest of the empty buildings downtown and plans to revive them for new uses, she says.

DeKalb County also offers the picturesque town of Mentone on Lookout Mountain, popular with tourists and retirees.

DeKalb County Schools offer several programs at the DeKalb County Technology Center, plus programs at each of the eight schools. The technology center offers auto mechanics, auto body collision, cosmetology, criminal justice, drafting/pre-engineering, fire science, law enforcement, masonry, medical science, building construction, welding and work-based learning. It also offers dual enrollment with North Alabama Community College.

Fort Payne city schools’ BEAT (Building, Electric, Aviation Technology) Center is well underway. The $5.8 million facility also will offer drone aviation, electric vehicle technology and building and construction programs.

The Fort Payne City School System also opened Little Ridge Intermediate Facility, a new power over ethernet school, which is energy saving and environmentally friendly, with motion-activated lighting, Bluetooth capability, a STEAM lab with 3D printers, coding, robotics and art options.

In June 2023, North Alabama Community College officials in Rainsville broke ground for a new Workforce Skills Center, to be built between the Industrial Systems Technology Center and the Tom Bevill Lyceum on campus. The 50,000-square-foot, $27 million technology project will further boost workforce and economic development in the area.

Jackson County

The city of Scottsboro, the county seat, continues to attract and build amenities that enhance quality of life and bring in visitors. The city has several new retail and restaurants, including Publix, TJ Maxx, Jersey Mike’s, Chick-fil-A, Whataburger, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, says Mayor Jim McCamy. The city also has worked on major intersections in the city to accommodate new businesses and traffic flow.

Downtown, a lot of individuals have purchased property for redevelopment. Main Street Scottsboro has worked to keep the momentum going, with a new website coming to highlight businesses, a grant program for businesses to improve their façades and a pocket park underway on Peachtree Street, says Katie Kirkland, Main Street Scottsboro director.

At the recent Main Street Alabama Awards of Excellence banquet, Scottsboro Main Street was presented awards in business development through networking socials, reinvestment award and a Hero Award in memory of Julie Gentry-Michaels.

A mixed-use building downtown that offers living space, plus proximity to the courthouse, businesses and other attractions, has generated a lot of interest.

The city recently opened new pickleball courts and upgraded tennis courts and added lighting and trails at King Caldwell Park. Meanwhile, the Scottsboro Electric Power Board has been installing fiber optic broadband, which is nearly complete, McCamy says.

The city’s airport has continued to expand and acquire more property in the last two years, McCamy says.

Jackson County schools started the 2023 school year with the opening of the Kevin Dukes Career and Innovation Academy. The facility offers a variety of hands-on programs such as building construction, collision repair, aviation technology, cosmetology, diesel technology, drafting design, CAD, electrical technology, health science, HVAC/R, masonry, precision machinery technology, welding and fine arts, along with STEM and gifted programs.

The academy is named after the late Kevin Dukes, a lifelong educator and former superintendent of Jackson County schools, who believed the career academy would be a game changer for all of Jackson County’s students.

The Scottsboro city school system is working on adding classroom space at Caldwell Elementary School, a project that should be completed in 2025.

Cherokee County

Cherokee County has concentrated on economic development that focuses on community development. There is a new water park at Chestnut Bay Resort on Weiss Lake. The Centre-Piedmont-Cherokee County Regional Airport is getting a new taxiway, new hangars and other improvements.

The city of Centre, the county seat, opened the Albert L. Shumaker Aquatic Center in June 2023, which includes a new competitive swimming pool, new pickleball and tennis courts.

Cherokee County schools have a robust career and technology center that offers several programs for grades 9-12. Those include business, health care, collision repair, work-based learning, finance and electronics/robotics.

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

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