Spotlight on Limestone & Morgan: Community Development

These two counties are building several new residential developments, making improvements to schools and more

Gregory Industries breaks ground in Athens on a new G-STRUT manufacturing center.

Morgan County

In June, the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce announced that funding finalized by Gov. Kay Ivey will bring several new projects to the area, including a $30 million electric vehicle training center facility, a $30 million advanced manufacturing training facility at Calhoun Community College and a $19 million dance and music studio that will be part of the Alabama Center for the Arts. Additional funding will be allocated for a mental health crisis center, renovations to the original Morgan County courthouse in Somerville and renovations to Athens State University.

Residential development is an ongoing issue here, as the area seeks to capitalize on the rapid growth in North Alabama.

One of the largest planned developments in Decatur is Quinn Oaks Farms, just over 80 acres across from Jack Allen Sports Complex that will consist of 432 homes, including 180 townhomes.

The city’s first upscale gated townhome rental property is under development, with plans for 100 townhomes and five retail spaces on 30 acres next to the Target Shopping Center on Point Mallard Parkway. Another apartment complex on Upper River Road with up to 175 units is also in the planning stages. And nearly 150 new residential units are either under construction or scheduled for the downtown area, including McGhee Square Townhomes and Rich Winstead Apartment Development.

Last June, the Alabama Center for the Arts broke ground on its first residence hall. It will have 49 apartments, a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units, plus other amenities.

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In April, the Decatur City Council approved project development and ground lease agreements to build a $30 million, 75,000-square-foot riverfront development near Ingalls Harbor. The mixed-use development will include restaurants, retail stores and condominiums with boat slips.

And last fall, ground was broken for a Fairfield by Marriott and a parking garage downtown.

Three public school systems serve Morgan County — Decatur City, Hartselle City and Morgan County Schools.

This summer, Decatur City Schools swore in a new superintendent, Gyimah Whitaker, who served earlier as deputy chief academic officer for Fulton County Schools. Also this summer, Decatur City School officials introduced a new mobile STEM education lab, which offers lessons for students and training for teachers.

The Morgan County School System boasts six nationally recognized Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, advanced placement course offerings in all of its high schools, pre-advanced placement courses in all middle schools, more than 18 career tech course offerings and a variety of career and technical programs.

Hartselle City Schools, with 3,650 students PK-12, also earns kudos as a Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence District. Last fall, Hartselle City Schools broke ground on a new 65-classroom elementary school.

Buc-ee’s cuts the ribbon in Limestone County, its fourth Alabama location.

Limestone County

Limestone County is the fastest-growing county in North Alabama, and several new projects are underway to keep pace with its growing population.

In 2022, the Limestone County Commission approved residential development on more than 2,300 lots. As of January, almost 3,500 residential units have completed their approval process to pull a building permit and an additional 1,928 lots received preliminary approval.

Last summer, the County Commission granted approval to move forward with three major subdivisions — the first phase of the 96-lot Charleston subdivision, the 101-lot Walton Creek subdivision and the 21-lot Lewterville subdivision.

Construction is underway on Gateway Village Apartments, a 256-unit luxury apartment complex in Athens that will include a gated entrance, saltwater pool, splash decks and bar, a fitness facility, dog park and pet spa.

As more people continue to move to the area, improvements to roads and managing traffic flow have taken priority.

In June, the County Commission approved an agreement with Wisener LLC to serve as the consultant for the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of East Limestone and Capshaw roads. Last year, the County Commission approved a $1.2 million project to improve the intersection at Mooresville Road and Highway 72 — an intersection used by half of Limestone County residents each week.

In January 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey tapped Athens as one of 50 cities in the state to receive a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that will provide $500,000 for infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood around Vine Street. That summer, the Athens City Council approved a contract with Rogers Group Inc. to handle the project, which will include drainage, street repair and the demolition of dilapidated buildings.

Also in January 2022, a project to improve the intersection at Highway 72 and Clinton Street in Athens received about $1.5 million in funding from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program-II.

Roads aren’t the only infrastructure seeing significant upgrades. Last year, the Athens City Council allocated $1 million to transform a 32-acre property, previously home to the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant that shut down in 2009, into Sunrise Park. The park will offer a playground, splash pad, restrooms, shade structures and a parking area.

Other park updates include new playground equipment and fencing at Jimmy Gill Park and renovations and new fencing at Robert Allen Tinnon Park, both in Athens. The city also has committed to retrofitting three tennis courts into pickleball courts at Athens Big Spring Memorial Park.

Limestone County Schools serve 14,583 students with a range of elementary, high school and career tech options. Ground was broken last year for a new elementary school on Highway 127.

The Athens City School System has 4,815 students and is consistently ranked as one of the best districts in the state.

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

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