Spotlight on Montgomery County: Community Development

Anchored by state government, Montgomery County has increased its emphasis on restaurants, retail and tourism attractions

A rendering of Montgomery Whitewater. Photo by Julie Bennett.

Montgomery County/City of Montgomery

Montgomery Whitewater is set to open in summer 2023. City and county officials expect the Olympic-standard whitewater facility and outdoor activity center to enhance the quality of life for residents and attract outdoor tourism.

The 120-acre recreation and entertainment complex will offer rafting, kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding. While beginners can use the facilities to learn a new skill, Olympic hopefuls can train there and pros can work on skills such as swift water rescue training. The project also will feature climbing areas, zip lines, ropes courses and hiking and mountain biking trails.

Restaurants, retail, cabanas, an amphitheater and a conference center can host live music performances, festivals, camps and more.

On a more pragmatic level, the Montgomery County Commission expects to have its courthouse renovations complete by spring 2023, county officials say.

Montgomery Public Schools appointed a new superintendent in spring 2022, Melvin J. Brown. MPS is a one-to-one district in terms of technological devices per student, and this year, the district is able to offer robotics at every school and grade level. Dalraida Elementary School opened a STEM lab for students, the first of its kind in the region, and the school’s principal, Bryan Cutter, was the only educator in Alabama to receive the prestigious Milken Educator Award, partly because of his creation of the lab.

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The new home of Booker T. Washington Magnet High on Bell Road is set to open in January, giving the performing arts school students a permanent home after a building burned down on its former campus.

Also, the Montgomery County Board of Education recently voted to change the names of two schools. Robert E. Lee High School will now be named Percy Julian High School, named after a pioneering chemist from Montgomery, and Jefferson Davis High School will be Johnson-Abernathy-Graetz High School, or JAG, named after Judge Frank M. Johnson and civil rights activists Ralph Abernathy and Robert Graetz.

The school system is heavily invested in workforce development, with an extensive listing of career and technical education programs at middle and high schools, plus the Montgomery Preparatory Academy for Career Technologies.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama recently donated a car so that automotive students can learn about modern auto manufacturing.

Downtown Montgomery.

In the city of Montgomery, Mayor Steven Reed points to success on both the financial and inclusiveness fronts.

First, the city is in the best financial condition in recent memory, paying off all short-term debt and reducing long-term debt by 34%. Several major business projects have been announced, totaling more than $1 billion in investments and some 1,800 new jobs, while the city’s unemployment rate continues to trend downward.

Second, the city has increased the number of Black-owned businesses who participate in city contracts by more than 300%, and as a result, the city was named the Best City in the Nation for Black-Owned Businesses according to Black Information Network Radio, NerdWallet and more. And a partnership with Liberty Bank has seen $20 million transferred to the bank to manage on behalf of the city.

Montgomery has launched several quality-of-life initiatives, including Montgomery Forward and the Downtown Plan, which details redevelopment and improvements in every city block.

New hotels are coming; the city’s hotel occupancy rate has climbed past 70%; and the lodging tax is up 42% and closing in on pre-pandemic levels, officials say.

The mayor’s grants department has secured more than $7 million in funding and has applied for more than $130 million in grant money in just one year.

Town of Pike Road

The Town of Pike Road celebrated its 25th year as a municipality in 2022. For the past two decades, the town has been named the fastest growing in the state, expanding from just several hundred to nearly 10,000 residents.

“We have had many great opportunities presented to our town,” says Mayor Gordon Stone. “Most importantly, we have been blessed by a great team of community leaders, staff and partners who have helped us turn possibility into reality. In addition, our citizens have continued to engage and support the commitment to planning for both the near and distant future, the quality-of-life programming, and the effort to maintain sustainable growth.”

Several housing developments are under construction, and existing developments are expanding, Stone says. There are more than 70 neighborhoods in Pike Road, and all are supported by expanding infrastructure.

The town prioritizes connection with its citizens via a weekly newsletter, radio shows, videos and other outlets. The town has a strong sense of community and offers programming in areas of interest identified by its citizens. This includes an active arts council, which offers art classes, local art shows and other regional events.

The town recently opened its Agriculture, Recreation & Performing Arts Park, which serves the community with educational spaces and a multipurpose outdoor arena. It also is expanding its natural trail network. The town’s plan for growth focuses on seven traditional community hubs, five of which have seen retail and other growth, including a new Publix grocery and several local businesses.

The Alabama Department of Transportation has several projects in the works for the town centers.

The municipality partners with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and is served by three volunteer fire departments with nearly a dozen fire stations.

Pike Road Schools, opened in 2015, have about 2,500 students and plans are in the works for a $50 million high school. Students begin exploring careers and pathways early, and the school system has career technical academies in such fields as software/programming, biomedical and career preparation.

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

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