Spotlight on Tuscaloosa County: Community Development

Denny Chimes on the University of Alabama campus.

Even during the pandemic, Tuscaloosa County has maintained services to the public, installing upgrades throughout the courthouse to minimize exposure to the virus, says Rob Robertson, Tuscaloosa County probate judge and County Commission president. “Our goal was to deliver services people rely on, even during COVID,” he says.

In 2018, the new Tuscaloosa County Emergency Operations Center opened. The $16 million facility houses dispatchers with Tuscaloosa and Northport police and fire departments, University of Alabama police, the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and paramedics. It also houses Tuscaloosa EMA. The county also partnered with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society to purchase land for a new shelter, pet adoption facility and veterinary hospital.

The Tuscaloosa County Road Improvements jurisdiction has continued to fund several road projects, Robertson says.

During the pandemic, the city’s Elevate Tuscaloosa program, funded by a one-cent sales tax and $26 million in federal grants, has been a lifeline to many small businesses and other entities.

“It was because of Elevate that we were able to invest a million dollars into 250 small businesses here in Tuscaloosa, that saved jobs and helped keep some of our beloved local establishments afloat,” says Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. “We were able to invest in education, neighborhoods and in our police and fire departments.”

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An aerial view of Riverwalk in Tuscaloosa.

Some of the city’s recent accomplishments include:

  • Awarded 233 dual-enrollment scholarships valued at $2,560 each to seniors from all three Tuscaloosa high schools.
  • Made significant upgrades to the McDonald Hughes Community Center, including a new indoor playground and gym floor, and upgraded lighting and restrooms.
  • Authorized the beginning of the design process for River District Park, the outdoor expansion of the Saban Center, which is projected to open in late 2021.
  • Broke ground and began construction on the All-Inclusive Playground at Sokol Park. It opened in April of this year.
  • Acquired 20 acres of land donated by the Randall family for the Northern Riverwalk.
  • Won a $15 million BUILD grant for the Western Riverwalk, which will include a pedestrian bridge over Jack Warner Parkway.
  • Hired a consulting company to complete a transit study.
  • Received $8.8 million in federal and state grants to improve the runway at the Tuscaloosa National Airport, which is projected to be complete by this fall.
  • Purchased the Tuscaloosa News building, the site of the future Saban Center, and renamed 28th Avenue to Nick’s Kids Avenue. The Saban Center is a public-private partnership among the city, the Saban family and local STEAM-focused nonprofit organizations that will create the first-of-its-kind learning center.


Art Night at Kentuck Art Festival.

The city is looking forward to the return of popular events, including the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, which is celebrating its 50-year anniversary in October; Druid City Arts Festival; Live at the Plaza; and other events booked into the amphitheater.

Recently, the city launched a new podcast called “Tuscaloosa Talk,” hosted by Maddox. The episodes are published every other Monday and feature the mayor’s interviews with members of various communities in the city.

Both Tuscaloosa County and Tuscaloosa City school systems are very involved in career technical education. The school systems work closely with industry partners, AIDT, government entities and the chamber for workforce development.

In 2020, West Alabama Works presented the Tuscaloosa County School System with a $389,440 grant for career technical education, to be used for the second phase of the Brookwood Career Technical Annex. The second phase will house health sciences, hospitality/tourism and modern manufacturing. The system also received a grant for the first phase, a logistics training center.

The county school system, in 2021, also was named an Innovative District by the International Center for Leadership in Education. The system offers advanced placement and dual enrollment in high school. The system has 35 schools and is the fourth-largest employer in Tuscaloosa County.

Tuscaloosa City schools’ $23 million Career and Technology Academy focuses on developing workplace skills and career readiness. Students choose one of 17 industry-certified pathways, and can earn industry credentials and certifications, along with gaining real-world experience. There also is a simulated workplace.

Tuscaloosa City schools were named a 2021 Green Ribbon District for the state and also were awarded a Green Ribbon by the U.S. Department of Education. The system is one of five across the country to be honored for reducing environmental impact and utility costs, among other improvements.

In the fall, students returned to a new Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, a $21 million facility. And the Elevate Tuscaloosa program impacted about 200 seniors, who took advantage of the chance to earn college credit to apply toward a two- or four-year degree.

The city of Northport is activating a new civic platform to allow greater access to city services online, says Glenda Webb, city administrator. The city also has received results of feasibility studies on whether to form its own school system and a possible sportsplex and water park.

The local MPO just awarded the city three large road projects, including streetscaping.

The city will soon get a new Courtyard by Marriott, with plans for five restaurants and other new businesses near city hall. The city also is updating city hall. The city council passed a one-cent sales tax increase recently, which can be used for needed projects.

The town of Vance elected its first female mayor, Brenda Morrison, who previously served on the Vance Town Council. She is retired from the state of Alabama.

Vance has been making improvements to handle the growth generated by Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, including expansion of Alabama Highway 11 through the town.

“We expect to eventually develop the whole Highway 11 corridor for commercial and retail development,” Morrison says.

The town also has relocated its library into the larger former civic center and opened a new activity and fire department building. It also has added lights and expanded its walking trail.

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