Montgomery unveils plan to double downtown development

The Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice now draw about 25,000 visitors a month to Montgomery, forming the centerpiece of a downtown neighborhood built around historic tourism.

Now the city is launching a plan to further improve its downtown in all respects, and not just to attract tourists. “We have to make this city so attractive that you want to live there. This plan does that,” said Ron Simmons, destination and community development manager for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Over months of town hall meetings and feedback sessions, the city has compiled a list of its top 25 priorities for downtown, how it plans to address them, and who will be involved in achieving each step.

They range from creating a new downtown park and tree-lined pedestrian medians, to increasing transportation options, to making better use of existing structures, to creating more events artistic and musical. Many plans rely on the creation of a downtown business improvement district, which would levy a tax on neighborhood properties to fund specific services, such as cleaning, security, or marketing.

Montgomery Chamber Downtown Planning Updates

But the comprehensive plans cover a wide range of downtown issues, and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said people should see many of them implemented soon.

“We don’t want people to think a plan means it’s going to take five and ten years, we plan to jump on it immediately because it’s key to our economic growth,” Reed said. “… These are not blue sky opportunities. I don’t believe in such plans.

You can check out the draft plan envisionmontgomery2040.org/downtown. The public will have another chance to have their say online before the plan is finalized later this year.

The top 10 priorities of the draft plan are presented below. Others on the list include new medians, parks, a network of trails, more riverside attractions and help to start and operate local small businesses.

Top 10 Priorities for Downtown Montgomery

Ron Simmons, general manager of destination and community development, and Bob Parker, owner of Dreamland Bar-B-Que, talk during a downtown planning meeting at the Montgomery Chamber in Montgomery, Alabama, on Thursday, October 6, 2022.
  1. Create a better and safer visitor experience. (Short term: 0-1 year) Includes repairing sidewalks, collecting garbage, encouraging more police bike patrols, planting trees and improving lighting.
  2. Create a downtown business improvement district and a citywide tourism improvement district. (Short term: 0-1 years)
  3. Pursue national park status. (Long term: 5 years and more)
  4. Bring new attractions to downtown. (Long term: 5+ years) Could include an outdoor museum in partnership with EJI, new sporting events and a possible children’s museum and planetarium downtown.
  5. Leverage existing assets. (Medium term: 1-5 years) Make better use of the existing curbside market and Union Station.
  6. Tell the full story of the city to a wide range of audiences. (Short term: 0-1 year) Includes plans for more art and murals, encouraging downtown buskers, and other efforts.
  7. Improve the square of the Court. (Medium term: 1 to 5 years) More programming and seating for pedestrians, encourage food trucks, add a kiosk for visitors and redesign commercial buildings.
  8. Accelerate temporary events and scheduling. (Short term: 0-1 year) Could include a big Christmas event, a regular market at Union Station, or a “make it a night” campaign to encourage workers to stay downtown.
  9. Improve freeway entrances to downtown. (Long term: 5+ years) Could include traffic flow changes to better connect downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, improved I-85 underpasses, and new commercial and mixed-use developments along the highway.
  10. Take short-term measures to welcome visitors to the city centre. (Short term: 0-1 year) Includes plans to plant wildflowers and improve landscaping, create large neon signs downtown, improve Herron Street, and commission a lighting installation, possibly a “Welcome to Montgomery” sign.
  11. “There’s so much potential in the city, and I feel like we’re about to change in Montgomery,” said Jud Blount, owner of Ravello and Red Bluff Bar. “We just have to keep doing it.”

Brad Harper covers business and local government for the Montgomery Advertiser. Contact him at[email protected].

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