Meeting sets vision for Marion

Published 9:55pm Monday, June 18, 2012

More than 50 area residents met Tuesday at the Perry County Chamber of Commerce headquarters to share impressions and ideas for Marion.

Dr. Cheryl Morgan of the Auburn University Urban Architectural Studio facilitated and guided discussion at the event, sponsored by Judson College and the Marion Development Corporation.

Local officials in attendance included Mayor Tony Long, county commissioners Albert Turner Jr. and Tim Sanderson and commissioner-elect Cedric Hudson.

“We work with small towns throughout the state,” Morgan said. “We do asset-based planning, helping communities to see what they have and how to improve.”

The Auburn Studio works closely with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, directed by Nisa Miranda, according to Morgan.

“We overlook athletic rivalries — we tell people to get over it and focus instead on a better Alabama,” Morgan said with a laugh.

Also in attendance was Matt Leavell of the Alabama Innovation Engine, headquartered in Birmingham.

Judy Martin, local coordinator, said the Alabama Innovation Engine group would help with the “fine details” of the plan that will be presented after planning sessions are concluded.

Morgan drew attention to the “Small Town Design Initiative” completed in 2000, copies of which were given to attendees. She suggested the idea session was another step in the process.

Writing on a large tablet, Morgan asked residents to name the assets Marion claimed which, she said, were like “postcard” pictures of what the city is proudest of. Responses included people, churches, two colleges, historic Baptist and civil rights sites, the city cemetery, antebellum homes and the Cahaba River.

Then Morgan turned attention to a “wish list” for improvement. Again, responses were varied. Some responses were more routine, such as a large shade tree in the vacant lot beside City Hall and the wish that businesses wouldn’t leave garbage containers on the sidewalks throughout the week.

Other responses included underground utilities in the downtown area, a recycling program, better street lights, pedestrian and cycling-friendly paths, an after-hours medical care facility, a children’s park and better signage for visitors.

One attendee noted that the sign pointing downtown on Highway 5 was quite small. Morgan added that the sign didn’t indicate which downtown, either.

“We say we want visitors to come to our towns, but we often don’t consider their needs,” Morgan said. “We assume they can navigate a strange place.”

Morgan said her agency would do several months’ work, including sending visitors through the area with “fresh” eyes who will then report back to the studio.

“We’ll come back in August with initial ideas,” Morgan said, “and then some further proposals in four to six weeks. We hope to have something printed for you to hold in your hand and look over by December.”

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