Grant will begin riverfront development

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 26, 2002

There won’t be any bulldozers hammering into the bank of the Alabama River tomorrow. But a half-million federal grant might just put the gasoline in the land movers.

U.S. Sen Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has announced that an appropriations subcommittee has approved $500,000 for the city of Selma to begin developing the riverfront area.

“These funds will allow the city of Selma to begin the process of planning and designing the riverfront development,” Shelby said.

So what does that mean, and exactly how will the money be spent? No one knows for sure yet.

Upon hearing the news Thursday, Elizabeth Driggers, of the city’s Planning and Development Office, had a hard time digesting the news.

“I’m shocked. I’m thrilled. I don’t know what to say,” she mumbled.

Later in the afternoon, after reading Shelby’s announcement, Driggers realized what this initial money could mean for Selma.

“A riverfront plan has been in development for years,” she said. “If this happens, it would be really good for Selma.

“You’ve got to provide things that will help bring people here, and this would do that.”

And just what are the plans for the riverfront?

Mayor James Perkins Jr. hired an architect firm to produce an artist’s rendering of what might happen once the riverfront is developed.

“This plan included walking and jogging trails, parking facilities, waterfront docking, an amphitheater and private business development,” Perkins said. “With the announcement of this grant, our riverfront plan can begin to move forward.”

Charles Raine is one of the architects at the Khafra firm and he believes Selma has enormous potential with the land on the Alabama River.

“Clearly, the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a gateway into the city, but you don’t have a good welcoming view as you go across,” Raine said. “The shore is an excellent way to enhance that view, and that’s the key thing the mayor wants to do.”

Initial plans for riverfront development would begin near the St. James Hotel and extend to a creek near the former O’Neals restaurant.

“One of the things we’ve looked at is developing a festival plaza and a park adjacent to the old Southern Railways building,” Raine said. “We’d like to put a movie theater and I believe there is talk about a restaurant there.”

Driggers, who echoed Perkins’ ideas, said a small amphitheater could be built along the riverbank, along with a focus on landscaping the area.

The $500,000 grant for the riverfront will not help begin construction of the area. Rather, that money could be used to acquire some of the property that would house the new developments.

“It’s all still a dream,” Driggers said. “But it’s a dream just like the [St. James] Hotel was a dream.”