Plans underway to develop Selma’s tourist areas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Tourism received a high priority in the blueprint for managing change in Selma during these first years of the 21st Century.

Already, several solid foundations exist as tools to be used in achieving goals set by local citizens to realize their vision of the future.

Mayor James Perkins Jr., the Office of Planning and Development, the City Council and members of the Tourism Committee urge that the importance of tourism to the local economy be recognized and exploited by developing plans and programs to take advantage of the city’s unique history in both the Civil War and Civil Rights.

One of the finest tourism resources was revealed in 1976 in the survey and grading project of architecturally significant structures in Selma and Dallas County.

Sponsored by the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society, the survey was directed by Nicholas Holmes, restoration architect, who urged their preservation. Two years later, Selma’s Old Town District was added to the National Register of Historic Places, to be followed by the Riverview and the Ice House District.

Today, with the inclusion of Water Avenue and Downtown Selma, the city has one of the largest listings on the National Register. Safeguarding these historic neighborhoods and structures requires constant vigilance, a watch maintained by the City of Selma’s Historic Commission, at times with great difficulty.

In the intervening years, annual statistics from the State Historic Commission and the State Bureau of Tourism and Travel reveal that historic homes and buildings are tops on the priority lists of tourists, not only during Historic Pilgrimage but also throughout the year. Visitors to Selma are surprised and delighted at the rich variety of architecture in the structures of the historic districts. The responsibility for caring for and maintaining them falls upon the citizens of Selma, who recognize their importance both historically and in tourism.

Selma’s Civil War history and its recognition as the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act brings thousands of visitors to the city each year, and completion of the National Voting Rights Selma to Montgomery Trail will attract even more.

Actually, completing the Trail seems to be moving slowly, but plans are in place and hopes are high for project funding. Programs are now being developed to rehabilitate neighborhoods in the historic residential districts, where absentee landlords and vacant structures encroach.

A handsome brochure, designed by the Office of Planning and Development and recently published, is the result of efforts to identify historic black citizens and landmarks for a heritage tour.

Many possibilities exist for strong, sustained economic and historic development along the Water Avenue district. The National Trail and the St. James Hotel bring increasing attention to Selma, but there are needs to be met before the city becomes a preferred tourism destination.

A report undertaken by the Office of Planning and Development, the Downtown Selma Association and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs in 1998, financed in part through a Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, brings bright hope to the future of this area.

The work of

Sherlock, Smith and Adams, Inc., architects, engineers and planners, and several local committees, the plan makes recommendations in meeting the needs in order to secure that future.

These include historic Brown Chapel and Martin Luther King Jr. Street, the National Voting Rights Museum, the Old Depot Museum and the Confederate Naval Foundry, and more recently, a realization of the impact and potential that will develop as a result of the National Trail and redevelopment of Water Avenue.

Specifically, the plan called for the purchase or lease of trolleys to provide origin destination trips through the historic districts; parking areas to serve as information centers to provide points of interest and tours for tourists; a strategy for handling waste containers and receptacles before they become eyesores; an informational brochure, which shows parking areas, points of interest, walking tours and vehicular paths. The excellent new Downtown Selma brochure is already serving visitors.

Streetscape improvement for Water Avenue suggests adding benches, lighting, brick paving and planters from Broad Street to MLK Street; signage or wayfaring markers to guide tourists as well as a combination sign/kiosk; a bridge tunnel looking west, with planting, lights and seating; and the restoration of the Phoenix building into an arcade of small specialty shops and eating places.

The greatest challenge as well as the possible greatest potential to the future of tourism lies in development of the Riverfront. Possibilities are unlimited with restaurants, pubs and shops and access to a riverfront boardwalk, which extends into a riverbank park similar to those of Memphis and Charleston.

Such development will bring a redevelopment of pleasure boaters, docking facilities and lodging for boaters from Montgomery to the Gulf. The possibilities are there, the resources are at hand.

The future is in the hands of Selma. We must guard it well.