Life on Water Avenue

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Selma Times-Journal

Work will begin soon on plans to create a walking path and bicycle trail along the Alabama River.

The trail will extend from behind the St. James Hotel on Water Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

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The Selma City Council has approved going ahead with architectural plans for the first phase of the project.

“Hallelujah,” said Councilwoman Jean Martin, “It’s been a long time.”

Some residents have said they saw plans that dated back as far as 1998 to create a walkway, entertainment and retail riverside avenue from the Selma Marina down to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The city project stands as just one event in the improvement of Water Avenue.

Selma officials have worked on the river front project as grant money and matching funds became available.

A transportation enhancement grant of $271,984 from the Alabama Department of Transportation combined with city matching money of a little more than $118,993 has kick-started the project, said Charlotte Griffeth, director of the city’s planning and development department.

“In communication and meeting with ALDOT for several months on the project, they have given us a list of things they want to see completed within three to six months,” Griffeth said, “Then we will submit for the first phase of the walking trail. They will disapprove or approve of the plans and make corrections.”

Griffeth hopes to see dirt turn within six to nine months.

Earlier this year, the historic St. James Hotel opened its doors to tourists and locals. The hotel has enticed locals with its food and beverage selections and ballrooms for conferences and civic club meetings. Tourists have scheduled weddings and other events or just opted to stay the night in the structure where the outlaw James and brothers, Frank and Jesse, once spent the night and had to jump into the Alabama River to elude authorities.

Most recently, Diane Smitherman of Major Grumble’s Restaurant constructed a patio on her site. Smitherman has changed her menu somewhat to accommodate outdoor dining and has live music on the site.

Arts Revive recently purchased the Carneal Building on Water Avenue. The non-profit plans to offer myriad opportunities for artists, tourists and art lovers from the site, once it undergoes some rehabilitation.

Steve Grossman and his wife, Laura, have the Frame Shoppe on Water Avenue close to the St. James Hotel. Grossman said he expects to open a coffee shop shortly after Labor Day.

“I know some things are happening,” said Grossman, “and if a walking trail is really happening, I will be one of the first people walking on it.”

The walking trail and other private endeavors along Water Avenue constitute the preparation that needs to occur before the interpretive center for the Selma to Montgomery Trail opens, said Lauri Cothran, executive director of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism & Convention Bureau.

“Water Avenue is beginning to take off,” she said, adding that she’d like to see lofts popping up on upper floors of the buildings that line the street. “I have been saying for about the last year, we’re just on the verge.”