The time has come to do some cleaning

Published 12:37 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

HOLLY SPRINGS, MISS. — I’m sitting up here at Wall Doxey State Park watching a disc golf tournament and thinking about tourism back in Selma. Facts are we are a tourist town. Facts are we don’t capitalize on it enough.

I thought about all the folks swarming into Selma for the Battle of Selma and what that means to our economy, hoping that it’s not too late this year for a little catch up on the sales tax dollars that fund our budget. We still have Market Day and the Tale-Tellin’ to go, among other things. And those are our big events.

But just the other day two or three of us stepped out on the back balcony of the office overlooking the Alabama River in the shadow of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We saw a group of youngsters marching across the bridge, singing old freedom songs; we saw a woman and a man taking pictures of one another on the bridge and we saw a man alone with a camera, shooting photographs of the river.

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In all likelihood these folks didn’t come for the Battle of Selma. They came early in the week. It’s about certain they ate at least one meal here. They might have spent the night in one of the hotels.

But what did they see?

They saw a downtown that half-way flourishes. They saw stores that line Broad Street with windows above them caked with dust or lined with blinds that look like they’d seen better days. They saw vacant buildings and one particular eyesore, the Teppers Building, its openings encased in plyboard.

Someone once wrote as a comment on that downtown looks like bombed out Baghdad. Parts of it do.

On the way up here to Holly Springs, I made it a point to drive through some downtowns along the way. One or two fared worse than Selma. Others looked pretty welcoming. Those that had improved underwent their facelifts by incorporating some professional help.

I asked one of those professionals just what it took to improve a town. He looked down at his cup of coffee and back at me. He looked down again and grinned.

“Clean it up.”

Here’s the point: Cleaning the town makes buildings look more inviting, give good first impressions to visitors and show that folks have pride in the downtown area.

Selma doesn’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish this. It’s a project for the whole community. Here are some suggestions that have worked in small towns in Alabama and Mississippi: Volunteer for the Keep America Beautiful Organization; designate a “Spring Cleaning Day” for the whole community to get together; have a trash can design contest to create unique receptacles in town; gather all the junk from downtown and allow our local artists to turn it into a beautiful sculpture.

We can keep our bricks looking good by attacking mold, mildew and lichens aggressively. Not only does that make the building look better but it protects the masonry work.

We’re already working on some aspects and we have others. For example, we have downtown parks in which the people in Selma can gather. We’re working on a Riverfront Park that will create a green space and beautify the town. We can encourage foot traffic by maintaining our sidewalks and adding greenery and shrubs to the sidewalk areas.

Folks have hundreds of ideas. We’re working on some.

But my coffee buddy could not stress cleaning up enough.

The Selma City Council is about to appoint a beautification committee. Let’s hope they’re serious about their jobs.