Breaking new ground

Published 12:27 am Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Not even temperatures in the mid-90s could put a damper on the groundbreaking at the future site of the Historic Riverfront Park on Tuesday afternoon.

That’s not to say the stifling temperature didn’t make its presence known. Programs printed on the fans that were handed out were waved far more than read, Mayor George Evans encouraged attendees to take off their jackets and Tammy Maul, who came in lieu of Rep. Artur Davis, declined her time at the podium, citing the heat, to remain in the shade of a tent.

Rep. Yusuf Salaam may have best summed up everyone’s thoughts.

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“I smell something roasting and don’t know if it’s someone cooking meat somewhere or me.”

However, all in attendance braved the elements to celebrate what they hoped to be only the first step of the project that will spearhead the revitalization of downtown Selma.

“I can’t say enough about this project,” said Evans. “I’m convinced without a doubt, this one piece right here is going to change the dynamics of Selma something greatly. I visualize some things happening in Selma once this project is completed that we’ve never seen before.”

All who approached the podium echoed his optimism. Each person’s remarks carried their own nuances, but the theme remained constant — Riverfront Park is the start of something good for this city.

“The park will be a true enhancement for the city and should enhance the physical, economical and social growth and development of the city of Selma,” said D.W. Vaughan, chief engineer and deputy director of the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“There’s a lot of opportunity that’s going to present itself with this development,” Bill Johnson, director of the Alabama department of Economic and Community Affairs, added.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, spoke of the far-reaching impact the park could have, pending its effect on future projects and changes.

“Someone said they think this is a great thing for Selma,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing for Selma, Alabama, the United States of America and even the world. People come from all over the world to visit Selma.”

Tuesday’s optimism was dampened slightly by the scope of the project. While it is unknown if phases two and three will be completed in a shorter period of time than the 30 years Sanders said he hopes their completion will not take, Evans made it clear the project will require time and money.

He said the project will cost $8.4 million to complete, and there will likely be a lot more work left to do. He said letters for assistance have been written to President Barack Obama and his staff, in addition to other senators and representatives.

Nonetheless, the weight of those facts was not enough to overshadow purveying sense that Selma is moving in the right direction.

“I believe this is the nucleus . . . of a shovel-ready project that we need to turn Selma in another direction with an understanding of love for one another, unity, respect, appreciation, trust,” said Evans. “I think it is a master plan as written, and I think it’s going to flourish through our city and have a domino effect.”