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How to bring tourists to Selma

Renovating Selma was the main topic of this year’s sixth annual meeting of the Selma & Dallas County Centre for Commerce, an event intended to bring local investors together for a yearly check-in.

“We share with them what’s going on and just get them together,” said Centre for Commerce president Wayne Vardaman, Sr. “It’s a way to thank all your folks.”

Guest speaker Nisa Miranda, director of the University Center for Economic Development at the University of Alabama, decided to use her spotlight in front of many of the major entities in business development to encourage the renovation of Selma in order to bring in tourism revenue. She has worked with international business and with the study of Selma that the University of Alabama completed last fall.

“Selma has a lot of assets that may not be apparent to people because you look at it each day,” Ms. Miranda said. “You’ve got a lot of clay to work with.”

Ms. Miranda compared the renovations of Charleston, S. C. and Savannah, Ga. with the potential that Selma has to become a vibrant tourism destination.

“Tourism is one of your biggest economic drivers,” Ms. Miranda said. “There’s a span of history that’s encapsulated in this town. Selma has the largest contiguous historic district in Alabama.”

Just as these two places have distinctive downtown architecture, history, a waterway, arts, culture and outdoors recreation opportunities, Selma has the same ingredients.

“You’ve got to be proud of what you have,” Ms Miranda said.

Turning the city around into a thriving tourist destination will happen with a well thought out plan that tackles the obstacles slowly.

“You’ve got to do it one building at a time,” Ms. Miranda said.

After much planning, Ms. Miranda then suggests that the city turn to outside investors to purchase some of the unoccupied areas in order to revive them.

“Sometimes the first money in tends to be the riskiest,” Ms. Miranda said.

She suggests that the city government step in and offer the first money. Then, she said, more businesses will follow.

Some steps to rejuvenating the Selma area are to make and follow three plans: a comprehensive plan, a riverfront plan and a historic plan.

The comprehensive plan will guide the development of the city and offer ideas of things to construct around pre-existing structures.

The riverfront plan will help to design business, commerce and tourism along the waterway.

“I think the river is really your focal point of Selma,” Ms. Miranda said.

Lastly, the historic plan will help to keep the historical areas in suitable condition and help bring the gateways of the city, which are the main entrances into Selma, as dramatic way into the city.

“This could have a tremendous effect on Selma,” Ms. Miranda said.

Sheryl Smedley, Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce director, is in the planning stages of implementing Ms. Miranda’s idea. With the city, Chamber, Downtown Selma Association and Economic Development Authority, Smedley and others are working hard to revive Selma.

“When we get everything put together, then we’ll pull in the informal groups,” Ms. Smedley said.

Groups such as citizens, churches, public entrepreneurs, civic clubs, schools and the media will then be asked to join the coalition.