Council explores entertainment district

Published 6:49 pm Monday, February 17, 2014

Water Avenue could become Selma’s hub for culture and nightlife, if the city council is successful in creating a proposed entertainment district.

City council president Corey Bowie said the entertainment district would include a variety of businesses, such as clubs, restaurants and art galleries. Boundaries of the district are undecided, but all proposals focus on Water Avenue and include the St. James Hotel.

“We are considering a few different options and are trying to do an assessment of what the community wants,” Bowie said. “We are hoping that in the future the entertainment district will be the hub of downtown. It’s an important thing because it would benefit tourism and the quality of life. “

To gauge public opinion, the city council will have a public hearing at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at city hall.

If officially declared an entertainment district, Water Avenue would allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages anywhere within its boundaries, according to a bill passed during the 2013 legislative session. The bill allows Selma, and any other class 5 municipalities, to establish two entertainment districts in its city limits

The bill requires entertainment districts to contain no less than four liquor licensees, and districts cannot exceed one-half mile by one-half mile in area.

Rep. Darrio Melton (D-Selma) helped craft the bill and recommended city officials focus on professionals and young adults.

“We keep talking about how much we want young people to stay in our community,” Melton said. “If that truly is our goal, then an entertainment district is a great route to take.”

The area requirement would allow Selma officials to avoid any problems with liquor license requirements, as more than 4 licensees sit between Water Avenue and J.L. Chestnut Boulevard, but diversifying the district’s offerings may require a little recruitment because many of the buildings on Water Avenue are vacant.

“There isn’t a whole lot of activity right now on Water Avenue in the two blocks from Arts Revive to Broad Street,” said Arts Revive Executive Director Martha Lockett. “If the city wants to include that part of Water Avenue, I think recruiting additional business would be a critical goal. But it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg argument, do you have to get things going first or recruit businesses first?”

Another product of the 2013 Alabama Legislative session could lighten the financial burden for some businesses trying to set up shop in a proposed entertainment district. House Bill 140 provides an income tax credit for the rehabilitation, preservation and development of historic structures. Buildings must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to qualify. Renovations must exceed half of the purchase price or $25,000 whichever is greater.

With the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma approaching, Lockett said the city must act quickly to ensure tourists return to the city after 2015.

“We are going to have people coming from all over, and not just all over the nation either, Europe too,” she said. “You’re mom probably always told you to clean up your room and wash your face before company comes over. Well, I think that applies here; Selma needs to market itself and put on a good face for the world in 2015.”