Historic festivals key to growing Selma’s economy

Published 5:20 pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Every crack and crevice of Selma is chock-full of history. Remnants of the civil war still lay at the bottom of the Alabama River. Participants in the civil rights movement still walk the streets of our city.

But it’s disappointing that Selma isn’t more of a tourist destination for its history.

Occasionally buses stop in Selma for a few hours, only to depart after their passengers visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge, voting rights museum, Old Depot Museum and perhaps even Old Live Oak Cemetery.

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Regardless of their stopping points, visitors are gone within hours after arriving.

Part of the problem is the location of hotel rooms. If more of our hotels were located near our historic landmarks, perhaps more people would choose to remain in Selma more than a few hours. The St. James is in a perfect spot, but its current condition makes staying in a modern hotel more enticing. Sure it has great features, like a bar, dining room and kitchen, but one large tour bus would quickly overflow the available rooms.

A number of hotels sit outside of downtown’s expanse, on Highland Avenue. The hotels offer a familiar, brand name and would probably make a fine weekend stay, yet they are too far from the Selma attractions that matter.

The location of hotels is a minor concern. A larger problem is that tourists aren’t filling our hotels on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s because we aren’t doing our best to make them stay.

The Bridge Crossing Jubilee has done an excellent job of turning Selma’s history into an economic driver. The Battle of Selma also provides a solid source of tax revenue for city government.

Other than our two biggest tourism events, there isn’t much to speak of in the way of tourism — a Demopolis resident visiting Selma is not tourism, or at least not the tourism we should aim for.

If the city intends to capitalize on its history and make tourism a primary economic driver, it isn’t too late. A golden opportunity awaits in 2015 — Bloody Sunday turns 50 and The Battle of Selma turns 150.

Mayor George Evans has already begun doing his part in marketing Selma to Washington lawmakers during President Barrack Obama’s State of the Union Speech.

On Tuesday, during a town hall meeting with Terri Sewell he said 2015 is a rare opportunity for the city of Selma to market itself and he’s right — 2-15 can only be trumped by Selma’s 200th anniversary in 2020 and the next important anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Battle of Selma.

As 2015 approaches, every Selma resident has a responsibility to market Selma.

Unfortunately, our city is not in a condition to market itself. Garbage litters our streets and many of our buildings are abandoned. Many of the buildings in downtown is filled with spare campaign signs and other random garbage instead of being an active retail space.

If those empty buildings could be filled with interesting attractions for tourists, perhaps weekend stays would be more frequent.

The truth is that the world is coming to Selma in 2015. Are we ready?