Sewell announces grant funding for Black Belt efforts

Published 2:13 pm Thursday, August 15, 2019

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, announced that the Delta Regional Authority recently awarded $127,877 to Opportunity Alabama, a nonprofit organization that supports investment in newly-established opportunity zones across the state, to bolster its work of rural revitalization and development in opportunity zones across the Black Belt.

The opportunity zones were established by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey as a way to attract investment in “economically distressed” areas of the state by providing investors with tax incentives to invest in low-income and undercapitalized communities – Alabama’s Black Belt is the only region in the state with five consecutive opportunity zones.

“There is nothing more important to me than increasing opportunity across Alabama’s Seventh District,” Sewell said. “That is why I have fought so hard to make the Opportunity Zone program work for areas like the Black Belt, where communities will most benefit from increased opportunity.”

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Sewell stated that she is “thrilled” that Opportunity Alabama was granted the funds, which are necessary to “support investment where it is needed most and ensure that investors are able to take full advantage” of the program.

According to a press release from Sewell’s office, Opportunity Alabama will put the grant money to work by hosting regional strategy development events, creating eligible project pipelines, designing community fact sheets and developing four regional investment prospectuses to promote opportunity zones throughout the region.

“Thanks to this [States’ Economic Development Assistance Program] grant from the Delta Regional Authority, Opportunity Alabama will be able to extend the opportunity zones ecosystem we are building to some of the most distressed parts of our state,” said Opportunity Alabama Founder and CEO Alex Flachsbart. “We see tremendous potential across the Black Belt and we are thrilled that, thanks to Congresswoman Sewell’s support, we will have the resources necessary to bring more projects to market.”

According to Sheryl Smedley, Executive Director of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Information, Flachsbart and Opportunity Alabama have already made their presence known locally, having earlier hosted an information session on the program at no cost to the city.

For her part, Smedley said Flachsbart is “sincere” about securing investment in the area.

“We’ve been working diligently to find properties and create a viable project,” Smedley said. “I believe it’s just a matter of landing the right project.”

Positive indicators are on the horizon, Smedley said, as investors are already being attracted to downtown Selma on word that the historic St. James Hotel is being renovated and will reopen under the Hilton umbrella.