Opp working to improve downtown area

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Opp City Council is pursuing a $40,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to continue a downtown revitalization project that will address appearance, parking and the use of landmarks in the downtown area.

In a public hearing prior to Monday’s council meeting, Scott Farmer of the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission presented a tentative plan, calling it a “living document” that could change as necessary to fit the city’s needs.

The plan’s overall goal is to create an attractive downtown area in which pedestrians can stroll through town and take advantage of local businesses.

The first objective of the plan includes improving and sustaining the attractiveness of downtown, which includes improving and maintaining infrastructure – a step the city has already begun with its streetscapes project on East Covington Avenue that includes moving the utility lines underground.

In addition, the plan calls for improvements to sidewalks to make them more accessible and attractive, while incorporating period street lighting and landscaping.

The sidewalk improvements go hand-in-hand with the goal of increasing pedestrian access, and Mayor H.D. Edgar said he has a vision for the downtown area to do just that.

“In order to have the atmosphere, like I see it, we will need to have four-way stops to slow down the traffic a lot, so that people can walk around and cross the street,” he said.

The city is currently in the process of organizing a traffic study on East Covington Avenue to get a four-way stop put in.

Farmer said a long-term portion of the project would make Main Street a “boulevard.”

“Since Main Street is now locally maintained and the Bypass will convey through truck traffic, the city should study altering it with priority in the downtown area to reflect the new character of the corridor and its reflection as a gateway into downtown Opp,” Farmer said.

In addition, the plan calls for increased parking efficiency.

Farmer suggested the front parking be for those who needed to run in and run out of the business, but for the city have the means to encourage people to park in one location and be able to walk throughout the area.

In order to do this, Farmer suggested the city prioritize short-term parking for customers along the downtown streets, while promoting the off-street parking areas along West Hart Avenue and off from Whaley Street as mid-term parking and parking for employees.

Farmer also suggested the city redesign its parking lots so that more vegetation could be incorporated to help beautify the area.

The plan also includes utilizing the Depot, which is a landmark for the city.

But all these improvements would be no good without the local merchants in the downtown business district, Farmer said, going so far as to suggest that local businesses expand hours for one or two days per week.

“This will help because families have changed, and in most families, both parents work,” he said. “Currently, there is little incentive for people to return to downtown in the evenings, since there are very few opportunities to engage in commercial or civic activities.”

In conjunction with the expanded business hours, Farmer suggested the city schedule special activities downtown to go beyond Opp Fest, community yard sale, barbecue and Rattlesnake Rodeo.

If awarded, the CDBG grant funds will be used in conjunction with other grant and stimulus funds to enhance the downtown.