Partnerships are ‘grand slam homerun,’ mayor says

Published 1:23 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mayor Earl Johnson, right, talks with Bill Hamiter and Lester O’Neal about plans for downtown.

Mayor Earl Johnson, right, talks with Bill Hamiter and Lester O’Neal about plans for downtown.

Mayor Earl Johnson called the downtown redevelopment projects announced Tuesday the biggest things to happen to the downtown area outside of infrastructure improvements in decades.

Johnson announced a new restaurant, Big Mike’s Steakhouse, planned for the Andala building, as well as a major renovation of Clark Theatre.

Both projects involve public-private partnerships, the mayor said.

The O’Neal family donated the theater building to the city, which also owns the Andala building. City officials have been working with RLS Design Group of Birmingham for planned improvements to the facilities, on which the city expects to spend just less than $2 million.

Agreements already inked with owners of the two businesses will generate revenue to pay the debt service on the investment, the mayor said.

An improved theater and additional restaurants are the two things local residents most often say they want for the city, Johnson said.

“If the people of Andalusia use it as they say they will, and it also brings folks in from the outside who support our other businesses, it’s a win-win-win for the entire community,” he said.

He described the two projects together as a “grand slam homerun.”

Owners of existing downtown businesses also were excited about the announcement.

Vicki Popwell’s photography studios have been located downtown for 26 years.

“This is what we’ve wanted for so long,” she said, adding that the restaurant will appeal to her clients who travel from out-of-town to have portraits done. “This is what they’re looking for.”

But the projects also are personally important, she said.

“We take our grandchildren to the movies in Greenville or Crestview or Destin,” she said. “And we always see Andalusia people. This is great for our family.”

Ward and Co. owner Mike Ward also welcomed the news.

“If the theater weren’t here, downtown would be over,” he said.

The projects are expected to be completed by late spring.