City announces $1.75M acquisition of downtown Andalusia property

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2020

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The City of Andalusia announced a $1.75 million major acquisition of downtown property that the city plans to develop in public-private partnerships to continue 20 years of work to redevelop the city.

Mayor Earl Johnson and members of the Andalusia City Council formally announced the project on Tuesday at city hall.

This acquisition includes 143,000 square feet of space in 18 mostly-vacant buildings, and approximately six acres of land.

“Our hope in making this acquisition is to find businesses like Big Mike’s, Milky Moo’s and Clark Theatres that would like to be in downtown Andalusia, and to develop public-private partnerships with them,” Mayor Earl Johnson said. “All indications are that this will happen. As rumors of this acquisition have spread, we have already been approached by several developers interested in doing downtown projects.”

Johnson said the acquisition includes some of Andalusia’s most iconic buildings, including the Prestwood Building, which dates back to 1904; the Opera House, where the first silent films were shown in the area in the early 1900s; buildings on Central Street;  the South Cotton Street buildings once known as The Bottom;  and the beautiful L&N Depot built in about 1926.

“This was not a project the council took on lightly, and I want to thank them for being willing to take this bold step to further redevelopment of our downtown,” the mayor said.

City officials have been working with Concordia, a design firm in New Orleans that specializes in community development, to create a plan for the downtown area. The mayor said the architects worked extensively with him and members of the council to incorporate their dreams for downtown in preliminary drawings presented at the announcement. In the future, he said, more input will be sought from Andalusia residents about their dreams for downtown.

Founder of Concordia Steven Bingler was on hand.

Bingler complimented Andalusia saying he had never seen the kind of momentum in any of the small towns he’s previously worked with that he has seen here.

Bingler said that a room of 100 people can give many more perspectives than the smartest person in the room.

He said a seat would be available for everyone who chooses to attend.

The announcement was well received by the business community.

Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chrissie Duffy said it is important for local residents take ownership and interest in transforming the community into a better place for citizens in all economic levels to work, live and play.

“This is our community. We, the people, are responsible for its well-being.  The same could be said for our State and our Country, but it starts right here at home,” she said. “This paradigm shift is the first and most important step in moving forward. When we all take on a sense of ownership, we will truly see how we can effect change.

“Our leaders have a vision of faith and hope that we can come together for the good of our local community by loyally supporting one another,” Duffy said. “We can shop local. We can form partnerships to create new opportunities, fill in the gaps, and create a spark.  We can smooth the way for new entrepreneurs by supporting their ideas and offering mentorship. We can recognize that our small businesses make our communities better and be invested in their well-being.  Perhaps the simplest and most important thing we can do, is we can act as ambassadors for our communities so that others want to invest, live, work, and play here too.”

City Clerk John Thompson, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, said that the acquisition is similar to a large downtown redevelopment project undertaken by the city four years ago.

“Many of you were with us in the Historic Andala Building on Coffee Street when we announced the mayor and city council’s establishment of our entertainment district, and long term leases with Big Mike’s Steak and Seafood and Clark Theaters. The theater Project was made possible by a generous donation of the building by the O’Neal Family. Together, these public – private partnerships with a $2.5 million investment by the Andalusia City Council represented the largest redevelopment in downtown Andalusia in generations,” Thompson said.

“Today, four years on, we can proudly say that these businesses are outpacing expectations and that they are attracting visitors into downtown Andalusia who wouldn’t otherwise come,” he said. “Coupled with Candyland, our Downtown has a new energy! All of this validates the strength of the vast, largely untapped market all around us.”

Thompson said the downtown projects are part of a larger body of work that began 20 years ago when Mayor Johnson first took office.

“He sought to change the culture of Andalusia, to raise expectations, to expand horizons,” Thompson said. “He championed projects that today represent nothing short of an incredible body of work. Without listing them all, consider city hall and the Veteran’s Memorial, sidewalks and lighting on East Three Notch Street, Church Street, River Falls Street, South Three Notch Street, the addition of Springdale to our campus, the Dream Field and Park, the School Projects, all are a body of work or pieces to a puzzle that put us in a position to accept opportunity.”