Andalusia Mayor reflects on 2020

Published 7:54 pm Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson, who was elected to a historic fifth term without opposition this year, said 2020 had bright spots, despite its challenges, and expects better things in 2021.

“As we come to the end of what has been for many a very tough year, I don’t think Americans have ever been more anxious to start a new year than they are now.

“Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, 2020 had some high spots for the City of Andalusia. In January, we were able to close on 143,000 square feet of space in 18 mostly-vacant buildings in our historic downtown. We announced the acquisition on March 10 – just three days before the first announcements of closings in Alabama in the wake of the coronavirus.

“We were able to work out an agreement with Andy Gibson and Draftstone Properties to renovate the building commonly known as the Opera House, and are very pleased that his first tenant opened there in December. He has further renovations planned, and a waiting list for the apartments that will be developed upstairs.

“Across the street from him, Lee and Debbie Williams were inspired to renovate the old Brunson Bakery and will open the Bluebird Coffee Co. next week.

“Michael and Shaun Jackson set opening week records when they opened the new Firehouse Subs. The pandemic delayed announcements of agreements they have at Covington Mall, but we expect those to be announced soon.

“It is good to see local people investing in our community, and these are all examples of just that: People who live in Andalusia, believe in Andalusia, and are helping us grow.”

As Johnson looks ahead, he said he is hopeful for a return to more normalized patterns in the community.

“As we look ahead to 2021, we are anxiously awaiting the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, first, for our first responders who will begin receiving them this week, and then for others in our community. Once we get through January, when the virus is expected to surge, and begin to get people in the general population vaccinated, we are hopeful for a return to more normalized patterns in our community.

“Carlisle Corp. has come out of the ground with the foundation for the new Wendy’s, and we expect it to open near the end of the first quarter of 2021.

“For much of 2020, we worked on upgrading an existing spec building in our industrial park for Covington Casket. That project also is nearing completion, and they should have all of their operation moved there by the end of the first quarter.

“Another project begun in 2020 that should be completed early in 2021 was the construction of the first house in our new Garden District in the Church Street School area. The City of Andalusia has partnered with Hila Gatewood of Gatewood and Sons to develop the garden district housing. The plan calls for renovation of some homes, as well as construction of new ones designed to blend in older neighborhoods. All will be part of a neighborhood association that sets standards for landscaping and maintenance.

“Out at Johnson Park our crews have been working on the installation of our new splash pad, which will open when it gets a little bit warmer this spring.

“Very soon, we’ll begin working on the new parking lot downtown at the former Brooks Hardware site, and we expect to have that done by the end of the first quarter. This project is critically important for the redevelopment of our downtown.

“We also expect to announce three new contracts for space in our historic downtown by the end of the first quarter, and are continuing to negotiate with others interested in downtown redevelopment. We also are seeking grant funding to add bike lanes to East Three Notch, which will make our downtown safer and more livable.”

In 2021, Johnson said they will continue to work in partnership with other municipalities and county governments to develop a rails to trails project. We have taken the first steps to put a coalition together, and continue to negotiate with the railroad to acquire the property.

“There was good news for much of Alabama in the spending package President Trump signed into law on Sunday, and specifically for the Wiregrass. The package included $1.2 billion for flight training at Fort Rucker, which means their helicopters will continue to land and refuel in Andalusia, which is important for the South Alabama Regional Airport Authority. I cannot overstate the importance of the airport and the industries surrounding it to the economic health of our community.

“Like most other Americans, I am looking forward to 2021, and believe it will be another good year for Andalusia.”