Council takes ‘first step’ to downtown hotel

Published 2:00 pm Friday, January 7, 2022

The Andalusia City Council on Tuesday approved to enter into a development agreement with the goal of bringing a hotel to the city’s downtown. The council also approved to move forward on a grant application that would help fund a grand entrance into Andalusia High School from Hwy. 29.

The first course of action involving the hotel involved declaring as surplus the Timmerman Building, known locally as First National Bank Building, as well as the top two floors of the Andala Building, the building where Big Mike’s Steakhouse is located. The property must be declared surplus before it can be sold or leased.

The property was declared surplus by unanimous vote of the council, which then discussed passing a development agreement resolution, which will involve the City of Andalusia, Covington County, the Capital Improvement Cooperative District, Big Mike’s, and Wood Properties, which will develop the boutique hotel.

The agreement calls for a limited lodging tax rebate and property tax abatement for the development, which city officials said would make the project viable.

“We’ve been working with the developer for two years and comes to us through Big Mike’s,” said City Clerk John Thompson. “This resolution authorizes us to enter into a development agreement with the other parties and start the project. This does not mean the project is done; it is only the beginning of the project.”

The Covington County Commission will also consider approval of the lodging tax rebate and property tax abatement possibly during its Jan. 11 meeting.

“At that time, the developer could move forward working with architects and finalize financing. This action tonight begins the process,” Thompson said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the development agreement resolution.

“These are just the first steps toward making this dream a reality,” said Mayor Earl Johnson. “The resolution authorizes us to enter into the project with the other parties, but it does not mean the project is done. The next key step is for the Covington County Commission to also approve a similar resolution.”

The development agreement calls for all parties to sign off on the final architectural design so that the exterior appearance will be in keeping with the historical character of the downtown area. The hotel will be branded with a nationally-known company.

“This is one of the biggest things to happen in Andalusia in many years,” Johnson said. “We were so fortunate to announce last year the repurposing of the Prestwood Building in a partnership agreement with CDG Engineering and Associates.

“That agreement, coupled with this new one, will address two of our oldest structures that have been sitting mostly empty for years,” he said. “It will also bring a much-needed asset to downtown – a first-class hotel. With these votes tonight, the council has shown that it is behind the projects, 110 percent. Although there is still work to get done, you have helped put the project on the road to success.”

Also during the meeting, the council approved applying for a Rebuild Alabama Act grant to help fund a “grand entrance” leading to the Andalusia High School campus, off of the north bypass.

Troy Hudson, president of Southern Engineering Solutions, presented a proposed plan to the council that involved constructing a double entrance and exit with a median from Henderson Street onto the bypass or MLK Expressway. The plan calls for drainage and resurfacing improvements of Henderson Street, along with the high school campus as well as other intersection upgrades such as lighting.

The total cost of the projected is estimated at about $559,000. If the city is successful in its application for the RAA grant, that could provide $250,000 toward the costs with local funds needed for the remaining $309,000.

The council voted unanimously to move forward with the RAA grant application. This marks the second time the city has applied for the grant and officials hope some of the changes to the plan will increase the city’s chance of being awarded the funds.

In other action:

• The council approved the extension of a pandemic leave policy for employees who may have to miss time due to COVID-related illness.

• The council approved litter and junk abatements for two properties: 607 Riley St. and 629 Watson St.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 18, 6 p.m., at city hall. A work session precedes the meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the upstairs conference room. The public is invited to attend.