Moving Foley Forward

Mike Thompson details improvements that have come to downtown

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 1/12/18

This is the first part in an on-going series detailing downtown Foley’s past, present, and future.FOLEY – On Thursday, Jan. 11, the City of Foley presented “Moving Foley …

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Moving Foley Forward

Mike Thompson details improvements that have come to downtown

Posted

This is the first part in an on-going series detailing downtown Foley’s past, present, and future.

FOLEY – On Thursday, Jan. 11, the City of Foley presented “Moving Foley Forward” at the Foley Civic Center. During the event, city officials, Main Street representative Marylon Barkan, and city attorney Chris Conte spoke to the audience about downtown Foley’s past, present, and future: past improvements that the city has seen over the years, present projects that are underway, and future projects that the city is either in the process of bringing to downtown or discussing the possibility of.

Of future projects discussed, two major prospects may be coming to the downtown area: an Entertainment District and Main Street, Alabama.

The Entertainment District designation would allow businesses that have an alcohol license to apply for a specific Entertainment District license, which would mean that customers could go to the establishment, purchase an alcoholic beverage in a special cup, and then walk through the downtown area with the beverage. The Entertainment District proposal is still in the drafting stage, and is being worked on between city officials and city attorneys.

Foley is applying to the Main Street, Alabama program, and will know whether they are chosen come June 2018. There is a competitive application process, but if chosen, Foley would have officials who focused on the downtown area.

“We have a lot of opportunities downtown,” said Foley Mayor John Koniar. “For years and years there’s been different groups that have tried to get the momentum going, but we do think the Main Street program would be a great way to do that. Main Street would give us hopefully somebody who gets up every morning and all they have on their mind is downtown Foley, so that’s one thing that we’re looking forward to.”

To kick off the event was City Administrator Mike Thompson, who gave an overview on projects that have been completed in Foley and their significance to the city and its future growth.

INFRASTRUCTURE

“Improvements over time have happened, day to day, week to week, month to month,” said Thompson. “You get out five, seven, ten years, and unless you sit back and think about where you’ve come from, you kind of lose that. I think it’s important to think about where we’ve come today … We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a lot more to do, but at least we’re on the right track.”

The streetscape program is done each year in the historic downtown district, with approximately $1.8 million spent to date on repaving and striping parking, new parking, landscape beds, antique lighting, etc. The project is on-going, and more streetscape projects will be seen over time.

Many new parking lots have been added to the downtown area over the years: near the pedestrian bridge, along Pine Avenue, and a large lot by the dog park to help accommodate overflow during events.

CONSTRUCTION

“The council has spent a lot of money into downtown to try to improve the look of the area,” Thompson said. “Beyond just streetscape, we’ve added our dog park, done a skate park, done two pocket parks, the pedestrian bridge. In addition to that, we’ve also done about 25 miles of biking, multi-use trails, and sidewalks. Not all within the historic downtown area, but some in historic downtown and then also connecting to residential areas around downtown. And we’ve done the centennial tower in the plaza, which has kind of become an iconic symbol of our downtown.”

Thompson stated the pedestrian bridge is also becoming an iconic symbol of the city, and that the Foley Dog Park brings in visitors regularly.

“The dog park is something I’m really proud of, and I hope people in our community are proud too,” Thompson said. “There are people that come to Foley from adjacent cities because of this dog park, they come here to use our dog park.”

BLIGHT & BEAUTIFICATION

Blight and beautification projects were another topic of discussion, and many have been completed over the years to enhance the downtown area.

“That’s something that’s important to our downtown,” Thompson said. “People come to our community and if it looks nice, it’s attractive, they come in, they look around, and they stay and spend money, so blight and beautification programs are important.”

Landscaping and streetscape are important areas for blight and beautification, which is why a few years ago the city created a Horticulture Department, with a horticulturist and arborist as director. Now, the Horticulture Department grows most of the flowers in the area.

The city has also worked to clean up many areas throughout downtown, and have recently placed photos from the city in the windows of the old Cactus Café building for walkers.

“That’s a historic building, there’s a lot of water running into that building, the owners were not taking care of it,” Thompson said. “We tried to work with them for a number of years and just couldn’t get them to protect the building. So the city used some state law that would allow us to go in and protect it. The city put a new roof on it so the damage would stop, and hopefully we’ll have a developer come in who will like to take on the building and make it a contributing factor to our downtown.”

Recently, the Hamburg building was donated to the city, and in what will be a long-term project the city hopes to restore the building and find a new use for it.

“One of the things we started about four years ago was the façade grant program,” said Thompson. “That’s a program that the city council funds each year, and it’s set up to where business owners and property owners in historic downtown, if they want to do a beautification program on the exterior of their building, new windows, painting, awning, roof repair, etc., they can apply for a historic grant and that grant will pay dollar for dollar up to $5,000 for us and $5,000 for the building owner to improve the external look of those buildings.”

BUSINESS

Thompson said all the improvements have been done to encourage both businesses and shoppers to visit the area, and that you can determine your progress based on the number of new businesses that have come to an area.

“Today I spent about 20 minutes just thinking about the businesses downtown, and how has it changed over the past five or six years,” Thompson said. “I came up with a list of 25 businesses that have come to downtown Foley in that time. I wouldn’t have thought of that number before I started going through it, but we’ve had more than 25 businesses that have invested in our downtown, and I attribute that to the work that we’ve done, the work that the property owners have done to their facilities. A historic downtown in my mind is very similar to a mall, where one business feeds off another business, so the more retail and restaurants that you have in your downtown, the more people are going to come to it and they take advantage of each other’s customers. So we’re trying to get to that economy of scale.”

New businesses are already in the works in the area, with a few that opened recently, from Gypsy Queen Java, Desmond’s Taste of Jamaica, and Mamma Mia Pizzeria. Coming soon will be a new coffee shop, The Drowsy Poet, as well as Yabba’s.

Part 2 in the series, detailing the proposed Entertainment District, will be coming soon.