Public investment in Sixth Avenue from the southern end of the river bridge to Delano Park could spur owners of unattractive properties to either improve their properties or sell them, according to a Decatur business leader, and a study to be funded in large part by an $80,000 state grant could guide those investments.
“If we do our part as a community in the public areas and the rights of way and so on, it will create an atmosphere to get folks to do other things,” said John Seymour of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. “Some of those businesses might upgrade their landscaping or paint their buildings or do something that will enhance it.”
State Sen. Arthur Orr assisted the city in securing $80,000 from the Alabama Department of Transportation for a $100,000 study of the corridor to be performed by Birmingham-based Volkert Inc. The Decatur City Council will have to vote on how much it is willing to spend, but Director of Development Wally Terry said Thursday he expects the city to pitch in $5,000. The rest, Terry said, will likely come from organizations such as the chamber’s Decatur Corridor Development Committee, Decatur Morgan County Tourism and the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority.
“The overall, current appearance of these first city blocks as one enters from the north does not create a positive image of Decatur,” Orr said. “Hopefully, beginning this process with an expert plan will change future impressions as the plan is executed.”
Volkert’s proposal for the project lays out several goals:
• Address the appearance of the corridor to create a positive impression,
• Design street improvements that work with surrounding land uses,
• Improve pedestrian access, and
• Improve downtown mobility for all users.
In addition to developing plans to assist in transportation along the corridor, Volkert’s proposal said it will focus on “gateway features including signage and monuments, to welcome motorists to the city,” and will develop streetscape concepts.
Seymour said he expects signage proposals would include directional signs pointing to Bank Street.
The proposal also says Volkert will develop designs that facilitate more efficient access to and between private properties, such as driveway consolidation, and “traffic calming strategies” such as crosswalks, planted medians and bus pullouts.
"This is not just about beautification, although we hope that will be part of it," Terry said. "We hope this planning study helps us update Sixth Avenue with multiple projects over time, to freshen it up."
Improving entranceways to the city was a focus of the One Decatur comprehensive plan developed last year and the Envision Decatur plan developed in 2009.
“That corridor is like the foyer to your home; it’s the gateway to our city,” Mayor Tab Bowling said. “Long before One Decatur, we knew as a community that there was a need to make improvements to Sixth Avenue.”
Seymour said he gets regular reminders from visitors of the need for improvement along the corridor.
“We have talked to a number of developers that we’ve had in here for commercial and residential development, and they all indicated to me that one of their concerns about our being attractive is the entrance to the city, coming across the bridge. We get a lot of people coming into the city from the airport or coming off (Interstate) 65, and when they come through they don’t get a good first impression,” Seymour said.
In its proposal, Volkert said it will hold two public meetings to solicit input from residents on Sixth Avenue improvements.