It would seem that finding anything positive to say about 2020 would be well nigh impossible.
It’s been a disastrous year, with local residents and businesses pummeled by an uncontrolled virus. In Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties, more than 120 have died of COVID-19 and more than 11,000 have been infected. Governmental requirements and prudent personal decisions to stay at home have forced many businesses to close and have left others struggling to survive. Numbers released Friday show that in Morgan County alone, 2,000 people have dropped out of the labor force since a year ago and, of those remaining, 1,000 more people than last year are unemployed.
Yet somehow in the midst of the carnage of 2020, Decatur has shown signs of growth.
While we hesitate to use the word “positive” because this year it more often refers to COVID-19 test results than anything good, there has been plenty of positive news for Decatur.
The most recent good news came Thursday when, thanks in significant part to the efforts of Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the announcement was made that two major state-funded projects will be coming to the city.
Especially exciting is a $15 million dormitory that will be built downtown to house students attending the Alabama Center for the Arts. The dorm — expected to house 70-120 students — could be transformative for the center, allowing it to attract students regionally and even nationally rather than being limited to enrolling students within commuting distance. Just as significant, the project goes a long way in accomplishing the goal of increasing the residential presence downtown.
The same state funding announced Thursday also will mean that the deteriorating and long-vacant Lurleen B. Wallace Developmental Center property on U.S. 31 will be the target of a $28.5 million renovation and will be home to a regional center of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. Plans for the renovated campus are ambitious, and it’s the sort of worthy project that will benefit Decatur’s reputation.
The dormitory is not the only positive news for downtown Decatur. Developers, who have long avoided Decatur, are building apartments and town homes along and near Bank Street. And after decades of stagnant population growth, subdivisions are springing up outside downtown, most notably in the Old River Road Southeast area.
The city faces many challenges. Poverty, exacerbated by the pandemic, is an ongoing problem that separates many from the economic prospects that others enjoy. Pollution from industrial chemicals and a deteriorating sewer system hurts the city’s reputation and presents health hazards, and litter mars the city’s beauty.
Decatur has made impressive advances, however, in a year that has devastated many cities. Once we get past the pandemic, there is every reason to expect impressive growth.