Hanceville residents plan, brainstorm ideas for downtown improvements


Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail, right, participates in the community planning activity Thursday evening. (Heather Mann for The Tribune)

HANCEVILLE – Residents of Hanceville came out to the civic center Thursday evening to help Main Street Alabama and the North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG) brainstorm ideas for developing and improving Hanceville’s downtown area.

The first half-hour of the meeting was an overview of helpful actions and resources for the development process. Trisha Black, field services specialist for Main Street Alabama, delivered the presentation, which could be broken into two main parts: preparation steps to development, and resources available to help.

The preparation section was fairly straightforward: 

-set up a place where potential business owners can get all the necessary information at once

-make information about newly-opened businesses readily available

-take inventory of the buildings around town and let people know which of those are available

-have an application process to get a zoning compliance certificate and have code teams ready to inspect buildings for violations

-have maps of boundaries and FEMA flood areas ready

-have information about utilities (what is or isn’t hooked up, where the connections are, who to talk to about problems) readily available

-understand the applicable state building codes and develop according to their specifications

The resources Black listed were mostly financial grants and loans for helping development, but she also discussed connections to other development groups who can help and ways to research an area’s market. On the financial side, cities can apply for loans with NARCOG or work with Alabama Saves to make a property more energy-efficient; Hanceville used the first option to help finance a fire station. Cities with areas listed on the National Register of Historic Places can also be eligible for state and federal tax credits. On the connection side, cities can work with organizations like the Alabama Committee of Excellence (ACE), the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM),or Design Alabama to help with development, and future business owners can look up an area’s demographics on sites like www.esri.com/data/tapestry/zip-lookup to figure out what would be popular in the market.

NARCOG’s Joey Hester led the group in a few community brainstorming activities. The first was a simple five-minute session where audience members listed words that they wanted to apply to the downtown area post-development. Some words were solid plans (bike racks, shopping opportunities, housing, good parking) and others were more abstract ideas (stylish, destination, busy, unique personality), but they all represented a hopeful vision of an even better downtown Hanceville.

The second, longer activity was more hands-on: visitors could gather around maps of the downtown area and plan out what they think the town should look like. While some ideas were shared by many of the visitors, no two maps were the same. One proposed using the large empty field near the fire station as a public garden while another suggested moving city hall there. One map included several new retail outlets and a hotel for visitors to Wallace State Community College or the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, another added spots for free food-pantry cabinets and proposed using two large buildings for shopping centers.

Hester said there will be another development meeting planned for June, in which he hopes to present some maps drawn up based on the ideas gathered.

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