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Paler to lead Decatur downtown redevelopment

By Eric Fleischauer · 340-2435

The chairman of the board of Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority is now its executive director.

Rick Paler will lead the nine-person board, Vice Chairman John Thornton announced Thursday. He starts in the position Nov. 5.

Thornton said the search committee narrowed the field to six before deciding on Paler.

"Each candidate brought a different skill to the interview," Thornton said, "but Rick was the most complete candidate and by far the candidate that was best suited to hit the ground running and start the process of getting things accomplished in the city of Decatur."

Change of plans

Paler said he had not planned to take the position when the search process began.

"Things change," he said Thursday. "As time went by, it just began to make a lot of sense. I interviewed like everybody else did."

Paler, who came to Decatur in 1979, already has redeveloped some of downtown Decatur. As a commercial developer, he was involved in renovating the buildings that house the Enrichment Center, Maria Bonita restaurant and the West Ellis Investment building on East Moulton Street.

"These were literally derelict buildings," Paler said. "The roofs were barely intact. I cut my teeth on renovating buildings in downtown Decatur. That's where I learned about renovation and what it takes."

He also was involved in renovating the downtown building that now holds Wachovia Bank.

In better shape

Paler said the downtown is in better shape than it was when he renovated the buildings in the 1980s, but much needs to be done.

The first step, he said, is to work with downtown businesses.

"I want us to get a strong relationship with, and an understanding of the needs of, the existing businesses," Paler said. "We need to be attentive to ways we can enhance those businesses."

One of Paler's major goals is to attract a fine arts school, affiliated with Calhoun Community College, to the downtown.

He said the recent donation by Archer Daniels Midland Co. of seven acres, on West Moulton Street just west of the train tracks, fits well into his plans.

"I think that would be an initial project," Paler said. "We could look to bring in some good office space and attract high-tech development, but do it in a park setting that ties Moulton Street and downtown together."

Paler said the DRA board will meet Nov. 14 to establish a timeframe for redevelopment.

Central to Paler's redevelopment plan is Envision Decatur, a 136-page report that embodies the results of a $200,000 study completed in 2004.

One of the recommendations of the report was to form a downtown redevelopment authority with a full-time director.

"Having a director that can focus primarily on downtown redevelopment helps transcend the disruptions that come from changes in city administration," Paler said. "It builds continuity."

In May, the City Council pledged $240,000 over three years to help the DRA get started. The money is to pay $80,000 a year for the director's salary.

"They put their trust in us. They've taken a risk and they want to see us succeed," Paler said. "Now the ball's in our court. It's time to move, to implement plans."

Envision Decatur

Rick Paler, recently named executive director of the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority, said the 2004 “Envision Decatur” report will be central to his agenda. Several of the report’s recommendations already have been accomplished. Among the report’s other recommendations:

  • Establish Uptown Arts District anchored by Princess Theatre.

  • Begin purchasing underutilized downtown properties, including vacant properties on Railroad Street and Westgate Shopping Center.

  • Add directional signage and informational kiosks to help pedestrian and motorist traffic.

  • Create railroad and civil rights museums in the area behind Bank Street.

  • Raze warehouse buildings west of railroad tracks and develop Decatur Commons.

    Eric Fleischauer

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