City should pursue Sixth Avenue redevelopment plan
Beltline Road, Sixth Avenue and Alabama 20.
Because of the high volume of traffic flowing along Decatur's main thoroughfares, all three are prime corridors for commercial development.
Yet the city soon faces some tough decisions about a proposal to build a first-class, 536,000-square-foot shopping center at the current site of popular Wilson Morgan Park on the Beltline. Why did the developer choose the park site? Because large tracts of vacant land needed for such a development are becoming scarce along the Beltline. In fact, developers say, they no longer exist there.
Similarly, a variety of businesses exist up and down Sixth Avenue.
The city is fortunate to have such a problem. Developers continue to show interest in Decatur — a second new Walgreens within a year is the most recently announced addition.
The city is at a crossroads. Unlike the Beltline and Sixth Avenue, Alabama 20 is wide open and ready to explode with development. Multi-million dollar proposals are already on the table.
But does the city want to limit future expansion to the other side of the river, or is there a way to continue to develop in the city proper, making shopping more convenient for city residents?
City planners unveiled a plan Tuesday to create a redevelopment district along the Sixth Avenue corridor. The proposal is designed to eliminate traffic congestion by encouraging larger-tract development in an area bounded roughly by Sixth Avenue and the railroad tracks on the east and west, and Fourth and 14th streets on the north and south.
Through the years, development in the targeted area has become piecemeal. As businesses have opened and closed, vacancies have occurred, but the smaller lot sizes limit development potential to only businesses that can fit in the existing spaces. Many existing businesses are in older buildings that have seen several tenants come and go. Some are in the many small strip-type malls, each containing up to a half-dozen businesses related only by the proprietors' common landlords.
The redevelopment plan is the city's best chance at improving shopping in the city proper. We can see a day in the not-too-distant future when older buildings along entire blocks between Sixth and Fourth avenues, for example, are razed to make way for large developments with ample parking, convenient ingress and egress and room for new as well as the existing businesses.
Decatur should carefully consider the Sixth Avenue redevelopment plan, listen to the suggestions of current neighborhood tenants, and adopt the changes needed to make the corridor more friendly to both developers and shoppers.