News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2005


Small town not afraid to finance its growth

"Historic Springville," as the signs say, has 19th century storefronts and homes that lure visitors year-round to catch a glimpse of the past.

Springville is primarily a main-street town unless you count the access roads to Interstate 59, one of which followed the familiar growth of fast-food places and convenience stores.

Town population is 2,500. Its surrounding mountains and valleys are alive with young families and retirees who want to stay close to a big city but enjoy small-town atmosphere.

It's a 30-minute drive north of Birmingham.

The town's challenge is to provide modern shopping and conveniences for those residents and generate revenue without fracturing the quaintness that attracts people.

The solution appears to be the Springville Station development at the other interchange.

Originally, the Shopping Center Group of Alabama bought land for another cookie-cutter, one size fits all development.

The cost to build was to be less than $40 per square foot but went up at least by a third last week when the developer, the town and St. Clair County worked out a deal to finance the increased cost.

Now, the shopping center will be an extension of old Springville with a façade like those of buildings scattered along U.S. 11 in downtown.

Under terms of the agreement, the town and county will reimburse the developer for the added $1.25 million cost, which is to be paid with a portion of the sales taxes businesses at the shopping center generate.

The payback will be 2 cents in sales taxes for a 10-year period. The town will pay 1½ cents and the county ½ cent. Town and county officials think, however, the shopping center will generate enough revenue to pay off the debt in less time, while keeping people from going to Jefferson County to shop.

In the meanwhile, the town and county will benefit from the boost in property taxes associated with the project, and Springville will retain its charm.

You would think that a town of 2,500 might not have something to teach a city of more than 50,000 about development. But it might.

The deal is similar to one that foundered after the change in administrations here last year.

Tricore Partners of Atlanta proposed building a shopping center at Beltline Road and U.S. 31. The proposal was for a Target department store as the anchor in a development of 10 other stores and five restaurants.

When the current City Council and mayor declined to provide $3 million to $5 million in infrastructure incentives, the developer lost interest and wanted to make a deal to put his development at Wilson Morgan Park.

The City Council last week finally gave the mayor permission for a feasibility study on a proposal from a second developer, Cormac Co. of Omaha, Neb., to swap the park for land and new parks farther north on the Beltline. Depending on what the mayor finds, the city might then have a referendum to decide if the park stays at its original location or moves.

While revenue at the two sites might differ, the developer estimates the city would average nearly $700,000 in new sales taxes, $600,000 in utility sales and $5 million in new jobs at the park location.

Based on a similar volume of sales at the U.S. 31 and Beltline Road site, the city could have recouped its investment within a few years.

Meanwhile, we wait and hope the developer understands that Decatur is an extremely conservative city that takes no chances.

And, we hope he is patient.

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