The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Ideas, Little People

Yesterday the Bessemer City Council met in the cramped conference room at City Hall for their planning meeting. Out of that three hours and then some meeting some great ideas arose that have the potential to affect the city in grand ways.

But in the bleachers 10 or 12 seats surrounding the conference table were citizens, some of whom had wanted to address the council on various issues. That doesn’t happen at a planning meeting.

First the big ideas

I  am sharing probabilities of these things actually happening. The probabilities are based on nothing more than my gut feeling.
Amsted Rail is going to be annexed into the City of Bessemer. (Note to City - learn to spell the name of big companies you are recruiting - see Council agenda). Many people already think the plant is in the city limits, but it is not. It’s on county land. Months of tough negotiations took place between the mayor and Amsted officials.

Amsted, which has operations world wide, announced in 2010 that they were going to reopen the plant in Bessemer. Yesterday their representative said the Bessemer plant will be their show case facility.

Amsted in Bessemer will have a $6,000,000 payroll. That means money in the bank for Bessemer.

The annexation into Bessemer will bring approximately $300, 000 in taxes and fees into the city, including over $100,000 that will go to the Bessemer School System.

There was some grumbling about tax abatements and incentives which were the focus of the negotiations.

Note to dissenters – incentives are always a part of business recruitment and it looks like Bessemer did well in this case.

Amsted gets city services such as fire and police protection.

Probability of annexation taking place – 95%

The potential Bessemer Animal Shelter was discussed. A coalition of nonprofits and individuals (me included) have been working toward this since 2001 or before. Animal control is linked to dog fighting and public safety and if this works out, Bessemer will have a showcase facility and our city will become safer and more attractive

Here is an architect (Lance Black) rendering of what a possible transformation of an unused building on Bessemer’s south side could look like.
Here is the empty building today.

This project could see Bessemer partnering with The Foundry and could see Bessemer Animal Control employees receiving valuable training in animal handling and safety through the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

That the proposal was even presented represents a transformation in the city, if you remember just a few years ago, under a different administration, the subject of animal control was considered taboo, and we were not allowed to discuss the issue in front of the council.

This project, in spite of having groundwork laid for years, is in its infancy.

Probability of this animal control project coming to be – 70%

Bessemer needs a new City Hall, and in fact, the current facility is totally unacceptable for a city trying to enhance its image and attract new business and people.

There is a proposal that the city purchase First Presbyterian Church across the street and transform it into a new City Hall that would place the offices for other city services like revenue and licensing all under one roof. Architect Lance Black has suggested replacing the steeple with a clock tower and enclosing the existing courtyard by using architectural features that match that of the church to create a common lobby space for city service offices.

A deal is being brokered between the city, the Industrial Development Board, and the Church, where everyone is a winner and the city has no or few out of pocket costs.

Probability of Bessemer moving across the street into its new city hall – 80%

And it looks like Bessemer will be strengthening its anti-smoking law in an effort to protect employees and patrons of local businesses from second hand smoke. This will be considered on March 6.

Now the grumbling

Residents of Bessemer are tired of the gunfire (especially on New Years Eve), tired of the roaming packs of dogs, tired of the trashy alleyways and tired of dilapidated buildings. While some of these issues were addressed in a peripheral way at yesterday’s meeting, citizens do not feel that their council members or the mayor are listening to their concerns. 

It can be argued that the new animal control facility will help in solving the dog problem, and the annexation will bring in revenue to improve city services, the public does not necessarily see it that way. They want action now.

One possibility was mentioned by Beth Jerome of Habitat for Humanity who was asked to speak on the groups desire to do more work in our city. She said that they have an allotment for property purchase (I believe she said $10,000), and if the owner of a property with a blighted house would donate the property, they could use their allotment to clear the property. Win-win.

More community meetings involving city council members, and including appearances by the mayor, are the answer to some of the citizen unrest. We’ll see if this happens soon, or will they wait until election year?

Probability of City Officials responding to citizen's needs - ?

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