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Friday, March 24, 2017

Library Responds To Mayor's Takeover Proposal

Fairhope, Alabama

Chairman Lanaux second from right


At the Library Board of Trustees meeting last week (March 13th), chairman Martin Lanaux read a statement formally responding to mayor Wilson's proposal in her FY2017 budget presentation to the city council a week earlier for the city to assume operational control of the library:

"The Board of Trustees does not support the proposal to make the library a department of the city. The library director and members of her staff have been carefully reviewing the draft budget and have found omissions and faulty assumptions; they are preparing a report that we strongly feel will show that making the library a department of the city will offer no savings for the city. The board believes that an independent library board best serves the interests of the community ... ."

Lanaux added that "even if the assumptions were correct, which we feel they are not, the savings being proposed are not worth changing to city control. It needs to be an autonomous and independent entity free from politics best served by a board with the best interests of the library at heart."

(See the full video at the bottom of this page.)


Budget presentation
During her budget presentation to the city council on March 9th, Mayor Wilson calculated the savings if the library were a city department to be about $118K this year -- including an additional $50K the library would keep for "youth and adult material."

The savings would come from eliminating duplication of maintenance and other services, and reduction of various personnel-related expenses, she said.

The Times asked by e-mail for further comments from the mayor and council president Burrell but received no reply.

A majority of the legislative body, the city council, would have to vote to convert the library to a city department. Library Board's are authorized under Alabama law code 11 - 90 - 3 (click).



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Second Fairhope 'Entertainment District' Proposed

Fairhope, Alabama

Nichols Avenue, east of Ingleside Drive


Industrial Board
The city's Industrial Development Board is finalizing a proposal for the city's second "arts and entertainment district" -- for industrially-zoned property generally along and south of Nichols Avenue to "compliment, not compete with" the downtown, according the chairman Bob Gentle.

Gentle envisioned the area as a budget-version of the exiting downtown, targeted primarily for "locals to enjoy," -- but also as an "incubator" for small/micro, start-up businesses which  may want to locate elsewhere someday (downtown?).

"A place for people to start ... without a lot of money ... then move to a permanent location later."

Local artists/crafters (metal, wood, etc.), food and beverage vendors, and "sustainable agriculture" such as weekly farmers markets were mentioned ("not necessarily all retail"): the mini warehouses already there could be an ideal location for such things if that can be worked out with the owner; vacant lots could be used as green space for outdoor activities (pocket parks, a pavilion?).

Another committee member said she had contacted the Downtown Merchants Association and they were "ok with it."

Bob Gentle at left
The successful Fairhope Roasting Company coffee shop and bakery is already there on Nichols: The Fairhope Brewery across Greeno Road would be included in the new district as well.

The possibility of converting the old Mediacom building on Middle Street to class 'A' office space was also mentioned; two interested companies  had to be turned away recently because none exits here, Gentle said.


As a first step, the city would be asked to install sidewalks and street lighting in the area beginning along Nichols Avenue where there are currently gaps; the Single Tax Corporation could be asked for help with funding, according to committee members.
Sherriy-Lea Botop at left

Improvements to the Greeno Road crosswalk and suitable signage will eventually be needed, too.

Local architects were to be approached for a conceptual design (the "overall scope"), and other committee members were working on a mission statement and district logo -- which will be presented to the city council in the near future.

There may be a possibility of obtaining grants for some of the proposals, according to the city's Community Affairs/Economic Director Sherry-Lea Botop.

Numerous other towns and cites have similar Warehouse/Arts Districts, including New Orleans  -- click.

The proposed district is the purple area in the center of the photo below, currently zoned for light industrial use:

North is to right

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Recreation Committee Approves New Volanta Park Plan

Fairhope, Alabama

Landscape architect Joe Comer


The city's Recreation Committee voted unanimously to recommend a new conceptual master plan designed by Joe Comer of Espalier Landscaping for city council approval that will add three baseball fields, add and organize parking spaces, improve traffic flow, and address chronic drainage and erosion issues at the park on N. Greeno Road.

One existing field at the Volanta Avenue entrance will be relocated to provided space for the additional parking (450 spaces) and "drop off hubs" will be incorporated for both football and baseball events, according to Comer.

A 100' tree buffer between adjacent homes will be maintained; the disc golf course will be shifted slightly -- but essentially maintained as it is today.

Rain gardens, bio swales and pervious pavement (pavers?) will be utilized in the new parking lot to minimize stormwater runoff; and the large live oak trees will be saved.

Comer: "Keeping and protecting the trees is important to the project."
Recreation Committee

The dog park will not be affected.

New restrooms and ticket/concession stands will be constructed; the maintenance building will be re-located as well.

Recreation director Tom Kuhl: "It solves a lot of issues. The park was built over decades ... we are fighting drainage issues all the time. This addresses everything we asked for."

If approved by the city council, an engineer will then be hired to draw up detailed plans: the project could be constructed in phases over several years.

Cost was not mentioned; but the Times has heard previous estimates in the range of of $3 - 5 million.

North is to right

North is to right

Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival Underway

Fairhope, Alabama

There was a good turnout for the first day of the arts and crafts festival: the mayor and some council members got a birds-eye view courtesy of a Medstar helicopter, according to VFD sources.

Mike Grout, bike valet 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mayor Proposes City Take Control of Library Operations

Fairhope, Alabama


During her 2017 budget proposal presentation to the city council last week, mayor Wilson proposed the city take control of library operations to save about $118K per year.

Currently, the library is its own entity, separate from the city, governed by a Library Board appointed under state law but funded primarily by city taxpayers through yearly appropriations: it has requested $858K from the city this year.

By bringing it under the city and running it as another department instead, duplication of administrative and other services (ie. janitorial, copier maintenance, etc.) would bring that down to about $586K for a savings of $168K.

Benefits for library employees would improve as well if they joined the general workforce, according to the mayor.

The library would keep all of its current sources of revenue, late-fees, donations from Friend of the Library, etc., (about $75K/year) and she is proposing adding another $50k to that from city coffers this year.


According to liaison Councilman Conyers, the current library board "adamantly opposes" the change; when asked about it by a Times reporter, one board member questioned the city's ability to operate it effectively.

The city owns and maintains the building; the library board supervises operations only.

A library board is needed to qualify for certain state/federal grants as well: about $7K last year.

We asked the mayor, councilmen Burrell and Conyers for further comments but they have yet to respond.

The city council will have to approve any changes.

(Engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills and Caywood is currently evaluating the building's leaking roof, peeling stucco and other chronic issues: repair estimates we have heard range from $300K - 700K. Those are the city's responsibility on top of all other costs.)

2017 Budget presentation

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Fairhope Soccer Complex Opens

Fairhope, Alabama


Mayor Wilson made brief remarks at the opening of the $3.2 million, nine-field soccer complex this morning off Manley Road in east Fairhope.

Construction of the $3.1 million complex began in 2015; but the effort started with the purchase of the land way back in 2009 (click).

A state grant has been applied for to provide funding for additional bleachers and sidewalks.

Mayor Wilson