Local mayors look ahead to 2020

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Calendar year 2019 saw sustained progress for the cities of West Point, Lanett and Valley and more good things appear in store for the three local towns in 2020.

Highlights in West Point include the announcements of two new truck stops off I-85, visible progress on the redevelopment of the Tenth Street corridor, strong business activity in the downtown section and the tenth anniversary of the start-up of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia.

There’s a whole lot going on in West Point for a town of only around 3,500 people.

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“For a town our size, we have more going on than any similar-sized city in the Southeast if not the U.S,” said Mayor Steve Tramell. “And, we have tremendous potential for continued growth. It’s not going to stop anytime soon.”

Located off Kia Boulevard just off Exit 6 on I-85, the Circle K Truck Stop is well under development and should be open by March 2020. A Love’s Truck Stop is planned for Exit 2 but will likely take a couple of years to come to fruition. Development is being held up by the Georgia Department of Transportation putting in three roundabouts on Georgia Highway 18, two of them at Exit 2 and another at the junction of Highways 18 and 103.

Tramell said there’s a learning curve involved in motorists getting used to roundabouts but once they do it will be much safer for them.

“Roundabouts have been shown to greatly reduce highway fatalities,” he said. “You won’t get T-boned at them. At worst, you can get clipped on the corner.”

Plans are for the new roundabouts to be going in in 2021. Love’s construction will be taking place at the same time.

Enrollment is continuing to grow at Point University. That’s very helpful to the city, particularly for the downtown district.

Across the state line in Lanett, Mayor Kyle McCoy welcomed a big new store to the city in 2019. Tractor Supply opened on the south end of the Lanett Mill site on Saturday, Dec. 19, which was Bicentennial Day in Alabama. The opening of anything new on that site was unimaginable in December 2018. This dramatic turnabout happened because the city was able to purchase the site this past spring and to do an amazing job in cleaning up the site in a short period of time. City employees put in some long hours over the spring and summer to make portions of the site suitable for redevelopment. Lanett got an important helping hand from the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA) and the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority (AMEA) in being able to acquire the site.

Before year’s end, the city and the AMEA collaborated on building a solar test site on the north end of the former mill site.

Lanett completed Phase III of the downtown streetscape in 2019 and is poised to get started on Phase IV in 2020. There’s a new fountain in the downtown area, and the streetscape look of wider sidewalks, small trees and shrubs, benches and decorative lighting now extends from the downtown area to Cherry Drive on the west side of Lanier Avenue. Phase IV will see these improvements on the east side of North Lanier, running from Cherry Drive to the Tanyard Creek bridge.

A current major project for the city is the expansion of the Lanett Municipal Airport. The runway has been lengthened from 3,100 feet to over 4,400 feet with the next phase to lengthen it to more than 5,400 feet. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant of $8.1 million is covering the cost. When completed, the Lanett airport will have a longer runway than the airport in Auburn, making it one of the biggest in east Alabama.

“A year ago, we were excited about the way things had gone for us in 2018,” McCoy said. “We were pleased with the way things were going with the streetscape and with the airport, but we had no idea about what we’d get done at the mill site. At that time, we had no control over what went on there. Being able to purchase the site was huge. We can now control our destiny and define ourselves. For years, we got so many complaints about the mill property and its appearance. We were being defined by something we didn’t own and had no control over. We own it now and can define ourselves.”

The mayor said he wanted to commend city employees for the work they’ve done in cleaning up the site.

“They’ve done so much to get us to the point we are right now,” he said. “The public has had a big part in this, too. I know it’s an unintended consequence, but it does mean a lot to our guys on the worksite when people driving by see them at work and blow their car horns. It lets them know people appreciate what they are doing and helps keep them going. They know that what they are doing is not just for Lanett. It’s something that helps the entire area.”

The City of Valley is continuing to clear an estimated 1,150 acres it has purchased in recent years for possible redevelopment for new industry or business. One big new industry, John Soules Foods, is on the way. The Tyler, Texas-based chicken and beef cutting, seasoning and packaging company is looking to a start-up date in mid-2021. The company will be employing more than 200 people when it goes into production with its first line. Two more lines will be added over the next year or so to boost employment to more than 500 people.

The city-owned industrial park has two new businesses. WestRock has a distribution center for the products it manufactures across the interstate in the Huguley Industrial Park. The impressive, 375,000-square-foot building is close to storage capacity already. No doubt business is booming for the company.

The second business, Four Star Freightliner, will be opening in the near future. The truck sales, maintenance and repair business can be clearly seen from I-85 just off the Lanier-Carter site.

Valley has done some major street paving in the last few years. This will continue in the coming years with the resurfacing of Valley Industrial Boulevard, which runs behind the Lanier-Carter buildings being the top priority for 2020.

In terms of sales tax collections, the city had one of its best years ever in 2019. Continued infrastructure improvements is one of the city’s top priorities from the revenue growth it is seeing.

Mayor Leonard Riley is very proud of a rating the city received this past year from 24/7 Wall Street, which rated Valley the No. 1 city in the state in terms of affordability and location.

“It’s good to see our industrial park growing with the additions of the WestRock distribution center and Four Star Freightliner,” the mayor said. “We had 14 new retail businesses open in 2019, including Jack’s. We are planning on doing $1 million in paving work this coming year. We will have a 750,000-gallon water storage tank going up off Fairfax Bypass. It will increase water pressure and water volume in our industrial park.”