Opinion & Editorial

Downtown dreamin’ on such a lovely day

Florence, Ala., is a lovely little town, part of the “Quad Cities” in the northwest part of the state, minutes to Tennessee above and Mississippi to the west. The other members of the Quad Cities were Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals, known for its rich musical heritage. The Tennessee River literally runs right through the middle of Florence, and the very first dam in the Tennessee Valley Authority system was built there. FDR visited the Florence dam when it was complete, and you still see reproductions of the iconic photo from that event all over town.
The factories and aluminum jobs left the area in the 1990s, leaving it economically depressed; another small town doing its best to rebuild and rebrand itself.
It helped that the University of North Alabama was there. A university community brings its own spirit of reinvention and vision that also benefits local residents.
Another factor that aided in Florence’s recovery was the decision to invest in its downtown. “Historic Florence” is a beautiful mix of apartments and lofts built on top of small businesses – locally-owned, family-owned shops that reflected the values of the community. All with a coordinated look and agreed upon standards, but not carbon copies of each other.
Closer to Creswell, we see what Cottage Grove has done with its historic downtown and how Springfield has revitalized its downtown.
I’ve been invited to participate in a lot of activities since arriving in Creswell, and one of the most interesting was the “Downtown Team” discussion we had last week at City Hall. Maddie Phillips, city planner, led the 90-minute presentation and conversation with various downtown business owners and leaders. It was another gorgeous day outside, and we started this discussion with historic photos of downtown Creswell, where Oregon Avenue was framed by two- and three-story buildings, quaint shops and a bustling roadway.
I thought of Florence, Ala., and its restored, picturesque downtown.
After brainstorming about things like wayfinding signs, public facilities, housing, and consistent standards for roads and parking, I came away most impressed by the people in the room.
The group was tasked with engaging with the community through the next few months in an effort to learn how Creswell’s downtown zone – a 12-block area encompassing Front Street to 3rd Street and A Street to D Street – might be a more vibrant, mix-use destination. (It’s important to know that the railroad crossing is not part of the downtown business zone.) Ultimately, we’ll be making recommendations to the Council.
But all of that is well down the road; these are early days when it comes to The Big Picture of downtown development.
What I know for sure, right now, is that Maddie has done a terrific job putting this team together, and Creswell is fortunate to have these kinds of leaders. Jessica Landstra, Heidi Tunnell, Amy Knudsen, Susan Bennett and David Quigley were there last week, and Jenni Donnelly and Craig Leonard also are on the team.
The institutional knowledge, passion, vision – and honest, straight-talk feedback on the struggles of small-business owners downtown – was on full display.
I’m not sure where this initiative will end up, but I’m excited about being on the journey with these folks and I’m looking forward to engaging with the community on what it wants for the downtown.

Noel Nash is the publisher of The Creswell Chronicle.



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