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City awarded economic stimulus funding

Delta Regional Authority officials announced last week that Atmore was one of 16 applicants in the arts and cultural sectors of the Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt who were awarded a share of $309,000 to stimulate economic and community development efforts.

The announcement was especially sweet for Atmore, one of 300 communities to apply for a Creative Placemaking Investment, since the city is not located in either of the targeted regions.

“They’ve never been this far south before,” said Bub Gideons, who chairs the Pride of Atmore Committee. “They’ve never been out of the Black Belt (as far as Alabama funding assistance); it’s usually Eufaula, Tuskegee, Selma and all the Black Belt counties. We’re really not Black Belt; we’re Coastal. But we asked to be included because if you take our diversity, our makeup and our level of poverty, we’re like the Black Belt.”

The grants are designed to strengthen local economies in DRA’s eight-state region through enhancement of arts and culture and improvement in quality of life. Eufaula was the only other Alabama community awarded a grant. The other 14 went to cities or town in Arkansas (2); Illinois (2); Kentucky (2); Louisiana (3); Mississippi (2); Missouri (1), and Tennessee (2).

According to a press release issued October 11, Delta Regional Authorities will invest $15,000 in a $35,000 effort that, according to the DRA press release, is designed to revitalize the historic Strand Theatre.

But, Gideons pointed out, that project is expected to serve as a springboard for an effort to pump new life into the city’s entire downtown area.

“It does say that, but it’s not just for the Strand,” he said. “You have to have a stated purpose (when applying), but we’re doing a master plan for a lot of things.

We explained to them that what we’re really trying to do is expand to other buildings, things that will complement the Strand. Pride of Atmore doesn’t have to own (the theater); as a matter of fact, we’d rather not.

“We want to see downtown fully functioning independently. We want to expand the Strand’s capacity and preserve its historical nature. Doing the Strand and an adjacent building first will turn all of downtown around.”

The grant money will be used to procure the services of a professional planner, who will work with Pride of Atmore and city officials to develop and implement a master plan for the Strand revitalization project that will be designed to “achieve financial stability, develop new programming and encourage community engagement.”

Gideons said the master plan would not be finalized until those working on development of the plan talk with “the entire community, from high school students to senior citizens to business people.”

He reiterated that the effort goes beyond the historic theater.

“Pride of Atmore is an umbrella group whose goal is to preserve while revitalizing downtown Atmore, Alabama,” said the committee chair. “It’s not just putting a new facade on the Strand to make it look good, then leaving. We’re going to do a master plan that will affect all of downtown. This is revitalizing, re-invigorating, bringing people back.”