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Downtown historic commission possible

At the council meeting, from left, Larry Wettermark, Herb Hackman, Foster Kizer

News Staff Writer

The agenda for the Monday, June 11, Atmore City Council meeting contained only two business items, but the discussion and debate created by one of them took up the majority of the half-hour session.
Foster Kizer, executive director of Pride of Atmore Committee, and Herb Hackman, president of the Atmore Historical Society, requested that the council create a downtown historic commission, which would in turn designate an all-inclusive geographic area as a downtown historic district.
Kizer told the four council members present (District 3’s Chris Walker was unable to attend) that the groundwork for such a commission and district was laid several years ago, when a similar effort failed, and had only to be tweaked a little to restore its relevance and its importance to economic development within the city.
“We already have people who have volunteered to serve on the commission; we have people from the historical office in Montgomery who are willing to come back and address this again,” he said. “This is for economic development. It’s only going to help the city, and it will help us get postured for economic tax credits, from the state and federal [governments].”
He told the council that the tax credits — for building owners who renovate their properties — ranged upward to 45 percent of the cost of such a renovation, and that the person who obtains the credits can use them against any tax debt or sell them to banks or others who might want or need them.
“We want you to establish the commission, and I will be glad to take it from there,” he said. “It’s a very, very important thing I’m asking you to do, and it’s very important for helping to continue with economic development. We have the momentum; we want to keep it going.”
Hackman said those working toward the historic commission and downtown historic district — which would include Main Street from Church to Ridgeley streets, and one block off Main on each side — “have got people waiting for this district to be established so they can apply for these tax credits.”
City Attorney Larry Wettermark provided an overview of the requirements for establishing an ordinance that creates the seven-member commission and the historic district.
He cautioned council members that such a creation would basically be a three-party agreement between the new commission, the city and the state, although the National Park Service would also have to give approval if a historic district is formed. He recommended that at least one public meeting be held before any such ordinance is drafted.
Mayor Jim Staff said the request should be put on the back burner, at least until a meeting is held of all the business owners who would be included in it.
“I tell you, I think we’ll table this for now and take it under advisement,” the mayor said. “If we have a public meeting of all the business owners downtown, see if they’re for it and get their signatures … Before we go too far, I think we need to do that.”
Kizer took exception to Staff’s semantics, saying they gave off a negative connotation.
“I hate the word ‘tabling’ because to me it means the same that has happened before, that it’s never going to happen,” he replied. “If it’s not going to happen, I don’t want to waste my time or other people’s time.”
The mayor told him that he misunderstood the reason for wanting to make sure the proverbial cart wasn’t put before the horse.
“That’s what I’m saying, that we ought to try and get everybody on board first,” Staff said. “We need to tell them that this is what they’ve got to do, this is what it takes to qualify, this is what it’s going to cost, then sign them up. I’m not trying to kick it down the road, I’m just trying to make sure we do it right. Let’s get this out in front of everybody to start with.”
As far as the other agenda item, the council approved a request from Don Taylor to use Houston Avery Park for the annual “Christmas in the Park” event that is scheduled for December 15.


News photo by Don Fletcher