Construction projects could change face of small-town Atmore
Top photo, the new Starbuck’s at Wind Creek; bottom ACH’s new primary care facility
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore was still mostly a sleepy little town off Interstate 65 until just a few months ago. It is now host to an unprecedented spurt of business and industrial growth, one that has become the envy of other small cities and towns in Alabama.
Dirt is being dug, moved and tamped all over the city in preparation for new buildings. Several projects will soon be coming off the drawing boards, and one is already nearing completion.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Tucson Roberts, who was hired two years ago to recruit retail businesses and industry for the City of Atmore. “This is really a good time for us, and I’m more upbeat about Atmore than I’ve ever been in the two years I’ve been here.”
There are numerous reasons for the upbeat feeling. More than $90 million in capital investment projects are already under way, with others nearing their start dates. One, the new $1 million city public works building, is in the final stages of construction.
Among the buildings for which site work is ongoing are the new Coastal Growers peanut shelling plant ($84 million) and a new headquarters for West Escambia Utilities ($1.28 million). The imminent restoration of the Strand Theatre and renovation of the former Atmore Hardware Store building represent another $3.6 million investment.
Pride of Atmore’s Bub Gideons said an increase in the cost of construction materials — a factor in several projects — has caused a one-month extension of the projected completion date, from February 2022 to March 2022.
The theater-hardware store project is the lynchpin of a downtown revitalization effort that is also picking up steam as numerous small shops continue to open along Main Street.
Four new restaurants are being built. Café 251 and Cajun Boiling Pot are in the final stages of construction. Site prep is nearing completion for a new Jack’s restaurant, and a new Starbuck’s that will be the coffee company’s only venue between Montgomery and Mobile is expected to open in the summer at Wind Creek Atmore.
Chris Adams of Mississippi-based Advance Building Specialists, who is supervising construction of the Jack’s eatery, said the actual building construction should begin in two weeks, with a 90-day target date for completion.
On the medical front, a new hospital is still in the works, a primary care facility opened recently near Atmore Community Hospital, and ground has been broken for an urgent care center near the site where the hospital will be located.
Roberts said the biggest game-changer will be the “super prison” that was formally approved this week by Gov. Kay Ivey.
“The prison staff will go from 200 employees to 600,” he said. “That’s a huge jump. The construction cost is supposed to be around $350 million to $400 million. That’s big.”
The city is also in the preliminary stages of building a multi-purpose center at the corner of Ridgeley and Trammel streets. That facility will be home to the local Farmers Market and will have public restrooms, a gazebo that will have electricity for musical and other events, and a community garden.
Attempts to get the ball rolling on many of the projects met with only nominal support in the beginning, then everything exploded.
“I was very frustrated for about six months or so,” Roberts said. “Attitudes were good, but people weren’t very enthusiastic. Then it was kind of like dominoes — one fell, then pop, pop, pop, they all started. Usually, if you get one out of every eight or 10 projects, you’re doing really good. I’ve been doing economic development all my life, and this one’s roaring.”
He pointed out that most small towns and cities would gladly change places with Atmore, which now appears to have an exceedingly bright future.
“This town is fixing to change, if we can keep up the momentum,” he said. “It’s much easier to sustain momentum than to get it going, so we’re going to try and make hay while the sun shines. If you look at the statistics, most small towns are declining. This one is going to pop. And this is just the beginning of it.”