Island committee still weighing options

September 12, 2013 10:10:28 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Committee members selected to brainstorm economic development ideas for the Island are forming a clearer picture of how to proceed, but they also want to hear from the public.  


A portion of the committee met Wednesday morning for the first time since July to organize a public hearing. 


A hearing date has not been set. But the consensus is that the most likely way to gain traction on revitalizing the Island is to start with the seven acres of county-owned land near old Highway 82 bridge. The landmark, itself under renovation, is scheduled to re-open next month. 


Another point members agreed on: mixed-use is the way to go.  


Tony Carley, who owns property near the Tennessee-Tombigbee River waterfront, said he and a former business partner hoped to build condominiums there when the two purchased the land six years ago. The partner ultimately passed his stake to Carley, who still wants to see that vision realized and believes having more people living there is crucial to revitalization. 


"The original intention was to put condos over there," he said. "It went as far as the developers actually coming and looking at the property and drawing a plan out. It was called River Dreams. It was like a dream. ... It was just beautiful." 


As a property owner on the committee, Carley said he's received a great deal of input from the community on what should happen. The two most common suggestions, he said, were an amusement/water park and a second entrance into the Island. 


"Carrying the road all the way through like it used to be, in talking to the public as we go along ... that's something that they would love to see," he said. 


City planner and committee member Christina Berry said one of the most important things that has to be in place for development is a master plan. 


"You have a transportation issue," she said. "You want to know with the water park if that's going to work, you need market data to support that. You want to look at other uses that could possibly go on the Island. I can see the Island being developed in phases, but I still think if we had to look at everything more strategically within a plan to see what we can do, that'll give us some ideas on what we can do going forward and attach some costs to that. It just takes time building up and I think that's where the public input can come in." 


Councilman Kabir Karriem said another key to making development happen on the Island is to look at similar cities and what they've done to capitalize on their bodies of water. 


"The Island is 30 years behind," he said. "We should have been trying to develop this piece of property in the city. It's going to be multi-purpose because you already have industry and residential there. I think one of the things we need to look at is these seven acres the county owns. Whether we go in a direction of private and government partnerships to try to spark some interest in it. Those seven acres are really key because as we finish developing the bridge, the bridge has to go somewhere. We have to start somewhere." 


The committee will meet one more time before setting a public hearing date.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.