Hold up — Councilman, planner create new master plan for Civic Center

The Mobile City Councilman who represents the downtown area and an urban planner with ties to the city have collaborated on a new proposal for the redevelopment of the Civic Center property.

District 2 Councilman William Carroll has received a proposed master plan for the 22-acre site from urban planning expert Jeff Speck, brother of Mobile Symphony Orchestra conductor Scott Speck.

Speck, who has previously presented plans for a more walkable and pedestrian-safe center to the Downtown Mobile Alliance, was asked by Carroll to create a new master plan for the site, as Mayor Sandy Stimpson has publicly slowed down the Civic Center redevelopment plans presented by architectural firm Populous.

“I was asked by the administration what needed to be added to a master plan for the Civic Center that wasn’t,” Carroll said.

Carroll has not made his and Speck’s plan public, as of press time, but told Lagniappe he’d like to see answers in it to questions about overflow parking from the site into nearby neighborhoods, as well as what will happen to entrances and exits at neighborhoods the site once construction on the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project begins.

He added he wants to see the overall plan increase the possible use of the site, too.

The proposed master plan follows a Mobile Planning Commission action to add zoning to the Civic Center site because, as a special district, it had not previously been zoned. The zoning changes split the area into six subdistricts to accommodate the Populous plan. Those zoning changes will come to the council to be finalized as early as its next meeting.

Populous’ plan gave the city two options for redeveloping the property. Both options retain and call for the renovation of the domed arena portion of the Civic Center, while one option also retains and renovates the theater portion.

Both options are costly — at more than $100 million each — and could require the city to borrow money, which gave Carroll pause.

“I’ve spoken with all of you and told you I like the Populous plan,” Carroll told council colleagues. “I have big reservations about spending $200 million and putting the city in debt. I think the approach and narrative should change at this time.”

Carroll also told councilors he has been in contact with the US Army Corps of Engineers about its plans to move its Mobile office to a building on the site with a 1,000-spot parking garage. He said officials have assured him the building can work within stipulations given to the Corps by the city’s Architectural Review Board and that the final decision does not have to be made by the first of the year.

“We have a little bit of time to do this right,” Carroll said.

Carroll’s proposal will be discussed at a future meeting of the council’s administrative services committee, which the District 2 representative chairs.

Central Business District change

The council will consider at its next meeting the proposal to redefine the city’s central business district to include a large chunk of Mobile. The ordinance amendment, sponsored by Carroll, would define the district as a closed loop from Interstate 165 to Interstate 65 and I-65 to Interstate 10.

By redefining the district and reenergizing the city’s seven-member Redevelopment Authority, Carroll is hoping to give historically underserved areas of the city a better opportunity for future reinvestment funds. The idea, Carroll said, is to expand areas for affordable housing to attract new residents to the city.

“You want to talk about growth; this is the start of the process to bring more people in and provide affordable housing,” he said. “We can grow the city from within.”

Under current regulations, the city’s Redevelopment Authority only extends to three miles outside the Central Business District, which includes a portion of downtown. By redefining the district, the scope of redevelopment work can reach into not only parts of Districts 1, 2 and 3, Carroll said, but Districts 4, 5 and 7 as well. Areas of District 2 in need that would not have previously qualified for assistance will if the area is redefined.

Since the Redevelopment Authority has not met in a number of years, funding for the council-appointed board has been nonexistent of late. With this change, Carroll will give the authority $1 million per year from District 2 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funds to pay for it initially.

Carroll is also offering to change the rules related to the Redevelopment Authority to add appointments from Stimpson to the group.

Free USA football tickets

University of South Alabama Executive Director of Governmental Relations Nick Lawkis and Athletics Director Joel Erdmann are inviting city employees and residents to enjoy free tickets to the Jaguars’ home football game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 6 pm

The so-called “Celebrate Mobile” game will give fans who haven’t visited the USA campus in a while or Hancock Whitney Stadium to come back and check it out, Erdmann said.

“We are sincerely grateful and ever appreciative of being here,” he said. “Recruiting students to the city of Mobile is an easy thing to do.”

About 3,500 tickets for the game have been claimed and more are available, Lawkis said. Those interested can get the tickets online.

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