Back from the Brink: City works to revitalize Montgomery

Posted by Cody Holyoke - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -  Years ago, shoppers flocked to the Montgomery Mall and stores up and down South Boulevard.

Now, it's a different story.  Businesses are packing up and leaving, and buildings, once bustling with customers, are bare.

Many of the departing stores--including chains--cited slow sales as the reason for the moves.

"Our new business plan is to go forward with our most profitable stores and our most productive stores," said Rachel Brenner , a representative for Steve & Barry's, which called Montgomery Mall home until last September.

A loss in profit from a loss in customers.  Shoppers say their biggest concern today is safety.

"I'm afraid of--I guess violence in the area. There's a lot of different little things," said Kourtney Vaughn of Montgomery.

Those concerns stretch down the Boulevard and along Interstate 65.

The latest statistics from the police districts surrounding these areas show high instances of crime.

Montgomery Police Department reports 1,230 listed thefts, 705 burglaries, 108 robberies, and 18 instances of recorded prostitution in 2008.

Business owners say things have gotten a little better, but more work needs to be done.

"There's always a lot of prostitutes walking along the roads. [. . .] It sure does hurt.  A lot of people around here don't have a job, so I guess creating more jobs would help," explained Dhavalkumar Patel, owner of the Subway next to Interstate 65.

So, what's being done to spruce up the area and get Montgomery back on track?

New police substations are popping up to combat crime, making the area more attractive for potential businesses.

"When we have presence in the area--that will send a large signal to the criminal element that you might want to go elsewhere," explained Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange.

City leaders are also working on programs like the West Montgomery Initiative, providing affordable housing and things like sidewalks.

They're all welcome concepts for residents.

"Most folks have to walk on the grass or either in the parking lots," said Deshon Harris of Montgomery.

Mayor Strange says business growth is also in the works along I-65, with some commitments already in hand.

"We've got a couple people that want to put a theme or amusement or a water park component in that area," he explained.

Don't forget the Montgomery Mall or "Montgomery Commons."  Once the shopping center of the city, a new plan could breathe life into the area.

"[They'll bring in] a lot of the medical areas. Some of the government areas we've talked about. They need to bring the retail component, because if you're going to have people there, you need to have some retail," Strange said.

With many of these places vacant for the time being, residents can't wait for any type of positive change.

"It's find to bring jobs. As far as medical, job spaces of that nature, but we want to do shopping on this side of town," Vaughn said.

People need these close shopping centers where they can quickly run out and get things that's needed," Harris said.

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