What Makes Ronnie Roll: The 2014 Design Alabama Summit

2014-02-07_15-03-47This week Mayor Ronnie, along with mayors from Guntersville, Muscle Shoals, Priceville and Good Hope were a part of a two-day conference held in Florence and sponsored by Design Alabama. The purpose of the conference was to give the mayors an opportunity to present some proposals for renewal projects in their respective cities to various members of the city planning, business, environmental, urban renewal, and art and design worlds, with the hope of receiving feedback as to how to improve the chances of getting funding for their various projects. The summit was also attended by architects, historical planners, restorationists, photographers, and experts in transportation and environmental policy.


Mayor Ronnie’s topic was the proposal to repurpose the old Pilgrim’s Pride plant site. The plant operated in Athens for six decades and closed in October of 2009, leaving a factory bordering the Athens State University historical area and creating a strange eyesore in the middle of some old and beautiful houses. The desire is to see the land used as a park for a number of activities. The following is an excerpt from the Design Alabama conference syllabus.

“According to city officials and the public, open and flexible park space is missing from the current recreation facility inventory. This location is ideal for such a space. The newly adopted Future Land Use and Development Plan envisions a large open space bisected by the stream. Sidewalks traverse the park in a well-designed fashion surrounding grass meadows that can be used for a variety of purposes including sports, kite flying and musical gatherings. In addition to being a premier recreational space, the plan envisions it serving as a catalyst for economic development on undeveloped and existing neighborhoods around its periphery. The question the city must ponder is how to best design the park and its environs to connect it into the community fabric and take full advantage of such an asset.


One of the challenges of the Pilgrim’s Pride project is that it is also is part of the floodway of the stream that runs through it, but this is a problem that can be overcome.
In order to be a part of the summit, mayors had to apply and be accepted by Design Alabama. The summit is held annually, and began in 2006. Only 5 mayors are selected each year, and the number is kept small on purpose to foster a more intimate venue that not only creatively discusses the problems faced by each mayor, but also engineers solutions that will genuinely help get the projects past the dream stage.

“The Design Alabama Mayor’s Summit hopes to offer Alabama mayors an opportunity to reinforce and enhance their influence on the quality of life and aesthetics of their unique communities,” the organization says of itself. It is an honor to be chosen by them to attend the summit, and past attendees have included Mayor George Evans of Selma, Mayor Steve Bell of Phil Campbell, and Mayor Anna Berry of Heflin, among many others. “Renewal is part of quality of life in our city, and any city,” Mayor Ronnie told me as he was preparing to leave for the trip. I am trusting that he gained much from the summit, and I know he gave much, because that is what makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner