What Makes Ronnie Roll: “Without A Vision…”

By: Ali ElizabethTurner
“…the brownfields perish.” Mayor Ronnie was just back from Prattville, where the ADEM-sponsored Brownfield Conference had been held, and he was on fire with vision for brownfield reclamation. I had to ask what a brownfield is, as I had never heard the term. Basically it’s any type of urban site with any manner of blight, such as having been abandoned or being toxic. Pilgrim’s Pride and Love Canal are good examples, along with the recent water pollution crisis in Flint, Michigan. This conference was about having a vision for reclaiming and repurposing brownfields, and after the long process of dealing with our own inarguable eyesore, the conference was “just what the doctor ordered.”

“What some folks may not know is that we are not the only ones dealing with abandoned Pilgrim’s Pride plants,” said Mayor Ronnie. “There’s another here in Alabama, and one in Arkansas,” he added. He has a vision for what it could be that keeps him going as he negotiates the particulars of restoring a blighted sight. “So far we have passed the Phase One ADEM test, which is for above ground pollution, and we are waiting on the Phase Two below ground test results, and those will be posted for the public to view,” he said.

Pilgrim’s Pride is a 31.7 acre plot that has the potential to become our city’s Central Park. There is a conceptual drawing of various possible ideas for development such as mixed-use, which could include businesses and homes along the east and west perimeters, the spring running through, a plaza, picnic areas, recreational sites, playground equipment, walking and running trails, and much more. “This is one of the most exciting opportunities, to take a blighted property and create a million-dollar project that can positively impact our city,” said Mayor Ronnie. He is looking into a number of funding sources, which include local legislation, grants, and investments. He also is glad that its timing coincides with the city’s bi-centennial. “It’s a bi-centennial opportunity,” he said. Essentially it would be a celebratory gift we give to ourselves that would give back long after we are gone.

The tentative cost of the land is $550,000, which has been negotiated down from Pilgrim’s original asking price of $4,000,000. There would be walking access to the new high school, and sidewalks put in to accommodate the increase in foot traffic that would connect the park to the rest of the city. One of the things that impressed me was the commitment to re-purpose as much of the empty buildings as possible. Outfits like Habitat for Humanity would stand to benefit from all manner of building materials, thus reducing the costs of what is known in the business as “deconstruction.” The mayor has already heard from many developers who are interested in being involved, and is looking forward to moving ahead.

Another reason to get going on the project is health and safety related. The standing water now makes Pilgrim’s Pride a mosquito-producing plant, rather than a chicken-processing plant, and there are big water moccasins who think they own the place.
“We are involved in a number of projects to make Athens a better place,” said Mayor Ronnie, “and are forming staff teams to concentrate on the new Sportsplex as well as Pilgrim’s Pride,” he added. One of the things he heard at Prattville was, “You can’t give up on a blighted site; you have to have a vision for what it can be.” So then, like we always do, we prayed, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner