Collective vision for McClellan includes variety of uses
by Debra Flax
Aug 18, 2013 | 4129 views |  0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This file photo from April shows the Alagasco service center then under construction on Pappy Dunn Boulevard at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
This file photo from April shows the Alagasco service center then under construction on Pappy Dunn Boulevard at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Anyone who remembers an active Fort McClellan knows that Anniston hasn't been the same in the last 14 years. Thousands of jobs, businesses and residents left when the base closed in 1999. For Anniston residents driving through a largely empty McClellan today, many thoughts on what to do with the vast acreage might arise. Over the course of a recent day, The Anniston Star asked residents on Facebook for projects they would like to see developed at McClellan.

About 100 responses were submitted. The most frequently recommended ideas included a shopping center, an entertainment complex containing concert venues and ball courts, an amusement or water park, a state park with campgrounds and outdoor activities, educational facilities, and a prison.

Robin Scott, executive director of the McClellan Development Authority, addressed the suggestions and said that any ideas not already in development would at least be explored.

“This board approaches everything business-like,” he said. “They use sound judgment, and they’re not afraid to make changes. Yes, we are trying to focus on research and industrial sectors, but this board is not afraid to entertain any idea brought to them by a developer. If a developer wants a water park, as long as it fits our guidelines, we’re happy to hear it.”

Over the last decade, McClellan and its advocates have tried to make the most of the weeded-over properties, rusting buildings and environmentally hazardous areas.

Scott is not too concerned with how the public sees McClellan just yet, he said.

“You’re not going to see complete transition in five years or 10 years. With over 9,000 acres, you might not see it in 15 years,” Scott said. “Because it takes time, it takes money to progress. Before you can improve property, you need to sell property.”

Scott said the vision hasn’t changed for development in the past 14 years.

“We’re taking this property that was used for military mixed-use and converting it to a mixed-use property for the community, for jobs and tax revenues,” he said.

Officials hope to use 150 clean acres for commercial and retail activity. The acreage around a renovated amphitheater has received a grant to support a larger entertainment venue. Jacksonville State University and Gadsden State Community College have established extension campuses, and Auburn University operates a canine training facility. A large tract was turned over to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to become the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge.

With about $126 million into a $216 million grant for military cleanup and a new road project along Pappy Dunn Boulevard and Iron Mountain Road, Scott thinks there will be a completely clean and usable McClellan in the next five years.

“One of the advantages of taking over responsibility of cleanup from the Army was that we were able to take responsibility,” he said. “We were able to prioritize properties and see what needed to be attended to first while looking forward for the area, which isn’t necessarily something the military is concerned about.”

Scott also stated that, like most military bases in the country, McClellan was designed for multiple uses and expansion. Now, it is just a matter of deciding what uses to bring.

“It’s not an issue of one business or one entity over another,” he said. “It’s a matter of best use, taking aspects of the fort and trying to expand it while maintaining the historical integrity of the land.”

To date, McClellan is now home to various businesses such as violin and viola manufacturer Howard Core Company, the main local service center for Alagasco, the McClellan Medical Mall, lodging, city recreational facilities, small engineering firms and McClellan’s largest manufacturing company, International Automotive Components. The newest addition is the gun and ammo supply company, Creedmoor Sports, which moved to McClellan from California in May 2013.

In addition to a growing business list, about 1,0000 people live at McClellan, many in the Historic Buckner District, Cane Creek and Summerall Estates. Scott said he anticipates an increase in residential community opportunities as well as residents of a specific age range.

“We’re seeing it as a trend nationwide,” he said. “The trend of baby boomers looking to get out of bigger houses and into smaller properties with smaller maintenance. And this is the perfect place especially with all the recreational facilities and amenities nearby.”

Retirees, with their on-average larger disposable incomes and no need for school systems, represent an attractive demographic for developers of the former fort.

Scott said McClellan amenities such as several medical providers, a new city aquatics center and proximity to downtown Anniston and the Oxford Exchange also may appeal to retirees.

“And the golf course,” he said. “You can’t forget the golf course.”

The MDA's board of directors, its members appointed by local governments, meets every fourth Wednesday of October, January, April, July and September. Scott encourages the public to attend the meetings, which have time set aside for for public comments.

“Is there a lot of room for growth? Absolutely,” Scott said. “And as an economic developer, you dream of having that big score. But it really is the small ones brought in one at a time back into a community that will in turn make a community.”
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