The former Fort McClellan property is many things to many people. Ask a number of Calhoun County residents for an opinion about what is now known simply as McClellan and you’re guaranteed a wide rage of responses. An easier question might be to ask the same people whom they consider to be the best football coach of all time. Some remember the departed installation with memories of good friends and a fine way to raise a family. Others claim that the property is testament to past mismanagement and lost progress. Both are most likely correct. Most opinions about McClellan are viable because it affected us all so profoundly. McClellan was once a vital community of soldiers and civilians intermingled like a well-conducted symphony, and the fort’s closure left an impact both financial and emotional. Left with a massive property and existing structures, the city of Anniston struggled with what to do and how exactly to do it.
After many stalled efforts and acronym heavy groups, a vibrant business and quality of life center has emerged. The truth is that Fort McClellan’s closure left Anniston and its surrounding communities a piece of land replete with resources and opportunities. McClellan is now a place awash in entrepreneurial spirit, history and repurposed ghosts that offers a place to both work and play.
A drive through the expansive former fort is the best way to appreciate all that McClellan has to offer. The Memorial Parkway is a major outlet for traffic from Interstate 20 that cuts drive time to the northern parts of the county and provides glimpses of wildlife, fresh industry and innovation. McClellan will be an intricate section of the hub that connects I-20 to Highways 21 and 431. The three arteries will intersect at the planned retail expansion across the road from Lowe’s Home Improvement. The proposed site promises expanded shipping lanes and shopping opportunities right at McClellan’s doorstop.
Once thought unthinkable, outlying counties have partnered to invest in an industrial park. Like-minded partners have contributed money and resources to ensure that this gem is never squandered again.
A thriving infrastructure has been put in place by city leadership, showcased by a state recognized sports facility enterprise. Anniston’s Park and Recreation has strived to provide the best quality of life environment, offering baseball/softball and soccer fields, a historic golf course and an award winning aquatic center. Citizens can walk around a well-manicured football field and also utilize the outside basketball courts a short distance away.
The McClellan Medical Mall was once the PX, and now boasts a robust center with world-class plastic surgeons and comprehensive cancer care. The Medical Mall is confirmation that innovation and reuse of existing structures is a winning combination.
New business continues to pop up on McClellan. Creedmor Sports relocated from California and continues to expand their operation and square footage. Buckner Event Plaza has opened as a multi-purpose facility. Concerts will be a large part of their calendar, as will plays and other live entertainment. They can also handle a wedding party of up to 300.
Anniston City Manager Brian Johnson detailed opportunity that McClellan brings to the city by saying “We’re the second largest land owner at McClellan behind only the MDA (McClellan Development Authority). We, along with other owners, know about the renewed interest in McClellan and are very aware of the importance it has for the areas that surround it. The city has two critical areas we will focus on, McClellan and the downtown corridor. McClellan, in a sense, is new development. It has existing infrastructure and open land”.
Johnson talked about the growth at McClellan that is coming to fruition in 2014. “The city will help to demo existing buildings as an in-kind service. We have the equipment and manpower in the budget to do it. This will open up more land at almost exactly the same time that UXO (unexploded ordinance) will be cleaned up. We will have the Summerall Gate entrance repaved all the way to the McClellan Park Medical Mall. We will begin that in spring and finish in two or three months. This will be one more inlet to add to the network already in progress”.
The completion of roadwork in 2015 includes Pappy Dunn Boulevard, Iron Mountain Road and Veterans Parkway. When they intersect, a clear path will run through McClellan connecting US 431 to I-20 and US 21, effectively a junction that will connect all four points of the county at McClellan. Once accomplished, projects like a proposed research park that are “shovel ready” can be easily accessed.
When all the roadways are linked, McClellan will serve the county as a whole. McClellan will be a mixed-use enterprise with retail, recreation and residential endeavors on one property. Calhoun County will be fed from all sectors within and benefit in synergy. Retail growth will result in more homes needed. It stands to reason that the cycle will continue with quality of life and recreational needs, which are in abundance at McClellan. A good example is the expansion of senior citizens that live and retire at McClellan. They will live, exercise and shop nearby, therefore raising the need for new growth as baby boomers continue their golden years in an environment rich with acreage and top- notch facilities.
It has been said that a rising tide raises all ships. McClellan is the embodiment of that notion, with encompassing neighborhoods, cities and even Calhoun County sharing in the bounty. As McClellan hurtles toward a complete reinvention, it is easy to forget that this newly forged paean to partnership and good timing was once a model of strife and complacency. The new focus on regionalism will bring good fortune to Anniston and its municipal partners for many decades to come.