Pell City has begun cleanup of the former Avondale Mills property and entertaining ideas about how best to use the property after acquiring it earlier this month.
Ideas for the property include putting a museum on the site, possibly in the former plant office that still stands there. The main plant was destroyed in a 2008 fire during a demolition project two years after Avondale ceased operations.
A museum would be appropriate. For about a century Avondale’s operations provided employment and economic stimulus that played a major factor in the growth and development of the city.
The city was founded in 1890 and originally developed by the Pell City Iron and Land Company. That company failed during the economic panic of 1893-94, which threatened the town’s future. Sumter Cogswell purchased much of the land and gave 150 acres to the Pell City Manufacturing Company, which was bought out by Avondale Mills. Those moves did much to secure the community’s future for decades to come.
In more recent times, other factors have come into play that have spurred growth in and around the city. Lakefront development and recreation, easy interstate access, and the opening of Honda’s manufacturing plant nearby are among the factors fueling the city’s growth and painting a rosy picture for the years ahead.
Today’s leadership is facing challenges, to be sure. Servicing $42 million in debt has complicated managing the city’s finances. About half of that is due to a major rebuild of the city’s sewer system that had to be completed due to environmental concerns and a 2012 deadline imposed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
The city had considered purchasing the Avondale property before, for possible use as a park and a site for a new library, but a deal was never struck with the developer. Instead there were lawsuits, first over the price for a well on Avondale property, and later over the city’s refusal to rezone the 28-acre downtown tract from industrial to residential for the construction of new apartments and townhouses. The recent acquisition of the property was a million dollar out of court settlement of a suit against the city.
The creation of a park on the property could very well be a positive move for the quality of life in Pell City, and we hope to see progress on the site sooner rather than later.
The city has a lot on its plate right now. There is a need for a better road to the new St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital and the Col. Robert Howard State Veterans Home. Maximizing use of the old hospital property is still a concern. The city is interested in adding a pool to its recreation facilities. And the city appears to be close to purchasing the CenturyLink building for use as a new library and board of education offices.
The good news is those are all manageable challenges posed by the city’s growth, and the city’s leadership appears to have a positive vision for the future.