Problem is, those projects — Oxford Exchange and the unfinished sports complex — both carry baggage the city and land developers would be wise to avoid this time around.
By virtually any measure, Oxford Exchange has been an unmitigated commercial success. It has pumped cash into the city’s ever-expanding coffers, and its array of large stores, small retailers and restaurants has proven immensely popular with people from several northeast Alabama counties.
Unfortunately, Oxford Exchange will forever be linked to the destruction of an adjacent Native American mound to create fill dirt for other projects. Today, the image of that damaged hill rising above the shopping center is a constant reminder of the city’s mistakes in the preservation of historic sites.
Of course, Oxford Exchange is an achievement. The sports complex is not. It’s been delayed for more than a year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after ancient human remains were found at the site. Thus far, those delays have cost the city more than $300,000.
The Oxford City Council made the wise move in March to strengthen a resolution for a mitigation plan for the sports complex site. Let’s hope that soon brings real progress to that development. Regardless of the strength of Oxford’s bank account, $300,000 in delay fees can’t be considered an acceptable expense.
Perhaps it’s the lessons learned, and not the common traits shared, that are important with the Oxford Commons deal. If undertaken, it will be the third recent construction project on land beholden with Native American history. Mistakes made with the first two sites are regrettable, and the damage to the Indian mound is likely irreversible.
Though the cemetery and remaining buildings of the Davis Farm site won’t be affected by the proposed project, an archeologist for the Alabama Historical Commission told The Star that the field where construction would take place has historical Native American value.
This is where we hope the next phase of commercial development in Oxford differs from its predecessors.
The project is in its infancy. The Kentucky-based developer still needs a wetlands permit from the Corps. And the Corps is seeking input from several agencies and Indian tribes about the site. As we’ve seen with the long-delayed sports complex, nothing is certain.
At this point, the best outcome would be for all parties — the developers, the Corps, the city, the historical commission — to strongly agree that the preservation mistakes of recent years won’t be repeated.