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Anniston City Council members reflect on a year in office

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Ritz and Train

The former Ritz hotel (left) was certainly handy for out-of-town visitors coming into Anniston at Union Station (right). The train depot, built in the 19th century, was lost to fire in 2008, the same year this image was captured. The former hotel may itself be destined for demolition.

It was a night of reflection for members of the Anniston City Council Tuesday as they looked back at the previous year since being sworn in as city leaders exactly a year ago to the day.

When the council first took the oath of office on a chilly day in Zinn Park, two new faces, Ciara Smith and Demetric “DD” Roberts, joined Millie Harris and Jay Jenkins along with Mayor Jack Draper. 

Smith said this year in office has been a learning curve for her and a newfound appreciation of the “small things.”

“There has been a learning curve but not in the sense where it’s been difficult, in a sense to where I have become more eager to know, become more knowledgeable, I have become more citizen focused,” Smith said prior to the evening meeting. 

“Until you get in this seat you don’t realize how small things can make a really big change, you don’t realize how potholes in a road can affect people's vehicles, you don’t realize how infrastructure plays a critical role in the safety of our constituents, you don’t realize how just showing up to a football game or showing up to meeting makes people feel,” she said. 

“I think that this position in this one year so far has showed me how important those small things really are,” Smith said.

Roberts was also appreciative of his freshman year as a councilman. 

“It’s been a great learning curve, a wonderful experience, however I’ve had the greatest time working with the council, the members who were here previously,” Roberts said. 

“It’s been fun, it’s amazing to see some of the things that we’ve accomplished, I’m having fun, I think we’ve got the right people at the right time at the right place,” Roberts said. 

Councilwoman Millie Harris, who was reelected last year, said the last year has been a good one for the council. 

“I feel a real difference happening here in Anniston, I believe that we’re turning the corner, I attribute that to the cohesive city council that we have,” Harris said. 

Chief Ladiga Trail update

Before the meeting, Toby Bennington, director of planning and economic development, said progress is being made with the city of Anniston’s purchase of the old rail bed property that will become the Chief Ladiga Trail through town.

Bennington said Norfolk Southern has agreed on a price and has approved the city’s legal description of the right of way that constitutes the boundaries of the city is going to buy. 

“The next step should be working towards closing,” he said.

Once the city owns the property, the city’s newly hired engineering firm, Sain Associates, will begin work on the project and develop a budget for the work to be done, according to Bennignton. 

Ritz Boarding House

Bennington said the old Ritz boarding house building located at the corner of West 13th Street and Walnut Avenue might be demolished. The red brick two-story building was placed on the Alabama Historic Commission “Places in Peril” list in 2008.

The Anniston Land Company building and Union Station were also on the “Places” list, but they are gone, the former torn down in 2012 and the latter claimed by fire in 2008. They and the Ritz constituted a trio referred to as “Gateway to Anniston Buildings,” for the Union Station for decades was like Anniston’s front door — what visitors saw when they alighted from the train and exited the station might have been their first impression of the growing city. Its appearance was meant to entice visitors to invest in Anniston. 

But the Ritz has been neglected for a long time. 

“It’s not in a demolition status right now and the owner, we’ve reached out to the owner on numerous occasion to try to see if the owner had any intentions of doing something with the property, and it ultimately, unfortunately, will probably end up in demolition because it’s in such disarray, we were hoping that would not be the case but it’s heading in that direction,” Bennington said. 

Bennington said the building suffers from structural integrity, including the flooring and roof.

“When you’re not providing maintenance over a long period of time you're going to have a lot of those failings and it just becomes cost prohibitive,” he said. 

The particulars of the demolition will be worked out with the owner, Bennington said. 

McClellan Horse Trails

Craig Waldron, administrative assistant for the McClellan chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of America, urged City Council members to contact McClellan Development Authority board members to vote in favor of transferring property to the BCHA for equestrian use. 

The BCHA along with the county is requesting 750 acres of forested land, located  adjacent to the 900 acres the county currently owns, to construct more horse trails. 

Waldron told the council of the progress and ongoing projects at Camp McClellan horse trails over the last two years under the direction of Calhoun County commissioner JD Hess and the BCHA McClellan chapter: 

— Constructed 25 miles of horseback and wagon trails

— Constructed a 36-stall, 60 x 80 foot, horse barn

— Constructed 50 of 200 campsites

— Constructed a large pavilion that has a concrete floor and large rock covered fireplace

— Currently constructing restrooms

— Constructed a storage building with a mural of what Camp McClellan looked like in the early 1900’s

— A country store is under construction

— Two metal roof kiosks for maps and information

— First class front gate entrance with steel and rock pillars

— Power and water ditches are presently being installed

— A 75-by-150 foot arena is being built

“We, Oxford, Anniston, we are on the edge of having the largest horseback riding trails in the southeast, this is kinda a big deal,” Waldron said. 

Waldron said the economic impact of equestrian of equestrian activities in Alabama is $2.4 billion each year.

Previously, the MDA offered a lease to the county of 167 acres that the county rejected because only four miles of horse trails could be constructed on that parcel. 

Waldron said there seemed to be a problem with MDA board members voicing their support for the land transfer but ultimately voting against the transfer once the vote was taken.  

During council member comments the mayor along with the council recognized the Donoho volleyball team for winning the state championship last week and gave a shout-out to the Anniston High School football team that will play Friday night in the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoffs.