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Anniston council approves tax breaks for downtown hotel developer

hotel site

This site at 12th and Noble held a handsome hotel in the early decades of the 20th century, and Tuesday the Anniston City Council took a step toward letting that purpose be served again in the 21st.

The Anniston City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to grant tax breaks to a developer interested in building a hotel at the corner of 12th and Noble streets in downtown Anniston. 

Wisconsin-based developer Cobblestone operates 130 hotels in small cities in 27 states. The company is at least the third developer the city has worked with on the Noble Street site in the last decade. Council members said they have confidence this effort will yield an actual hotel. 

“They do a boutique hotel that is certainly suited to our downtown,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins.

Tuesday’s vote means Cobblestone will get a 100 percent rebate on city sales taxes incurred during construction of the hotel and a 50 percent rebate on lodging and sales taxes at the finished hotel for four years. The city would also provide up to $150,000 in installation of utilities and streetscaping if needed. The city would sell the property to Cobblestone provided construction begins within a year.

The city has been trying for years to attract a hotel developer to the Noble Street site, where city leaders expect to see a growth in demand for hotel rooms once the new federal courthouse is completed downtown.

An earlier partnership with a Mississippi developer failed when one of the partners in the development company was arrested on a kidnapping charge unrelated to the hotel project. Early development at the site left a pit in the lot at the corner of 12th and Noble.

More recently, former NFL player Karlos Dansby approached the city with an ambitious plan for a 156-unit hotel, to be completed in time for the 2022 World Games in Birmingham. That plan fell through when the company working with Dansby missed a city deadline for providing plans for the hotel.

Cobblestone didn’t send a representative to the Tuesday meeting, and no one spoke at a public hearing on the tax-break offer. Jenkins said the Cobblestone offer is much more promising than earlier offers because Cobblestone is itself a hotel chain. Earlier developers were planning to build a hotel and look for a hotel chain willing to put their brand on it.

“I know the citizens of Anniston will be glad to see that hole filled,” Jenkins said. 

Potential sites for new City Hall discussed

In a work session before the meeting, council members discussed a more metaphorical hole in the city’s downtown: the lack of a downtown city hall, and where to put it.

Workers tore down the old City Hall on Gurnee Avenue in 2019 after the city gave the property to the federal government as the site for a new courthouse. City offices now operate out of leased property in The Anniston Star’s headquarters on McClellan Boulevard. Council members have long maintained that they expect to move downtown when the lease ends.

At Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Steven Folks said it’s time to start talking about that move.

“We are going to have to move back downtown, and I think it needs to be sooner rather than later,” Folks said. 

Folks said one option would be to build a new city hall adjacent or connected to the City Meeting Center, where the council now holds its regular meetings.

Others haven’t given up on the old federal courthouse on Noble Street, which the city got in a land swap with the federal government, and which was once a prime candidate for a city hall site. City officials have since said that restrictions on renovating some of the historic courtrooms could limit the uses of that building.

Jenkins said the site still has promise.

“What I see in the federal building is the opportunity to create a civic plaza,” he said. 

He said work to prepare the right site will be worth it, because the site will likely be City Hall for decades to come.

Councilwoman Ciara Smith suggested the former Winn-Dixie building near Alabama 202. Councilman D.D. Roberts asked about sites near the former Cheaha Brewing Company brewery/restaurant.

Mayor Jack Draper said he hoped the city’s past search for temporary sites would help narrow the search for a permanent city hall.

“We don’t need to look at 20 locations again,” he said.

That site search landed one Anniston councilman in hot water. Jenkins was one of the council members who voted in favor of leasing temporary city space at the Anniston Star building. His wife works in the advertising department of The Star, and the Alabama Ethics Commission in 2019 concluded that his vote amounted to a conflict of interest.

Jenkins on Monday entered a guilty plea to a charge of using a public position for personal gain. Judge Shannon Page placed him on two years of unsupervised probation and fined him $250.

Jenkins declined comment on the case Tuesday. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.