Anniston could spend up to $5 million on a new City Hall, and a poll of local residents strongly favored two of the city’s four proposed City Hall sites, city officials revealed Tuesday.
“I’m good with the existing federal courthouse or Winn Dixie,” said Mayor Jack Draper, in comments in a work session before the Anniston City Council’s regular meeting at Anniston City Meeting Center.
The city last week began seeking public opinion, through an online poll, on four proposed locations for a new City Hall. The old City Hall on Gurnee Avenue was demolished to make room for the new federal courthouse now under construction. City offices since 2019 have operated out of rented space in The Anniston Star building on McClellan Boulevard, but council members have long said they intend to bring City Hall downtown again.
According to City Manager Steven Folks, roughly 270 people voted in the online poll, with the former Winn Dixie on Alabama 202 and the old federal courthouse on Noble Street as the top two vote-getters by far. That leaves the City Meeting Center and the old Anniston Auto Parts building as the least-favored options.
Folks on Tuesday said he hopes the council can move quickly with a decision on a new site. Councilwoman Ciara Smith asked if the council could go ahead and narrow the choices down to two. That’s when Draper proposed going forward with the courthouse or Winn Dixie.
Others on the council were not so sure.
“I would question the validity of the survey,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins. Voters, he said, weren’t given a lot of background on the choices. Jenkins proposed giving a small amount of money to four different architectural firms to get each of them to draw up and present a proposal for one of the sites. The council could hear all four proposals and choose, he said.
Folks said the city has already been in talks with firms who are interested in presenting proposals on each site for free.
The council didn’t narrow the list of sites Tuesday, but council members did vote 5-0 to authorize city employees to enter into an agreement to issue up to $5 million in bonds when that money is needed for capital improvements. Folks said that bond issue, if it happens, would cover City Hall and likely other projects.
Regulating clubs, vacant lots
The council also held the first reading of an ordinance that would alter some of the city’s rules for private clubs that allow drinking. City officials said some local establishments were, in essence, using private-club status to skirt state alcohol rules and serve drinks without proper licensing.
The proposed new rule would require a local club to be part of a national organization in order to qualify as a club for purposes of serving alcohol. The ordinance didn’t come up for a final vote Tuesday but likely will in August.
City officials also said they’re considering a plan to create a registry of vacant properties in the city. One out of every five houses in town is vacant, according to consultants the city hired for its comprehensive plan, a number that consultants called “extremely high.”
Codes enforcement officer Tana Bryant said one of the obstacles to fixing or demolishing vacant property is simply locating the owners. She said city officials may soon propose a $200 vacant property fee. The city would pay an outside company to create a registry of vacant properties with ownership and contact information: The consultant would keep half the fee for each property registered, and the city would keep the other half.
Council members seemed ready to move forward with the plan.
“I think it’s a dire need,” said Councilwoman Millie Harris. “Most of the complaints I hear are about blight and vacant buildings downtown.”
Bryant and Folks said the proposal wasn’t ready to bring before the council yet, but would be presented at a meeting soon.
For its second time this month, the council heard from members of local residents in a public comment portion of the council meeting, something that had been put on hold during the pandemic. Anniston resident Ralph Bradford was among three people who rose to criticize the council for its plans to create a health clinic named after former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher in the old Glen Addie community center.
The clinic plan was a step back from a proposal the council had discussed in recent years for a larger Satcher Institute closer to downtown, with a price tag in the neighborhood of $20 million. The council agreed to commit some grant money to the project but no one publicly named any funding source or sources willing to fund the full $20 million.
“We want it to go back to the original plan, at the original site,” Bradford said.
Smith said she believed the Satcher Institute and the Satcher Clinic were two separate proposals. The council took no new action on the Satcher proposal after the comments.
The council adjourned into a special session, invoking state law that allows them to meet behind closed doors to discuss matters that are being litigated or are likely to be litigated.